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written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Aren’t the magnolias glorious this spring? Just look around and you’ll see these spring beauties in their resplendent glory. Of course, when you hear about beautiful “magnolias” the South, not the arid Great Columbia Basin comes to mind. Magnolias do surprisingly well in our region and should be considered an outstanding choice as a spring flowering tree or shrub.

If you visit the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden at 1600 S. Union behind the Mid-Columbia Library, you can see a wonderful specimen of the saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangiana). The saucer magnolia is a hybrid cross between Magnolia denudata and Magnolia liliflora that was first accomplished in France about 1826. There are now many beautiful cultivars of saucer magnolia gracing landscapes far and wide, including our region.

Saucer magnolias are multi-stemmed trees (or tall shrubs depending on your point of view) that grow to about 25 feet tall and 20 to 30 feet wide, but this varies greatly with the cultivar and region. They grow fairly upright when young and then more oval to rounded when mature. The large leaves and gray bark are interesting features but it’s the abundant large single flowers that make it a spectacular specimen tree when in bloom. The white, pink, or purplish cup-shaped flowers open before the leaves develop in the spring. They are huge…five to ten inches in diameter.

While references say they need “moist fertile well-drained deep soils with high organic matter,” they seem to do well in our area if planted in a friendly spot where the heat and sun aren’t too intense. I recommend planting saucer magnolias in a protected location with full sun and mulching with a thick layer of organic mulch. It’s also important to provide adequate moisture and avoid drought stress. The plant has few pest or disease problems.

The only drawback with this plant is that it flowers very early in the spring, giving spectacular displays that can be cut short by late spring frosts. To get around this a bit, the U.S. National Arboretum developed eight magnolia hybrids that they dubbed “The Girls.” The advantage of these hybrids is that they flower about two weeks later than the saucer magnolia or the star magnolia…and they also occasionally bloom some in the summer. These multi-stemmed small trees (or large shrubs) grow in full sun to light shade and will tolerate poorly drained soils and dry soil conditions. These hybrids all have “girl” names and include
















. ‘Ann’ has pink-purple flowers that have a sweet cinnamon scent. ‘Jane’ is later blooming with reddish-purple outer petals. ‘Pinkie’ has soft pink blooms.

Another great magnolia for area landscapes are varieties and hybrids of the Japanese magnolia (Magnolia kobus). The species is a tree that grows to about 25 to 30 feet in landscapes and is very showy with pink to white fragrant spring blooms. However, other cultivated forms are spectacular popular favorites. My personal favorite is the star magnolia (Magnolia kobus var. stellata). It’s a large shrub or small tree that grows 15 to 20 feet tall and 10 to 15 feet wide. I adore it for its bright white “starry” blooms with numerous strap-like floppy petals. Often kept to a smaller size with pruning, its much more lovely if allowed to achieve its natural size and shape. Lower branches can be removed when the plant is young to develop more of a tree-like form.

An eye-catching hybrid of the Japanese magnolia and stellata is ‘Leonard Messel’. Its stellata-like flowers are a pretty pink outside and a light cream on the inside and are both wind and frost resistant. You can see one of these in the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden too. If you’re looking for an early spring blooming small tree or large shrub you won’t be disappointed by any of these magnolias.

Published: 3/30/2007 10:26 AM



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