New englanders who are growing Southern Magnolias

gregejohnsonSeptember 6, 2010

I'm from Western York County in Maine and I've been enamored with these trees since a high school trip to NC. After a lot of research I planted one. This will be it's first winter. It took the heat of summer surprisingly well for a freshly planted tree (here it got to 100 or more several times this summer with very little for rain. I'm sure a ton of you know about the hardier cultivars like BBB and 24 below. I'm wondering how many people in New England have had success with their southern Magnolias?

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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

greg, I am curious how you purchased one in Maine, they didn't have it at your local nursery did they? I am considering buying a BBB and looking for a good source. Good luck with your first winter!

    Bookmark   September 6, 2010 at 9:49AM
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rockman50(6b SEMASS)

Greg: The answer to your question depends on what you mean by "success". Your plant will probably survive, but I don't think it will "thrive" in western York county zone 5. I can guarantee you that your plant will probably be leafless by April (but probably still alive), particularly if you have cited it where it will receive some sun and wind in winter. It might retain some leaves if you cover it, but that only works if it is small. I have been growing the BBB shown below for 9 years (I planted it in Spring 2001). Note that my location is on the south coast of Massachusetts, just a few miles inland from the ocean. And the spot shown is protected by the house from N winds in winter. My yard is a marginal zone 7. But even so, this tree suffers light to moderate burn on its south facing side in an average south coast winter with no protection, because it receives FULL winter sun. The north facing side of the tree which is shaded always stays lush and green. Note also that the BBB is not the hardiest variety. Edith Bogue is hardier. I have no experience with the "24 below" variety.

So this is what I recommend:

1) Use wilt-pruf (apply twice, once in November and again toward the end of January if your area gets warm enough to do so). I used to do that, but my tree is just too big now.
2) If your plant is small, wrap it to protect the leaves as much as possible. I never did this, but I think it will really help your plant given your much colder winters.
3) If your plant is a BBB, try to keep it pruned to retain a tight dense nature. The branches on the BBB are floppy and do not hold up to heavy wet snow in winter. Edith Bogue has a much stiffer, and open, branching habit. I don't know about 24-below. I prune mine vigorously to retain the tight habit shown in the pic. Otherwise, it would be as wide as the house!

Good Luck! It would be great to post some pictures next spring to see how your plant fared. Again, it will never be anything like the the glorious specimens you saw in NC. The best you can hope for is something more like Charlie Brown's x-mas tree. But it is still fun to push the zone thing.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2010 at 2:58PM
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rockman50(6b SEMASS)

Oh..Prairie Moon: I bought my BBB at Sylvan Nursery in Westport, MA (just a few miles from me). They usually stock the BBB in spring. Also, Haskell's in New Bedford often has the Edith Bogue variety.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2010 at 3:01PM
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diggingthedirt

Rockman, I love reading your somewhat self-deprecating posts contrasted so sharply by the photos of your lovely garden. Your BBB is particularly nice!

Gregejohnson, there have been several threads on this topic, but, sadly, many of the people who posted to those threads are no longer active on this forum for one reason or another. If you search the NE forum for southern magnolia, you're sure to find several discussions of the different varieties of southern magnolia in different locations around New England.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2010 at 3:51PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Rockman, thanks very much, sounds like the place to go. I don't think I've been to Sylvan, so that will be a nice trip to make. Spring might be better for planting one any way, I suppose.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2010 at 5:24PM
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lovesummer(5/6)

I planted a BBB last summer, mail ordered from Forest Farm, for my yard just northwest of Boston. I call it my folly! It arrived fairly tall but very sparsely leafed. It didn't put on much growth all summer last year, but did survive this winter. This year it's put on just a little growth, but still needs to be staked or that long mostly naked stem just flops. I drool over the pictures of Rockman's specimen! I tell people I'm hopeful but realistic, and won't be at all surprised if it doesn't make it. I've got it planted fairly close to the south wall of my house.

There's an espaliered version against an outside wall at Tower Hill Botanic Garden near Worcester, I believe the Edith Bogue variety.

Rockman's advice is good, and I'm going to try to use Wilt-Pruf this winter not only on the magnolia but on other broad-leafed evergreen shrubs which suffer from winter burn like leucothoe, rhododendrons, kalmias, etc. Another technique which might be worth trying is fencing the shrub with chicken wire or some other material and filling it loosely with leaves, at least for the first few years.

Here's something funny: we visited friends in Richmond, VA, including a master gardener. I was raving about my love for the southern magnolias but she couldn't be bothered, she thought they were dirty and annoying trees dropping something every season--sounds like my oaks! I don't think I'd care, they're so gorgeous it's worth it, but I guess you never appreciate what you have as much as what's just out of reach.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2010 at 2:20PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

I went to the Sylvan website and noticed that they have the BBB designated as zone 6b. I'm not sure I want to fight with the zone. I don't really have a 'sheltered' position on my property and I tried a holly that was on the edge of my zone last year and it didn't make it over the winter. I value ease and success too much to have my hopes dashed with a 'doomed from the start' experiment. [g] Especially with a tree. I'm looking at my second choice trees at the moment.
I also drool looking at Rockman's photo. :-)

    Bookmark   September 7, 2010 at 2:52PM
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bill_ri_z6b(Zone 6B)

I have a BBB but it is only in its second season, so it has survived one winter with absolutely no problems. It was on the west side of the house and I am on a hill, so it got some pretty strong winter winds, as well as full sun. But I also had to have it moved in July because of a new patio and wall construction. It's been well watered and is doing fine, although it did not bloom this summer and I notice the leaves are a little smaller than last year. But otherwise very doing very well. Of course, it's too soon to say it's "hardy" here in my zone 6b garden. The nursery that sold it (as well as the grower's tag) said zone 5b, where they are located north of here.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2010 at 5:39PM
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rockman50(6b SEMASS)

That was an interesting comment by the gardener from VA. Now that my original "shrub" has grown up to be a "tree", the amount of leaf litter is actually quite high. And the old inside leaves drop all summer long. So, if you like a tidy garden, you will be constantly raking up big dead stiff leaves. Even the flowers drop a huge amount of debris! Nothing about this tree is subtle. Mine seems to love its location and it pushes a good 1 to almost 2 feet of new growth each year. I had to give it some TLC in its early years (some pampering after a few of those brutal winters 5-6 years ago). And, the horror when I awoke one morning in early December, 2003 when 17 inches of very heavy wet snow collapsed the entire tree to the ground. It was gone! But it popped right back up in a few days, and the rest is history. After that, I started pruning, pruning, pruning. Now I don't have to make one of those unpleasant 2 AM trips into the yard during blizzards to shake off excess snow.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2010 at 6:09PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Bill, your post made me curious and I googled the BBB today and as usual found recommendations for hardiness from only to zone 7a, to 5b. So, I thought IÂm really not adverse to experiments and have done some of that along the way. I was considering buying a large BBB and expecting that to be an expensive proposition, I wouldnÂt want to experiment, but, I do see it available as a smaller version, such as what lovesummer did. That might actually be a fun experiment. I do think IÂll wait for spring to try it though.

lovesummer, that is an idea about the chicken wire and leaves too. IÂve done that with hydrangeas that were not as hardy and it worked.

I guess you did give it TLC rockman, 2am trips to shake off snow...lol. No different then night trips to collect some pest or other that is eating some favored plant, I guess. Your attention certainly paid off.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2010 at 12:24AM
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bill_ri_z6b(Zone 6B)

Ann,
I paid $70 for a 5 foot tree. I thought that was a decent price. It was well branched and healthy.

Bill

    Bookmark   September 9, 2010 at 3:40AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Thanks Bill, I'll keep that in mind in the spring when I go looking.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2010 at 7:33AM
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rockman50(6b SEMASS)

Greg: Just following up on your original post last September. I am really curious to hear how your southern magnolia fared in western York County Maine this past winter!

    Bookmark   March 27, 2011 at 12:32PM
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SCPearson(5 NE CT)

Hello,
I bought a sprig from an unknown catalog many years ago (?15+). Didn't even think much about whether it would survive, but by its own determination, grew into a beautiful tree, much like the photo rockman posted. I am in zone 5 and it has survived some pretty harsh winters. It sure is pretty early in the Spring. Every year birds nest in it.
Good luck with yours,
Susan

    Bookmark   March 29, 2011 at 3:09PM
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rockman50(6b SEMASS)

Dear Susan: Are you sure your tree is Magnolia Grandiflora (the evergreen southern magnolia)? Because you state "it sure is pretty early in the spring", it makes me think that your tree is probably one of the deciduous varieties that are quite common, and very hardy, here in southern New England (varieties like Star Magnolia, or Magnolia Soulangiana). These do bloom profusely in early spring. The southern magnolia is a broad-leaf evergreen tree that blooms late in spring and throughout summer. I would be curious to know if you do have a true southern magnolia.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2011 at 8:22AM
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SCPearson(5 NE CT)

Hello Rockman,
You may be right... it looks just like your photo but, may very well be Star Magnolia, as it does bloom in Spring. Right now it has what looks like big pussy willow buds on it.
Susan

    Bookmark   April 9, 2011 at 1:48AM
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dcaradori_roadrunner_com

Sounds like a star mag., I have an edith bogue that was fine last winter, but took a beating this winter. About 50+% of its leaves r brown and she is starting to drop them. Although the branches appear to be ok...we had a couple days down close to -10. Maybe I should hav gone with a BBB?

    Bookmark   April 12, 2011 at 11:13AM
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bill_ri_z6b(Zone 6B)

Update on my BBB. It's looking OK. Not great but I think it will recover this year. Not only did I have to move it last summer because of the construction, but then we had a terrible winter, especially with the brutal, seemingly nonstop wind! But my camellias are totally untouched and loaded with fat buds. Go figure!

    Bookmark   April 12, 2011 at 11:58AM
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lovesummer(5/6)

I'll be going into the 3rd year with my BBB. It's surviving, but pretty sad looking. It held on to most of its leaves through the winter but they're a yellowish hue. I'll feed it and see what happens, but I'm not too optimistic.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2011 at 3:06PM
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leslie6ri

I've got a Bracken's Brown Beauty in Zone 6 that I've had for some years now. The first 3 years or so it got badly beaten up by our Winters, losing many of its leaves and the remaining ones were brown and burned. But now that it's well-established, Winter doesn't seem to faze it much. It's planted in an open wind-swept area in full sun and seems to be doing very well. I think these do take time to adapt.

Leslie

    Bookmark   April 13, 2011 at 2:02PM
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bill_ri_z6b(Zone 6B)

Leslie,
Thanks for the encouraging news! My poor tree has had to suffer being transplanted in July of last year (which was only its second year) and then go through our horrible winter with incredibly strong and unrelenting wind. But it's not looking all that bad considering. This afternoon I plan to loosen the soil just slightly (not too deep) and feed it.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2011 at 2:13PM
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bed24

Almost certainly the largest speciman in New England is at the Edward Gorey House in Yarmouth, MA. It was planted in the 1920s after being brought back from Mount Vernon, VA.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   June 28, 2011 at 5:48PM
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rockman50(6b SEMASS)

Thanks for that info bed24. But I am pretty sure there is a much bigger one in Cranston RI, not too far from interstate 95. I saw it about 5 years ago. It was not in a private yard. It was next to some type of office building I think. I remember it was large with a well formed trunk--the size of a good sized maple tree. I remember thinking that it was the most "southern looking" southern magnolia I have ever seen in these parts. It was in April when I saw it--and it looked in very good shape. And based on its size, it must have been quite old---seen pretty much anything the RI version of a New England winter can offer. Any RI folks know about the tree I am talking about???

    Bookmark   June 30, 2011 at 7:41AM
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