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Past Articles Library | Trees | How to Grow and Propagate Saucer Magnolia


The Saucer Magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana) is a cross between the Magnolia x denudate and Mognolia x lillifora.  It is a deciduous tree that is more shrub like than tree.  It produces pinkish-white to purple saucer shaped blooms with white throats that appear before the evergreen colored foliage buds out.   While the blooms are beautiful to look at, they also smell wonderful.  But before you run to the garden nursery for a plant, make sure that you live in the appropriate USDA Plant Hardiness Zone.  In this case, the Saucer Magnolia performs well in zones 4 through 9.

When looking for an area to plant your Saucer Magnolia, consider a sunny location that has few obstructions.  This is very important since the tree can reach 20 to 30 feet in height and has a spread of 25 feet.    As far as the soil, this medium fast grower can tolerate a variety of soil types, which includes clay, loamy, sandy, well-drained, moist, and acidic.  The key to soil selection for this plant is to make sure that the soil is deep, moist, and rich in organic material.  Also, make sure not to plant the Saucer Magnolia in any area that could be considered a cold weather sink.  What I mean by that is do not plant this tree in valleys or dips in your landscaping.  When frosts move into an area, the cold weather sinks into these pockets creating little microclimates of cold.  If a Saucer Magnolia is planted in one of these pockets, it will survive but if a cold snap comes through your area and your tree has set blooms the blooms will fall off before opening. 

Once you have your site selected, the next step in the planting process is to dig the hole.  When deciding on the size, look no farther than the size of the pot.  The hole will need to be no deeper than the container and 2 to 3 times the width.  After the hole has been dug, it is time to remove the tree from its nursery container.  Do not simply pull the tree out but instead cut the container down the sides and then lift the tree out.  Once the tree is out, tease the roots.  To do this, just loosen the soil around the roots.  This will allow the roots to grow beyond the hole.  If you have soil that is high in clay, consider raking the sides to prevent the soil from glazing.  This glazing process along with not teasing the roots will cause the roots not to grow beyond the hole.

After you have removed the tree from its container, place the root mass in the hole for a dry run before filling in.  What you are looking for is that the hole is deep enough or the soil level of the tree is the same as the ground.  If this is the case, you are ready to fill in.  If this is not the case, adjust the soil level as needed. 

Once the soil level is correct, place the root mass in the hole and fill in.  To aid in pushing out air bubbles, gently push down on the soil with your foot.  Next, to settle the soil even more, water in until bubbles stop coming up.  If need be, add additional soil and top with 2 to 3 inches of mulch.

As beautiful as this tree is, it does have a few problems.   This includes fungal spots, weevils, thrips, planthoppers, snails, scale insects, butt rot, canker dieback, powdery mildew, anthracnose, spot anthracnose, and bacterial leaf spot.


Propagation  

Now that you know how to plant your own Saucer Magnolia, how do you propagate the tree?  While this tree is a hybrid, it can be started by seed and/or cuttings.

Seed Propagation

Saucer Magnolia seed can be purchased or you can collect your own from an existing magnolia.  To do this, one will need to look for open seed pods.  Once you find some, examine the inside.  If you see red seeds, then these are pods are ready to pick.  Picking will require you to snip off the pods with pruning shears verses just breaking off.  While they do just fall off in nature the breaking off will cause unnecessary damage to the tree. 

After you have your seed pods collected, you will need to remove the seeds.  While you can just tear open the pod itself, it is easier to store the pods in a paper bag for a day or two.  This will allow the pod to dry so and in doing so the seed will come out easier.

Once you have the seed(s), you will need to stratify the seed.  For the magnolia, this means exposing the seed to a period of cold.  To do this, wrap the seed(s) in a damp paper towel and place in a plastic bag.  Place the bag in the fridge for up to 90 days.  Do not go over this time frame.  Seeds that are kept cold for longer periods have a lower germination rate.

When the stratification period has been reached, it is time to prepare to plant the seeds.  To do this, you first need to select the correct containers.  Saucer Magnolias have long taproots that do not like to be disturbed.  In doing so, you will need containers that are deep.  Once you have your containers, wash and sterilize them before planting.  This can easily be done by washing the pots in a sink of warm water and a capful of bleach.  Scrub to remove any soil.  Next, rinse the pots in clean water and allow to dry in the sun.

After the pots have dried, it is time to fill them with the correct form of soil.  Saucer Magnolias require a rich soil that is high in organic matter.  If need be, mix in additional compost into a standard, all-purpose potting soil mix.  Once the pots have been filled, plant the seeds ½ inch deep and water in.  Place the pots in a location that is warm, away from drafts and receives direct sunlight. 

In about 6 to 8 weeks, one should begin to see growth.

Cutting Propagation

Saucer Magnolias can be started from branch cutting and/or suckers.  The process is simple.  Using pruning shears cut the end of a branch or a sucker.  If cutting a sucker that is growing off the parent plant, make sure to cut as close as possible to that parent plant.  If the sucker is growing up from the ground, dig out from the sucker about a foot and remove that way.  If it has no roots, do not worry.

Once you have your cutting and/or sucker, dip the cut end in water and then in rooting hormone.  Place the cutting in the ground or in a container.  If you need directions for container size and soil type read seed propagation.

While the cutting method is pretty simple, you will still need to maintain soil moisture for at least 60 to 90 days.  This is how long it takes a Saucer Magnolia to root.

During this time period, how do you know if your cutting has rooted?  Well, the easiest way is to take a little tug on the cutting.  If you feel resistance, then the roots are developing.  On the other hand, if you feel no resistance and the cutting comes out easily, then you need to give your cutting more time.



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Plant Dwarf Varities

If you love fruit tress like apples, peaches, pears and plums, but don't have the room, plant a dwarf variety.

Most grow from 3 feet to 8 feet. They product tons of fruit and are easier to harvest because they are low to the ground.


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