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A Few Facts About The Saucer Magnolia Tree

The very name Saucer Magnolia (Magnolia soulangiana), conjures up images of a magnolia tree that has exceptionally large saucer-like blossoms. The flowers of this tree have indeed been described as being saucer shaped, and even cup or goblet shaped. The term saucer is certainly apt, as the blossoms often measure from 4 to 8 inches in diameter. The color of the blossoms vary from white, to purplish-white, to pink.

Frost Can Be A Problem

One place where you can see these trees showcased is in New York City's Central Park, where they are prominently displayed along with three other flowering trees, the Flowering Cherry, the Crabapple, and the Flowering Dogwood. The magnolia is an early bloomer, often blooming in mid to late March, a time when a late frost can sometimes destroy the blossoms, giving the tree a rather sad, shabby appearance. The tree's two main liabilities are its susceptibility to late frosts, and its relatively weak branches, which often break during snow and ice storms. Aside from those two shortcomings, this magnolia has long been considered as one of the favorite ornamental trees in the United States. The magnolia sometimes, though not always, recovers from frost damage, and may continue to bloom into late April. This particular magnolia is usually in full bloom long before any other ornamental tree has made an appearance, and is usually still in bloom after most spring ornamental trees have stopped flowering.

This tree is a hybrid of two Asian magnolia trees, and is a cousin of the American Southern Magnolia. Its leaves are deciduous, and it is a rather small tree, growing to a height of around 25 feet, with a spread that is nearly the same as its height. Its overall shape can best be described as irregular. It is referred to as a tree by some, and as a large shrub by others.

There are at least 7 major varieties of the Saucer Magnolia tree. The varieties “Alexandrina” and “Brozzonii” are two of the favorites. “Verbanica” is often the choice of those who live in colder climates because it blooms later, and its blossoms are not as apt to be damaged by a late frost. There is also a dwarf variety, “Lilliputian”, which grows to about half the height of the other varieties.

Magnolia Care

The Saucer Magnolia is hardy in USDA Zones 4 through 9. It is not a difficult tree to grow or care for, and can be propagated either by seed or from softwood cuttings. It should be planted where it will receive full sun, which is to say in a location that gets around 8 hours of sun a day during the growing season. It can tolerate partial shade however. Magnolia trees do best in slightly acidic soil, and will usually perform poorly in alkaline soil. If the pH of the soil measures 0 to 7, the tree should do well. A slightly acidic soil is preferable to a neutral soil. The soil should not be packed down, and it needs to drain well, as a magnolia planted in soil that easily becomes waterlogged simply won't survive.  A newly planted magnolia tree will need to be watered every 10 days or so, and watered to a depth of several inches, after which the soil can be allowed to dry out, though not completely. Once established, this magnolia is considered to be “somewhat” drought tolerant. Magnolia trees have shallow root systems, so it's always a good idea to mulch the area around a newly planted tree with straw, hay, or bark to help keep the roots cool. Keeping the mulch a slight distance away from the trunk is advisable to prevent rot or disease.

Sow Your Own Seeds

Unlike many trees and shrubs, the Saucer Magnolia is relatively easy to start from seed. All you need to get started are seed pods from the tree itself. If you don't have a tree of your own, find someone who has one, and ask if you could collect a few seed pods in the fall. They are usually ready to be harvested in late September or October. When you've collected a few pods, find a location where they can dry out. Drying normally takes a week to 10 days.

Once they are dry, crack open the pods to collect the seeds. Although the rate of germination is reasonably high, it always pays to collect a few extra seeds. The seeds will need to be soaked overnight so the pulp material coating them can be easily removed. The seeds are then ready for planting. Where winters tend to be exceedingly cold, you may wish to store the seeds until spring. Store them in a plastic bag containing a sand and peat moss mixture. The seeds can be stored in a refrigerator.

The magnolia seeds can be sown in a trench, with about 6 inches of spacing between the seeds. Cover the seeds with 1/4” of fine soil and keep the soil moist, but not soggy. Once the seeds have germinated, and the Saucer Magnolia seedlings have reached a foot or so in height, they are ready for transplanting.



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