Gardening in April: It’s magnolia time

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Let’s talk magnolias.

I was going to start by saying let’s talk about one of my favorite plants; I have so many, that this wouldn’t be true. Let’s talk about one of my many favorites.

How can you not like magnolias when they are in full bloom in the spring? They are gorgeous unless a freeze hits them. Then you have brown blobs hanging on the tree.

Saucer magnolias (Magnolia soulangiana) in the Miami Valley took a beating from the freezes a few weeks ago back. Some are still hanging on to the big brown blobs of dead flower petals. If they bloomed, the flowers are as big as a fist and resemble tulip flowers, with petals pinkish and purplish.

Those that were protected came out this past week and are beautiful. Saucer magnolia has a beautiful structure as it ages. I know where most of the older ones are in Springfield and their splendor always amazes me.

Saucer magnolia is considered a small to medium-sized tree, growing to around 30 feet tall. If you grow a saucer, give it plenty of room because as it ages, the structure of the plant is beautiful.

The saucer magnolia isn’t the very first one to bloom around here. This would be Magnolia stellata or star magnolia. It comes out in early March and usually puts on a pretty good show. However, it came out a bit early during the warm spell and then got nipped by cold.

Mine, however, had little enough flower damage and is just finishing up a pretty good bloom display. In addition, the flowers on star magnolia don’t open all at once so if a few get dinged, the rest tend to take over. The flowers are also quite fragrant.

Star magnolia is good for a smaller landscape as it can be a small tree or large shrub, growing to around 15 to 20 feet tall.

I keep wanting to start the sentences with “one of my favorites,” but they are all my favorites. I especially like a newer one called “Butterflies.” This hybrid is noted for its yellow flowers that stay yellow for more than a week without fading to brown.

It grows more upright or pyramidal and can get to around 20 feet tall with a single trunk. It can be grown as a multi-stemmed shrub. The flowers are glorious in Snyder Park Gardens & Arboretum in Springfield.

The flowers are yellow and almost five inches across. They have a slight lemon oil aroma. It blooms around mid-April in our area.

One that you don’t always see in our area is Magnolia macrophylla or bigleaf magnolia. Its leaves are anywhere from 15 to 30 inches in length. They have a slight silver undertone which looks great in the fall.

Flowers are not always noticeable as they bloom when the leaves are fully expanded in July. The flowers are white and large as well, almost eight to 10 inches in diameter.

This is a large tree and requires considerable space and likes a deep, rich moist soil. You may see this in cemeteries and arboretums.

The last one goes great in Ohio gardens, and it is the summer-blooming sweetbay magnolia (M. virginiana). The flowers are quite fragrant, and the foliage has silver undertones as well. It only grows to around 10 – 12 feet tall.

Pamela Corle-Bennett is the state master gardener volunteer coordinator and horticulture educator for Ohio State University Extension. Contact her by email at

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

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