Tag: magnolia

Magnolias with Larry Lowman

Larry Lowman’s love of nature has earned him many fans who admire his passion for plants that are native to North America and in particular the diverse region of Arkansas called Bayou Meto where Larry’s home is located. Larry shares with us his collection of magnolias, a true symbol of the south.

Larry Lowman, Ridgecrest Nursery, Wynne, Arkansas: The magnolia family as a whole is extremely diverse. And there is just a multitude of uses, it’s a very adaptable plant and can perform any number of useful purposes in the landscape. More often than not the Asian magnolias with the really elegant flowers are used as centerpieces, just a solo specimen out there really shining by its self and they are often planted in the open by themselves in full sun.

We blend with them, the shrubby forms like the star magnolias. I like to use these as a mixture in a shrub border. The southern magnolia, the big green grandifloras, is usually used as solo specimens in the middle of a large space. So it just depends on what you want out of a plant.

The flowers are very elegant if they are situated against a back drop that’s dark. The magnolias that are evergreen such as ‘Sweet Bay’ and ‘Southern Magnolia’ do most of their root growth during the warm weather and it is best to try to plant them in April or May if possible. If you dig them or disturb them in the middle of winter or in the fall they won’t be able to re-grow their roots quickly enough to recover from winter.

A lot of organic matter near the surface of the ground is important. We mulch with a leaf humus whenever possible and shredded hardwood bark that has been partially composted-not hardwood mulch, just hardwood bark. These trees typically grow in a forest habitat and are used to having leaf mulch completely covering their root system. Their roots typically seek the surface and oxygen and air and are very shallow and so they need a lot of surface mulch to protect them to be at their best. Whatever dead leaves that fall from the tree itself should stay in place in my opinion and then add a little bit more or some mulch to anchor them, to keep them from blowing away. On a tree that had a spread of 10 feet then I would have a mulch ring that was 10 or 12 feet around it.

The question of why I like magnolias is like asking someone why they like redheads. I, for some reason, am just attracted to them. The flowers, the plant organism itself, even the roots smell good when you are transplanting them and messing with them. But there is just something about the flowers in the spring. I’m also very attracted to daffodils from my childhood on, and so things that bloom early in the spring are the main reason that I like them.

What to Plant Under a Southern Magnolia

I have a mature Southern magnolia tree with large roots rising out of the ground. What can I plant under the tree that will survive?

Rising up to 60 feet tall with a canopy often reaching 50 feet wide, Southern magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora) are one of the more majestic trees that grace our gardens. Because of their attractive evergreen foliage, sweet smelling blooms and interesting berries these giants are a treasure if you have room to grow them.

As the name implies, Southern magnolias are best suited for warm climates. They are only reliably cold hardy to zone 7 where winter temperatures do not drop below 10 degrees F on a consistent basis. However they can be grown in zone 6 and some varieties will survive as far north as zone 5. They thrive in full sun, but will tolerate partial shade. Plant them in well-drained, humus rich, moist and slightly acidic soil and they will be a relatively carefree addition to your garden for many years to come.

The root system on a Southern magnolia is fairly extensive and shallow, resulting in the problem that you are experiencing where the roots rise to the soil surface. Couple this with the low, dense canopy and year round dropping of leaves and you have an area where it is very difficult to grow anything.

The first thing to understand about the situation is the relationship between the roots and the canopy. The canopy serves as a protection for the roots from sunlight and helps them to remain cool and moist. So you really don’t want to remove the lower branches. Also mature trees don’t heal quickly from pruning and can develop a wood disease.

If the tree is young you can plant a shade loving ground cover, such as liriope, under the canopy, but with a mature tree such as yours it is best not to dig around the roots.

Your best option for tidying up the area is to apply a thin layer of mulch, no thicker than 3 inches, under the canopy. Keep the mulch at least 2 feet away from the trunk of the tree.

If space allows you can use the shady shelter of the branches as a relaxing retreat from the summer sun. A comfortable chair, good book and glass of lemonade can quickly turn this otherwise dead space into a secluded spot that will bring back fond memories of childhood tree houses while staying securely on the ground!