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Yes, I've said that many times on the GardenLine radio program, and I've received lots of pretty terse responses as a result.
"That boy must be a Yankee," is common. (I'm not. I was born in Whittier, Calif., and moved to Houston when I was five years old. That gives me nearly 46 years of Texas residency, as of today.)
And while I think I've made my points clear on the show, I thought it was time to clarify my position in writing again - especially since I have inherited five magnolia trees on my new property in Tomball. To be honest, three are coming down. But I will likely save two of them - one for sure!
For those who want to debate me on this, I will agree that their blooms are magnificent. And, yes, a healthy one is a tremendous shade tree. It's not my goal to talk you out of planting one. It really isn't. But I personally don't like them and really don't care for them in my landscape. But one of my five looks healthy, and I'm going to try some magnolia CPR on one other.
Let me explain why I am removing the other three and will never plant another on my property. First, the leaves are a pain-in-the-pittooty. (Did I spell that right?) They're big and bulky, impossible to rake normally, and can't be easily composted unless you have a chipper/shredder (right photo). I'm all about mulch-mowing, and magnolia leaves are a bane to that process.
Second, a longtime colleague of mine from the Texas A&M Horticulture Program said it perfectly. "I've never met a magnolia under 10 years old that I liked, and I've never met a magnolia over 25 that I didn't just love." If they are properly taken care of, they are magnificent specimens. But very few people stay in any one residence long enough to fully enjoy those they planted years back. The trees I have were apparently planted in 1993, which means they should be beautiful by now, but only one fits that bill.
If you'd like to plant one, there is one exception to my magnolia aversion these days - Little Gems! These are dwarf versions of magnolias and make great landscaping "accent" trees. They are perfect for the corners of a house. Unfortunately, because of the massive crop of uninformed and uneducated landscapers out there, regular magnolias are often planted where there should be a dwarf ... like right up next to the house. Read my technique for the proper planting of trees and large shrubs, so you'll get yours off to the best start.
The best tip I have for anyone interested in a magnolia (regular size or otherwise) is to leave it alone when it comes to pruning. In fact, the picture at the top of this article is a perfect example. It's easily over 20 years old, and it obviously has not been pruned from the bottom up. Magnolias, like pine trees, should never be pruned just for the sake of pruning. The healthiest magnolias never are. You couldn't get a lawnmower under the tree pictured, and you certainly couldn't and shouldn't be planting anything else near it. See how incredibly healthy it is? I believe the photo was taken on hole 5 on the "New Nine" at the Sugar Creek Country Club golf course.
In addition to the pruning avoidance, deep-root feeding is also a top key to success. And with Magnolias, it's smart to occasionally use an organic azalea food. Magnolias, like azaleas, camellias and gardenias, can benefit from acid-loving plant food. I recommend using organic foods for deep-root feeding trees in general, and while it doesn't have to apply here, there are quality organic azalea foods out there, so why not do all you can to achieve the ultimate health of the tree?
If you're a magnolia tree lover, you have my undying respect! You have the fortitude to stick through all the problems they seem to have and still adore them. And if you're interested in propagating them, you may like the websites www.gardens.com and www.gardenguides.com.