Magnolias Require Patience

   Written by on October 30, 2014 at 1:31 pm

Ready for a long term project?

If you’re observant of the trees around you, you will have noticed more besides the bright leaves on the deciduous ones. The strange looking cones on the magnolia trees are full of equally bright red seed pods. The thought might occur to you to propagate your own magnolia tree instead of paying the high price of a small tree at the nursery.

a walk in the gardenAt this point, you must weigh the value of instant gratification against the challenge of a truly rewarding garden project. Add in the fact that you might not see the full grown result, and we’ll see how devoted you are to growing your own.

Propagating magnolia seeds is a little more work than usual because you can’t just buy the seeds in a packet. Plus, if you wait too long to harvest seed pods from the tree, the seeds will dry out and will not germinate. One more thing: if the tree from which you harvest the berries is a hybrid, your resulting tree could be completely different in appearance. As with most hybrid plants, the offspring revert to the original rather than looking like the parent.

Birds and squirrels love the bright red berries in the magnolia cones, so you may have a fight on your hands. Gather the berries as soon as possible and soak them overnight in lukewarm water. The next day, remove the seed coat by rubbing the seeds against small wire screen or hardware cloth.

Your next step would be to create stratification. Place the seeds in moist sand and mix well. The sand should not be dripping wet; just moist. And here’s where that patience I mentioned comes in. Place the container of sand and seeds in the refrigerator and leave it untouched for about three months. Do not stir, do not shake. This is a period of hibernation, if you will, for the seeds.

When you’re ready to plant, remove the container from the refrigerator. The change in temperature will signal the seeds that it’s time to grow. Planting can be in a pot or directly in the ground. Planting several will give you more chance of raising healthy seedlings, and if you’re really successful, you can share with friends.

Cover the seeds with about ¼ inch of soil and keep it moist until the seedlings emerge. A layer of mulch will help keep moisture in. For the first year, indirect sunlight is best. When a strong root system has formed, or the pots are full of roots, the seedling(s) can be transplanted to a larger pot. From there, as the young tree grows, it can be planted in its permanent home.

When you see a beautiful magnolia tree in bloom, think about this: it may have taken as long as fifteen years for the first creamy white bloom to appear.

You’re just getting started!

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