Of all the spring flowering trees, magnolia trees are the most spectacular, with their large goblet-shaped blooms clustered all along the bare branches in early spring. Among the first flowering trees of the season, these spring-flowering deciduous forms should not be confused with the evergreen magnolia of the South, that flowers summer with flat, ‘dinner-plate’ white blooms. No, the spring magnolias come in rich tones of purples and pinks, and they flower in those fragile days when winter is becoming spring. At that time late frosts are always possible in colder zones, and although these trees are very cold-resistant, once the buds begin to swell, they are easily damaged, and the flowering wiped out in one cold morning.
If you live in areas where this is a risk, choose a magnolia with the name of a girl, like Susan Magnolia. Why? Because these trees were bred carefully in the 1950s at the National Arboretum Washington, to have flower buds that come out of dormancy about 2 weeks later than is common. That slips them through the critical late-frost weeks and ensures they flower virtually every year, without fail. Why wouldn’t we make such a sensible choice, given how beautiful these trees are?
Growing Susan Magnolia Trees
The Susan Magnolia is a small spreading tree with an elegant crown of slightly twisted, picturesque branches, covered in smooth, soft-gray bark. It grows between 8 and 12 feet tall, and a similar width, with one or two major trunks and a rounded upper crown. At that size, it is perfect for a specimen on a small lawn, or in beds among large shrubs. Plant it on the margins of a wooded area, or between windows around your home. It can even be grown for many years in a very large planter box or tub. This beautiful tree deserves a special place, and choose carefully, allowing enough room for its full development, because once planted and established it is hard to move, and its first spot should be its final one.
The leaves of the Susan Magnolia are mid-green in color, and smooth ovals to 6 inches long, with a soft texture. In fall they turn bronzy yellow, and the tree in winter is attractive, with the large, furry-brown flower buds sitting along the bare branches, tantalizing us with their promise of beauty to come. In early spring those buds begin to swell, shedding their furry covers and opening into upright goblets of six narrow, slightly twisted petals. The outside of the petals, which shows when they are young, is a deep, rich purple-red, and as the flowers mature they spread wider, revealing the paler pink-purple tones within. A tree in full bloom is a true glory of spring, and not easily forgotten. The memory lingers through summer and fall, returning in winter as we wait for them to come again. When not blooming the tree is an attractive green addition to your garden, and well worth its place.
The Susan Magnolia will grow well in full sun, or in partial shade, such as associated with larger deciduous trees. It thrives in deep, moist and well-drained soil, and although once established it will easily survive normal summer dry periods, it is not drought resistant, and grows best if mulched in spring and watered deeply at regular intervals. Protect from strong winds, and don’t be tempted to plant it against a south-facing wall, as this may cause premature flower development, which can then lead to frost damage. This tree almost never suffers from pests or diseases, and in a suitable location, it is easy to grow. In alkaline soils, the leaves may show yellowing in summer, but this rarely has an adverse effect on its health, and it can be corrected by applying chelated iron in early spring. Pruning is not needed, unless you need to remove some of the lowest branches when young to develop a higher crown, for clearance. The more this tree matures, the more beautiful it becomes, so sit back and enjoy it.
History and Origins of Susan Magnolia Trees
The Susan Magnolia was developed in the 1950s by William F. Kosar and Dr. Francis de Vos, two plant scientists at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. To develop that important later opening, and for plants with strong flower color, they crossed a light pink form of the early-blooming star magnolia, Magnolia stellata ‘Rosea’, with a purple form of the saucer magnolia, Magnolia liliflora ‘Nigra’. These species came originally from China. They carefully tested the resulting seedlings for their ability to escape those spring frosts, and the variety called ‘Susan’, is one of 8 varieties in the Girl Series they eventually released to all nurseries, without any patents, as a gift to the gardens of the nation. If you want to grow a magnolia – and you should – then choose one of this range and be sure of flowers every spring. Among them all, we think the Susan Magnolia is outstanding, and so do our customers. This variety sells out fast, so order now while our limited stock remains available.