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February 3, 2018


I read your IN THE GARDEN weekly and love it! I live in NWA, Fayetteville area, I would like to plant an evergreen screen that will have West exposure. Suggestions?



There are a number of possibilities.  You could plant either a one variety hedge or a mix of evergreens for more diversity.  Choices include: hollies (Nellie Stevens, Foster, Burford or American holly are some choices), some of the smaller southern magnolias (Little Gem, Bracken’s Brown Beauty or Teddy Bear), and some needle-type evergreens include cryptomeria, Green Giant arborvitae or Eastern red cedar.


August 26, 2017

QuestionI have a magnolia tree that is about 25 years old it a very good size tree but it has never bloomed I took soil samples to the local extension office and had it checked and followed. Their instruction regarding adding the lime they told me too last year however it has stilled not bloomed. Any suggestions that you might have would be appreciated.


How much sunlight does the magnolia get? It would need at least 6 -8 hours per day in order to set flowers.  How is the tree growing?  If the tree is still small after 25 years, I would say you might have a problem with soil nutrition, but if the tree is growing well but just not blooming, my guess would be a sunlight issue.


June 1, 2017



My southern magnolia tree is 5 or 6 years old and 4 feet tall and it has never bloomed, although new leaves appear and it seems quite healthy.  Are some magnolias capable of producing flowers while others are not?  Are there separate male and female plants?  Is it a question of cross-pollination or will fertilizer help?  



Did you plant this magnolia from seed or plant?  A five or six year old southern magnolia should be taller than four feet.  If it was seed planted, it may have gotten a slow start.  If it was planted as a container plant, I would guess that something is impeding its root growth.  In any case, a standard southern magnolia tree can take six to eight years to come of age before blooming (some of the “dwarf” types bloom sooner).  I would say your tree is in a juvenile stage, and needs to grow more.  See if there is some reason for the lack of growth, and correct if possible.  . 


 September 3, 2016


I have a very healthy, but young, Jane Magnolia. In the last two weeks, two blossoms have appeared but before they could fully open, the entire blossom turned brown and fell off. What's happening?    



It is not unusual for a spring blooming plant to set some odd blooms in late summer to early winter, especially if we had an early spring.  Jane is one of the early blooming deciduous magnolias and they tend to set their flower buds quite early in the summer for the following year.  We typically see these errant blooms when we get a warm spell after a cool spell in the fall and we get to enjoy a little bonus color.  I would assume that something triggered yours to try to bloom and the heat and rain took their toll.  Wait and see how well they do next spring before you begin to worry.    


June 18, 2016

QuestionI have a tall beautiful Japanese magnolia that is probably over 10 years old and has never bloomed.  It seems healthy.  It put on lots of new leaves but no blossoms.  Can you help me?  Is there a chemical or fertilizer I need to put on it?  


 AnswerIs the tree in at least 6 hours of sun?  Does it set flower buds that just don’t open?  Usually Japanese magnolias bloom at a relatively young age for magnolias.  The flower buds are fuzzy buds which form in late August or September.    Sometimes they begin to bloom before winter is over and the flowers get frozen, but we had no such troubles this year.  



March 5, 2016

QuestionOur Star Magnolia started showing problems in late August and September last year. The leaves started dying. It is blooming now, but the blooms seem to be about half the size as in the past. I think that this may its last “hurrah”. Is there any hope for our Star Magnolia? It has always been the first thing to bloom in late winter, and it is beautiful.



Did you water it during that time period? September was the driest September we have ever had. If the plant got too stressed, that could have caused the leaves to die back early and would have impacted the bloom this spring, since that is when spring flowering plants set flower buds.  This season, fertilize it after bloom, then water as needed all summer and see what happens. 

 February 1, 2016

QuestionWe have a lot of plants planted in the corner of our yard and the utility company needs to come in and do some new pipes.   I will have to move a 10 foot southern magnolia, a crape myrtle trees, along with numerous perennials. When should I transplant these?   I am not sure when they will be doing the work, so I may have some lead time to plan.


AnswerWe are in prime transplanting season for your trees.  With the perennials, you may or may not know where they are until they begin emerging.  If you plan to replant them back in the corner after the work is done, you can heal them in a shady area in the yard—mounding soil over the root system until you can replant. If you are permanently replanting, dig and replant immediately. While they are dormant, there is less stress to the plants.

November 28, 2015

QuestionI had two trees removed from my back yard early last summer; a Bradford Pear (Fire Blight) and a Maple (Slime Flux?)  Now I'm looking for replacement trees. I really don't need shade as this is in the East yard, therefore, I would prefer something not to exceed 20 - 25 feet tall.  I'm leaning towards a holly but will consider other evergreens. The soil I'm dealing with is heavy orange clay.  In fact the Maple I removed had a lot of surface roots. Thank you for any suggestions? 


The maple would have probably had surface roots even in decent soil—that is the nature of maples.  I am assuming you want something evergreen.  Some options include:  Little Gem magnolia, Foster holly, Burford holly, deodara cedar, cherry laurel or one of the larger junipers.  If it doesn’t have to be evergreen, I love the sweetbay magnolia or even one of the tulip magnolia trees, redbuds or dogwoods.

 November 14, 2015


I would like to plant privacy hedge/shrubs that will screen the property next door.  I read your response recently about thorny eleagnus but I will need these shrubs to reach a height of 15-25 ft. and get thick.  I don’t think the thorny eleagnus will reach the height I desire.  Do you have any advice on what I should plant?  The area gets about 6-8 hours of sun.  Is a willow hybrid or non-spreading bamboo a consideration?.


AnswerA hybrid willow is fast growing but probably will get too tall and be somewhat weak. It also is deciduous and most people prefer a screen to be evergreen.  If you can find the clumping—non-spreading bamboo, that is an option, but I think there are better choices.  You could go with one of the smaller growing southern magnolias—Little Gem,  Brackens Brown Beauty, etc.  They will eventually get that tall, and they are dense, but they may be slower growing than you want.  Consider some of the hollies—lusterleaf holly, Nellie Stevens and Burford holly will all grow at least 15-20 feet tall and are evergreen. Cryptomeria, Deodara cedar and Green Giant Arborvitae are other choices. 

 (January 2013)

Question- We have a large magnolia tree at each end of the house and they have gotten too large and overhang the house. I had our other trees trimmed in September and the tree guy said not to trim the magnolias at this time. He said February was the right time for them and he could cut the tops off and trim them so they wouldn't be so large. What do you recommend?

AnswerMany magnolias were damaged with the recent snow storm, so you may have no choice but to start pruning. Normally, I would recommend waiting until after they bloom before pruning--May is the normal bloom period for a standard southern magnolia. I never recommend topping a tree, since it will cause the internal wood to decay and ruin the natural shape of the tree. If the height is an issue, you might consider replacing the magnolia with another tree. Standard southern magnolias can easily grow 60 feet tall by 30 feet or more wide. One pruning is not going to stop their growth. There are numerous dwarf magnolia varieties on the market that are better suited to a standard home landscape.

(September 2012

QuestionWe have a Magnolia tree with a sucker/shoot at the base. We've had these before, but this one is a foot tall and has its own leaves. Can it be cut and rooted?

AnswerYou can root it, but it will be a slow process. What you may want to do instead, is lay it down and cover a portion of it with soil. This is a propagation method called layering. It will root while it is attached to the mother plant, and you can cut it off and replant next spring.

(November 2010)

QuestionAbout five years ago I planted a rooted magnolia that was about a foot high. Today, it is about 10 feet high and healthy...except it has never blossomed! Before I cut it down, I wanted to check with you to see if t here is any way I can make it bloom. There is a huge magnolia tree across the street from me so shouldn't that take care of any necessary pollination?

AnswerA traditional southern magnolia can take 8-10 years before it begins blooming, so I think patience is in order. The stately Magnolia grandiflora is a huge tree at maturity and often gets too large for a common landscape. For that reason, many are planting the smaller ‘Little Gem’ magnolia or ‘Bracken's Brown Beauty’. The leaves and flowers are about 1/2 the size of the standard, but an added benefit, besides the smaller size is that they bloom at a very young age. For your tree, just enjoy the evergreen foliage. Once it begins to bloom, provided it has plenty of sun, you should have flowers every year.

(August 2010)

QuestionI was inspecting a house in Eureka Springs this week and saw this cluster on a tree that I never noticed before. I was told it was a magnolia tree, but it didn't have the glossy leaves. I couldn’t find it in my tree book. What are your thoughts?

AnswerI think it is a slightly deformed seed pod on a Magnolia soulangiana--the tulip or saucer magnolia. It should have light pink to purple flowers in the spring before the foliage. This magnolia is deciduous, losing its leaves every fall, thus it doesn’t have the thick, glossy leaves of the evergreen Magnolia grandiflora.

(February 2010)

QuestionWe would like to screen our yard from residents of a motel next door to us. We need the fastest solution but will have to weigh the cost factor when making a decision. I’ve read that Blue Spruce grows well in Arkansas and has a good conical shape when planted as a screen, but it is slow growing and doesn’t transplant so well when more mature. Do you have suggestions for us?

AnswerColorado blue spruce is ok in the most northern tier of Arkansas, but even there can struggle with the heat and humidity of our summers. It is relatively slow growing and I would not think inexpensive. For fast growth, and a mature large plant, consider: Thuja plicata ‘Green Giant’ - arborvitae or Prunus caroliniana ‘Bright ‘N Tight – Cherry laurel. Another tall growing albeit slightly slower growing evergreen is the Japanese cedar Cryptomeria japonica ‘Yoshino’ or ‘Ben Franklin’ are two large cultivars. Then there are several hollies which make nice screens: Ilex cornuta ‘Burfordii’ – Burford holly, I. x attenuate ‘Fosteri’, ‘East Palatka’ or ‘Savannah’ and Ilex x ‘Nellie R. Stevens’. Depending on space, you could also grow the southern magnolia- Magnolia grandiflora. The standard variety gets massive, both in height and width but there are several slower growing smaller cultivars including ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ and ‘Little Gem’.

(April 2009)

QuestionI have a tulip tree that is 4 years old and has never bloomed. It is supposed to have yellow blooms. The leaves are beautiful, but the tree never blooms. What is the problem?

AnswerThis is where common names can be misleading. There are two trees commonly called tulip tree. One is the tulip magnolia—Magnolia x soulangiana and the other is the tulip poplar Liriodendron tulipifera. The magnolia tree has beautiful blooms before the foliage comes on in the spring. The most common color is a shade of pink, however there are some crosses today with a yellow flower— ‘Elizabeth’ and ‘Butterfly’ are two choices. Most of these are crosses between M. acuminata and M. denudata, but are still commonly called tulip trees. The tulip poplar on the other hand is a large tree at maturity, with leaves shaped quite like a child draws a tulip. The yellow and orange flowers are quite pretty, but are usually borne on the interior of the tree and masked by the foliage or high up where no one notices. The resulting fruit is a cone like pod. Liriodendron trees can easily reach 80 feet or more at maturity, while the magnolias mentioned rarely exceed 30- 40 feet. Both trees prefer full sun to bloom. For both trees, age does make a difference. In some cases it could be 6-8 years before blooming begins depending on the cultivar and whether it was grown from seed or cutting.

(October 2005)

QuestionWhat part of a Magnolia tree is planted to grow another tree? What time of year?

AnswerMagnolias can be started from seeds, cuttings or layering. You should be seeing mature, ripe seed pods now. The cones containing the seeds will begin to darken and dry, and the emerging red seeds will be visible. Try to harvest as soon as they are ripe, and begin the process as soon as possible. Don’t store the seeds for later use. Take the seeds and remove the outer pulp. TO help break the hard outer seed coat, lightly rub the seeds between a sheet of sand paper. Then place the seeds in a plastic bag filled with moist peat moss or potting soil. Place that in your refrigerator for several months, then pot up and wait for growth. The combination of scarification (the abrading of the outer seed coat) and stratification (the cool, moist storage period) should result in seedlings. Of course, this happens naturally outdoors. You can create a “nursery” bed outside, and plant numerous seeds in the ground, and then wait for them to grow next spring. Cuttings are best taken in June to July from new growth that has gradually hardened off. An easier method than cuttings is to layer some of the lower limbs of the tree. Take a low hanging branch and lightly wound it on the bottom and mound soil over it. Weight it down, and wait until next spring. By then it should have sprouted roots.

(July 2008)

QuestionWe have a very large magnolia, over 50 years old. We keep the limbs trimmed around 5 to 6 feet from the ground but still have no grass under this tree. There is a dogwood nearby that also has no grass. The roots of the magnolia are now coming above ground. What should we do for these problems of no grass and roots above ground?

AnswerAdd a layer of mulch or try a groundcover. I never recommend limbing up magnolias for the very reasons you mentioned. Surface roots are common--and you can't cut them without damaging the tree. Dense shade prevents grass from growing, and typically you have a lot of debris under a magnolia since they tend to shed old leaves seemingly year-round. A nice layer of mulch covers up the roots and is preferable to bare soil. Mulch will also aid in moisture retention which should help your dogwood.

(July 2008)

QuestionMy mother lives in NW Arkansas and has had a magnolia tree for a good number of years. It is on the north side of the house and sits in a well lighted area. It is more than 20 feet tall and healthy, except for one thing: it has never bloomed. We are wondering why it has never bloomed. Should we prune it or do something else?

AnswerHow much sunlight would you say the tree gets? It needs a minimum of six hours of sunlight a day to bloom. There is quite a bit of variability as to how early a magnolia tree will bloom--especially if it was grown from seed. In most cases, it can take up to 5-10 years for a standard southern magnolia to bloom, and some can be 15-20 years before beginning to bloom. The good news is that once it starts, it will bloom annually from then on. Some of the newer cultivars--Little Gem and Bracken's Brown Beauty can bloom at a much younger age.

(June 2005)

My magnolia tree is looking sad, the leaves are all turning yellow and falling and I don't see too many new ones coming. There is limited new growth. It is not looking very healthy. What can we do?

AnswerMagnolias can shed old leaves year-round. However, you should be seeing signs of new growth to replace those falling leaves. Pay attention to watering--it has been extremely dry for this early in the season. We have also seen an abundance of leaf spot diseases on a variety of plants. Monitor the plants for insects and diseases. If the yellowing is primarily on older leaves further down on the stems, don't be overly concerned. Try a light application of fertilizer to spur on new growth, but do monitor the situation this growing season.

(March 2005)

QuestionWe planted a magnolia tree nine years. The tree has done very well but now surface roots are shooting out into the lawn. Is it harmful if I cut these surface roots. Also can the lower branches be removed?

AnswerMagnolias are known for their surface roots, as well as leaf droppage throughout the season. For that reason, I believe in leaving the lower limbs attached. This masks the surface roots, plus the debris. Since it is virtually impossible to grow anything under the trees anyway, that is another reason to allow the limbs free growth. Removing surface roots could damage the trees, plus won't be a long lasting solution.

QuestionMy tulip magnolia had quite a few open flowers and many buds showing color before it finally turned cold. Now they are brown. Should I prune them off and if so, how far back should I prune. Do you think it damaged all the flower buds?

AnswerI was worried this was going to happen! Many plants were moving ahead of schedule. Do not prune any damaged growth off yet. We may have more cold weather to come, and we want the extra protection. Any buds which were still tight should be fine. I expect to still have flowers this spring, and hopefully the weather will cooperate. Wait until after the plants have finished all flowering before pruning later this spring.

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