Today’s reader question comes from Anthony in Williamsburg, VA:
I really like Saucer Magnolias but it seems that almost every year their blooms are killed by a spring freeze. I’d like to plant one in my yard but I’m wondering if there’s anything that I can do to prevent the blooms from being killed. Thanks.
Anthony, this is a timely topic as the Saucer Magnolias (Magnolia x soulangiana) in the Richmond, VA area are in heavy bud now. If the weather continues to be warm, they could be in full bloom in a few weeks. Given that Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow today and we have 6 more weeks of winter to endure, that may not be a good thing. I can sympathize with your concern over having a spring freeze ruin the beautiful blooms…for 8 years I watched a beautiful Saucer Magnolia’s blooms turn to mush until finally in the ninth year, they were able to make it through spring without a freeze.
There are several actions that you can take BEFORE you plant a Saucer Magnolia at your house to ensure that the blooms are enjoyed instead of mourned over.
- Plant the tree so that it has a northern orientation. Areas that face north are generally cooler which may sound counterintuitive, but it is the spring warmth that forces the trees to bloom. If you can keep the tree cooler so that it doesn’t realize the temperatures are as warm as they really are, you may be able to postpone blooming for a week or so which may be just enough time to eek past a few freezing nights.
- If you have a slope in your yard, plant at the top of the hill to avoid frost pockets. I’m not sure if you are aware, but colder air will flow downhill on a slope and if there is anything at the bottom to trap the air, the colder air will settle there and you end up with a frost pocket. The few degree difference can be just enough to cause your blooms to turn from beauty to beast.
- Try planting one of the later blooming cultivars. ‘Speciosa’ is a white flowered variety that blooms later and ‘Verbanica’ is a late blooming pink selection that maxes out at around 10′ tall.
Anthony, I hope that I’ve given you some things to consider when planting your Saucer Magnolia. Please realize that even by taking all of these precautions, there will be some springs where the blooms get zapped. If you know that the freeze is coming, cut some of the blooms and put them in a vase where you can still enjoy them indoors. If any of the other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers have suggestions for Anthony, leave them in the comment section below or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy gardening!