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Southern magnolias have already begun their summer show and the early-blooming crape myrtles like Natchez won’t be far behind. Included are a few of the things I learned after observing these plants since last year.
Little Gem continues to be the most popular southern magnolia in the trade. There are some perfectly good reasons for that. It fits better into most gardens since it only reaches about 30 feet or so. Little Gem also blooms heavily at an early age. That’s something many of the southern magnolias don’t do.
Nursery growers struggle with Little Gem because it requires lots of pruning to develop the thick canopy of foliage most folks want. That’s why some nurseries are taking a hard look at Kay Paris southern magnolia. This selection develops a nice canopy without the pruning. It doesn’t flower as heavily as Little Gem, but it does have the nice brown coloring on the underside of the leaves. The Kay Paris growing in the Brunswick Botanical Garden in Bolivia has a nice shape even though it hasn’t been touched by pruners. Based on this plant and others I’ve seen, Kay Paris will probably be a little larger at maturity than Little Gem.
One southern magnolia selection that doesn’t seem to be cutting the mustard for us is Alta. Flower bud set has been limited and the shape of the canopy leaves much to be desired.
Growing southern magnolias is pretty simple. Any reasonably well-drained soil works pretty well as long as the pH is too high. Full sun will yield the most flowers but light shade can be tolerated.
Dropping leaves comes along with growing southern magnolia. Leave the lower limbs on the plants so you don’t have to constantly clean up the debris.
Here in hurricane country we have to be concerned about high winds. One of the great things about southern magnolia is it doesn’t blow over because of its aggressive root system.
I like crape myrtles almost as much as a good glass of cabernet sauvignon, so it’s easy for me to get excited about the upcoming flower show. But, don’t discount the other ornamental qualities of crape myrtle like the gorgeous bark.
For overall flower quality Pink Velour is still my choice. It also has the added benefit of burgundy new growth and red seedpods. My only complaint is it doesn’t grow quickly enough.
East Carolina fans can show their purple pride with Catawba which has purple blooms on an 8-10 foot plant. Try High Cotton if you need a vigorous white selection with pink stamens.
The best choices for exfoliating (peeling) bark are Fantasy, Townhouse, Osage and Natchez. Uplighting on a mature specimen of one of these might just make you forget about the flowers.