Late winter is the season when the deciduous (lose-their-leaves-in-winter) magnolias are at their best – often the windy days of August seem to force these gorgeous flowers to open in a rush. The breathtaking sight of the large, tulip-like blooms perching on bare branches can send passers-by rushing to the nursery to buy something similar.

There are dozens of magnolia varieties, and making a choice can be a formidable task. The names are confusing so it’s usually easiest to forget nomenclature and just go for the flower you like most (remembering, of course, to check the ultimate height on the label). Most grow into small trees but, if space is tight, look for one of the shrub-sized stellata varieties (pictured).


Because magnolias come from cool climates with rich, moisture-holding soil, keeping them happy through hot Australian summers is a challenge.

It’s important to take the opportunity to improve the soil as much as possible before planting. Choose a spot that gets at least half a day’s sun and is protected from strong winds.

Start by clearing grass or ground-covering plants from an area about a metre across, then dig plenty of milled cow manure or good compost into the soil. Because magnolias hate being dry, it can also be helpful to add some water-storing crystals into the planting area.

Create a planting hole that’s about twice the size of the pot and approximately the same depth. Take the plant out of the pot with care (magnolias hate root disturbance) and sit it into the planting hole.

Backfill, and water well to settle everything into place. Next apply some Yates® Waterwise Water Storage Crystals. Its soil wetting properties will ensure that moisture gets straight through to the roots. Lastly, spread a layer of organic mulch. This will keep the soil moist and stop competitive grass from growing back over the root area. Yates® Waterwise Water Storage Crystals comes in liquid or dry formulations and should be re-applied a couple of times a year.

Problems and care

Summer heat and drought cause most damage to magnolias and it’s not unusual for the leaves to develop brown edges in late summer. Good watering and mulching will reduce this problem.

Watch for possum and birds causing damage to leaves and flowers. Control remedies abound but none seems to be universally successful. The best suggestion is to change treatments regularly.

Surprisingly, snails are some of the most common pests of magnolias. When weather conditions are mild, young snails live up in the trees and chew on the tender young leaves, especially in spring when the leaves are young and tender. It’s helpful to sprinkle some Yates® Blitzem pellets around the base of the tree and check regularly for those tree-climbing junior molluscs.

Feed deciduous magnolias in spring with gentle Yates® Dynamic Lifter® Organic Plant Food and follow up with Yates® Thrive® Roses & Flowers Liquid Plant Food to encourage more blooms.


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