The striking Japanese magnolia trees are in bloom, possibly signifying an early spring.

And now is the perfect time to plant them.

These magnolias have a slow to moderate growth rate and make a great accent specimen or foundation tree for framing a home. Be sure to plant them a good 10 feet away from the house or awnings because they grow 25 to 30 feet tall and spread 20 feet wide.

They are also known as a saucer magnolia, and have multiple trunks, but can be trained to grow from one main trunk, similar to the way crape myrtles are grown.

The tree is a hybrid of two species of magnolias, and its Latin name is Magnolia x soulangeana. Its flowers are extremely fragrant and make gorgeous cut flower arrangements. 

Local nurseries usually carry several varieties from which to choose.

The most common varieties are Alexandrina, which has flowers that are deep rose-purple with white inside; Lennei, which has a dark purple flower with white inside; Lennei Alba, which is pure white; Rustica Rubra, which has rose-red flowers; and Verbanica, which has pink flowers with white inside.

Other gorgeous magnolia crosses are also in bloom this time of year. They include loebnar magnolia and star magnolia stellata.

The Little Girl series originated at the National Arboretum in the 1950s and is a hybrid of magnolia liliiflora nigra and magnolia stellata rosea. And, as the name implies, they're named after girls — Ann, Betty, Jane, Jon, Judy, Pinkie, Randy, Ricki and Susan. Many of these varieties can be found at local nurseries.

All of these magnolias are small, deciduous trees, meaning they drop their leaves in winter. They bloom in early spring and boast many colors from the deepest magenta purple to pink to creamy white. There are even yellow-colored varieties called Elizabeth and Judy Zuk, but finding them can be likened to finding a needle in a haystack.

What’s especially striking about these magnolias is they flower before leaves emerge, creating a gorgeous display of blooms on barren stems. Large, fuzzy gray buds break, followed closely by tulip-shaped blooms.

They grow best in full to partial sun in well-drained, slightly acidic soil. Be sure to water well after planting and continue routine watering the first couple of weeks for best establishment. In its first year, water during droughts. Skip fertilizer in year one, but begin fertilizing in the spring of year two.

Magnolias prefer a loamy soil with a lower pH of 5.0 to 6.5, but they can tolerate alkaline soils. Iron and manganese chlorosis can be an issue in soils with high pH. This yellowing of the leaves can be corrected after soil tests confirm an iron or manganese deficiency by applying elemental sulfur to help lower the pH. Fertilize with ferrous (iron) sulfate if iron is deficient. You may apply a water-soluble, complete fertilizer with micronutrients at the recommended rates to combat manganese issues.

Trim branches to keep the tree looking tidy, and prune after flowering. Mulch 2- to 4-inches-thick because magnolias are shallow-rooted. Mulch helps moderate soil temperatures and conserve moisture.

Scale is the main insect problem for magnolias. Use a horticulture oil in cool weather to help control. Once the weather heats up, use an organic spray for control because oil on the leaves can burn the plant in intense sun.

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