Magnolia bud drop

(Question)

I have a client with a mature magnolia in a small raised bed that may have been disturbed by construction.  It is dropping very small, almost pencil eraser sized (on the end of a pencil), buds onto driveway…

Can you elucidate me on any causes or remedies?

(Answer)

There could be any number of causes to the Magnolia bud drop.  Below, I have outlined some of the most common causes of this situation:

*   This mature tree may not have enough root space any more in the small bed.                                                                                                                                                   *   The soil in the raised bed may be depleted of nutrients.                                                                                                                                                                                           *   Construction damage to roots – injury from digging machinery.                                                                                                                                                                              *   Soil compaction from heavy equipment diminishing soil particle space, therefore limiting oxygen & water retaining qualities and creating a hostile environment for root penetration & growth .                                                                                                                                                                                              *   Inadequate watering / drought stress.                                                                                                                                                                                                                          *   Sudden change from wet cool spring to very hot weather conditions.                                                                                                                                                                 *   Magnolia scale – attracted to already stressed trees, check for presence of honeydew & ants.

To help the tree recover from its trauma & stress, I would suggest the following:

*   Deep thorough watering now and continuing until freeze up.                                                                                                                                                                               *   Remove any competition from around the base of the tree such as grass, other perennials or weeds.                                                                                                         *   Topdress with well rotted compost or sheep manure.                                                                                                                                                                                               *   Add 1-2 inches of mulch around the base of the tree but not right up against the trunk bark.  This will provide moisture retention & weed suppression.

*   Any pruning or shaping should be done between mid-summer and early fall.  Do not prune in late winter or early spring as cuts will bleed.

*   Extra feeding of fertilizer high in potassium (K), low in nitrogen (N) & phosphorus (P) in the fall.  This will help with overall plant health.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          *   Spring feeding of a general rose bush fertilizer in the spring such as 5-10-5.                                                                                                                                                      *   If signs of Scale are detected, a certified arborist or tree care company should be contacted to determine the best course of action.

This tree sounds like it has been put under stress from one or more factors, so it is putting its energy into protecting & healing itself rather than making flowers, hence the aborted buds on the driveway.  If it is pampered a bit now, it may be fine but flowers next spring will be sparse.  Magnolia trees, if they are cared for well, can live to be 80-120 years old.  Good luck.