Winter Drought Stressed Magnolia

(Question)

Hello, I live in the south end of Etobicoke very close to the lake. I have a beautiful magnolia tree in front of my house (faces east) that is more than 30 feet high. Despite having many buds for flowers, the tree has not yet bloomed, nor have any leaves developed. The twigs are “green” inside but it appears that the tree simply does not have the energy to both bloom and leaf after our unusually harsh winter. I am wondering if pruning the tree now (or at least removing the flower buds) will help the leaves develop with less overall strain on the plant. Any advice would be welcome…I would really hate to lost this beautiful old tree (which is otherwise healthy).

(Answer)

Our long, cold winter created an extended drought period for our garden plants. Large trees like Magnolia species suffered as a consequence. You may wish to have an arborist assess the health of your tree, if you are concerned. You can find a list of arborists in your area on the ISA trees are good website. https://www.treesaregood.org/findanarborist

Checking to see if your tree has healthy growing conditions is something you can do. If your tree is old and large it is likely to be getting enough sunshine. Magnolias love full sun. They also prefer nutrient rich, well draining soil of neutral to acidic pH. They don’t like sitting in water or long periods without water. It is possible that your magnolia didn’t get enough water in the fall and is stressed as a result. Put your finger in the soil under the tree. If the ground is moist for 2 or more inches it is fine, and recent rains may have done the job, but if the soil moisture is superficial, then a long slow watering is recommended. A soaker hose around the drip line of the canopy, is ideal. Water should penetrate to 12 inches in depth. Magnolias prefer deep watering once a month, rather than frequent shallow watering. If it is a hot, dry summer, you may need to water fortnightly occasionally, depending on your soil type.

If your soil is nutrient poor you can add a light application of balanced slow release fertilizer, once in the spring. Magnolias don’t like to be fertilized frequently, and can suffer root burn from the excessive salts that leach into the soil. Amending your soil by applying several inches of well rotted compost and some decomposed mulch away from the trunk, but under the entire root zone, can also help improve your trees health.

Pruning is not recommended on stressed trees as they will expend energy trying to heal the pruning cuts. As long as there is no sign of insect pests or disease, your tree should recover if you go through the steps mentioned above. Good luck.