Thursday, February 19, 2009

Saving My Magnolias

I live in a suburb of Little Rock, AR. In late 2003, we planted two magnolias, which were then about 12 feet high. Each met with an unhappy fate.
#1 died, and was replaced by the nursery in 2005 with a somewhat smaller tree, which also died. That was not replaced, and the dead, leafless tree remains, a dozen feet high. But in the last two or three years, a new tree seems to be growing from the roots of the dead one, and is now three or four feet high. We have done nothing with it, but it seems healthy, with full leaves. Should I stake this to the old dead tree? Remove the dead tree? Do nothing? Perhaps I should add that the corner of the lot where the tree is located is slightly depressed, and thus a bit wetter than the rest of the yard.
#2 has lived, and in a sense thrived. It is now 15-18 feet high. However --- the tree leans like the leaning tower of Pisa. I surmise that this is because our soil is pretty spongy -- we can hardly walk in the back yard after lots of rain -- and that the tree is leaning to the east because of the prevailing west winds pushing it that way without strong soil to hold it in place. Do not know that my surmise is correct, of course. We have kept it staked for most of its life, except for the times when I noticed that the wires were broken (which might have been months earlier, b/c I do not keep close tabs on the tree). What are the prospects that this tree will simply stay in the ground, as opposed to being blown over? What can I do to save the tree? Is it worth spending the money to bring out folks from the nursery (again)? I should add that I am not a gardener, and do not have a natural touch with these things.

-- Philip

Anne's Response:


Magnolia trees really don't like "wet feet". That may be the reason for the "demise". Another problem may be the structure of the tree itself. From your description of the new growth I think the magnolia you planted may be a grafted plant. The nursery that originally grew the tree used the root stock from a seedling magnolia and attached a scion or twig from a named cultivar of magnolia. It is a fast way to get good growth from more desirable plant at less cost than growing it from a cutting which would take several years for a nursery to grow to a sellable size. Sometimes grafted plants are planted with the graft site planted too deeply in a hole and the grafted top is killed. If the new growth from the base of the dead tree is healthy you might try to cut off the dead wood without damaging the new growth.

Magnolias have a pretty tenacious root system. At this late date I am not sure you will ever be able to get the tree to grow upright but I don't think you need to worry about it pulling out of the ground.

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