A few days ago I was wandering about the garden, and noticed that the flower buds on ‘Jane’ magnolia (Magnolia x ‘Jane’, on Monday and further below, Wednesday) were beginning to break, but that the buds on ‘Dr. Merrill’ and ‘Royal Star’ were still closed. ‘Jane’ usually flowers later than the others, but it is planted just off the driveway and with more heat and sunnier days in March the reflected heat has forced it into bloom a little earlier. At the time I suspected that the other early spring blooming magnolias would not flower for at least a week, but after three days with temperatures in the mid-seventies they are beginning to pop.
It’s not unusual for the magnolias to flower in early March, nor is it uncommon for the blooms to be injured by frost and freezes that occur with regularity through the month, and even into early April. With the recent warm days, and more forecast over the next two weeks, it’s unlikely that the flowers will be injured by cold, though they will probably fade a bit more quickly in the heat.
‘Jane’ is the most dependable of the spring blooming magnolias in my garden, and it will often flower sporadically through the summer into early autumn. In most years it flowers two weeks later than the other magnolias, and the blooms have more substance so that it is more tolerant of cold. I read varying reports on the eventual size of ‘Jane’, with most sources saying ten feet tall and wide, but in my garden it’s pushed a few feet taller and several wider so that it is now crammed into a space between a dwarf peach and a Goldenrain tree. The arching, wide spreading branches often require pruning to keep the driveway clear, but ‘Jane’ is a wonderful tree where there is adequate space.
The spring flowering magnolias tend to be shrub like rather than single trunk trees, so an established tree occupies a considerable space with low slung branches that prohibit walking under the tree. Beneath ‘Jane’ I’ve planted drifts of ‘February Gold’ daffodils that usually fade by the time the purple-pink flowers arrive, but not this year, so in a few days I expect quite a clash of colors. Oh well, plans in the garden rarely work exactly as expected, and often the accidents work out splendidly. We’ll see.
‘Royal Star’ (Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’ above) is more shrub than tree-like, and its growth is slower and more compact than ‘Jane’ (though references state otherwise). Its flowers are more delicate and susceptible to frost injury, and in some years it will flower in late February, though it has never done so in my cold natured garden.
I consider the flowers of ‘Royal Star’ to be superior to ‘Jane’, though for no particular reason. Otherwise, I prefer the larger size and more vigorous habit of ‘Jane’. There are years when ‘Royal Star’ flowers early in March when frost turns the blooms to brown mush after only a few days, but even then the early color is welcomed.
‘Dr. Merrill’ magnolia (Magnolia x loebneri ‘Dr. Merrill’ or sometimes ‘Merrill’, above) often flowers in my garden just before ‘Royal Star’, though the blooms are more resistant to cold damage. It is a multi-trunked tree, but its form is much more upright and taller than the other early flowering magnolias. ‘Dr. Merrill’s’ flowers are similar, but slightly broader than the star magnolia’s, and with ascending rather than more horizontal branching the flowers are often far up into the tree. For whatever reason, ‘Dr. Merrill’ has not gained popularity and is rarely found in garden centers, but I find it to be quite satisfactory.
After a few more weeks the pale yellow ‘Elizabeth’ (Magnolia acuminata ‘Elizabeth’) will bloom, and of course as soon as it does you’ll see it. Its growth is similar to ‘Dr. Merrill’, but the later bloom time rarely results in damage to flowers. I’ve seen the similar ‘Yellow Bird’ and prefer its brighter yellow, but I haven’t space for another magnolia so I’ll have to admire it in other gardens.