The magnolia watch – when will they flower?

In past years ‘Royal Star’ (Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’) and ‘Dr. Merrill’ (Magnolia x loebneri ‘Dr. Merrill’) magnolias have flowered in early March in my garden, or sometimes nearer the end of the month. And, occasionally the blooms will arrive in late February or slip to early April, so there’s no early or late flowering time that could be considered surprising. Flowering of the magnolias is most dependent on temperatures, and with cooler weather over the past six weeks they are behind a bit.  There’s no reason to be disturbed by this, but I’ve become impatient with the persistent cold of this early spring. In years when the magnolias flower early the blooms are threatened by frost and freeze, with heavy frost turning the edges to brown, and a freeze transforming the flowers to brown mush.Star magnolia breaking bud

But not this year, at least not yet, and certainly not in my garden. The garden is at the bottom of foothills that nestle closely to the eastern edge of the Blue Ridge mountains, and cold air settles into the bottom land so that the garden is a bit colder than surrounding properties. There is an advantage in that the howling winter breezes blow right over the garden, but anything that flowers in the spring blooms much later than areas closer to the city and often several days or a week later than in gardens right up the street. When you see it here, it’s not news. It’s more like a replay unless you’re a state or two to the north.Dr. Merrill magnolia

In any case, it’s the last week of March and the magnolias aren’t flowering yet. With cooler than average temperatures over the past month I expect that flowering of many trees and shrubs will be delayed. Several years ago, a similar weather pattern delayed many flowers into April, so that magnolias bloomed with redbuds and dogwoods. I don’t recall that I was any more patient in waiting for spring’s arrival, but the delay resulted in a most delightful April with double the typical blooms.Royal Star magnolia

‘Dr. Merrill’ was severely damaged in the straight line windstorm last summer. Magnolias often grow as low branched or multi-trunked trees, and ‘Dr. Merrill’ had forked into two main trunks. The weak spot for such branching is the joint of the two trunks, but instead the tree was shattered fifteen feet higher. So, now one trunk rises twenty some feet through a clump of viburnums at the wood’s edge, and the other trunk ends abruptly ten feet below.

The point where the trunk snapped grew some feeble branches in late summer, but since the tree backs up to the forest I have a bit of leeway not to have to worry too much about pruning the broken trunk. I expect that enough foliage will grow after flowering to disguise the break, and everything will blend in with the low branched maples of the forest so that it will barely be noticed in another month. Still, I’m anxious for some flowers.

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