The Q&A Archives: Wilting Magnolia in Container

Question: I inherited a lovely magnolia this spring. It is in a 20" pot. I know this plant is at least 25 years old. The trunk is about 3 1/2" in diameter. It is about 4' tall with a 3' spread. I kept it on my patio this summer and it bloomed its heart out. However it needs to be taken in during our severe winters. My daughter has it in front of a sunny patio window and has watered it faithfully. She uses a very mild fertilizer every time it is watered. It had to stay in a rather dark garage for about a week before it was moved. Now the leaves are wilting, not turning yellow, just wilting and falling out. What are we doing wrong? Does it need a acid fertilizer? Does it need to be misted? Could it have soil pests? I dont want to loose this sentimental lovely plant.

Answer: A few things come to mind. First, moving plants indoors from outdoors, although necessary when cold temperatures arrive, can be a real shock to their system because the conditions are usually so different. Yellowing and/or dropping leaves is a typical reaction. Being in the garage for a week would contribute to the shock.

Although it's true that container plants need more fertilizer and watering than those in the ground, be careful not to overdo. Continued fertilizing while the plant is under stress could promote leaf loss. Also, dropping leaves can be a sign of overwatering. Don't fertilize for a month or two, but continue watering at a slightly reduced level.

Salts in fertilizer and salts in the water can build up over time in containers. At least once a month, water very slowly and deeply, allowing the water to drain out the bottom of the pot and leach any salts away.

Magnolias prefer a well-drained, organic soil of a slightly acidic pH (5.5-6.5), and moderate, consistent soil moisture.

Check the leaves for signs of magnolia scale, a tiny insect that sucks juice from leaves and stems. If you find them, use a light horticultural oil such as Oil-Away from Gardens Alive (ph# 812/537-8650, to control them.

Next spring, slowly acclimate your plant to moving back outdoors by putting it outside in a sheltered location for a couple hours at a time, gradually increasing the time period. In fall, do that in reverse, rather than abruptly moving from outside to inside, which will help lessen the shock. I hope this info helps save your magnolia!

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