The Q&A Archives: Burned Magnolia Leaves

Question: I have a small magnolia tree that I believe is a Little Gem. After I planted in May of 2000 it did really well. Based on a garden reference, I planted it in full sunshine, in rich, loose soil. I set the shrub at the same depth it was growing in the container. We've had a fairly mild winter, but at the end of December 2000 and the beginning of January 2001 the leaves started to fall off. The ones that remain look burnt in spots and feel dry and brittle, though they do not crumble. There is one new branch blooming with all green leaves but they feel dryer than normal. It had wonderful flowers and did great last year. I'm worried that it may be dying. Can you help?

Answer: The Magnolia grandiflora 'Little Gem' is described as being hardy only to zone 7; a new plant will be more susceptible to winter damage than an established plant would be. Based on your description I would guess that the plant is suffering winter damage, especially if it is in a windy or otherwise exposed location and/or is located in full sun. These plants will do best in a sheltered spot with partial shade and since they are evergreen, are especially sensitive to drying out of the soil during the fall. They need to go into winter well hydrated, and this can be tough if its root system hasn't been fully established. Make sure to keep the soil moist this summer, keep the root zone mulched, and hope for the best. Next winter, wrap the plant with burlap or use antitranspirant spray to prevent the leaves from suffering from the elements. Good luck!

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