The Q&A Archives: Propagating a Magnolia

Question: My friend has a beautiful magnolia tree in her yard that I now know is a Southern Magnolia. How can I start one growing just like it? If a get a cone from her tree, will I be able to grow a with it?

Answer: Most propagation is done through seed, cuttings taken in the summer, or from grafting. Cutting grown plants are vastly superior to most seedlings because they begin flowering the first year or two after propagation while seedlings may take 15 to 20 years to bloom. Rooting magnolias is easily done. Take 6inch softwood cuttings, dip the cut end in rooting hormone and place in moistened potting soil. Make a tent out of plastic wrap or a clear plastic bag and drape it over the pot containing the cuttings. This will help keep the cuttings moist. Place the pot outdoors in a shady spot and keep the potting soil moist but not soggy wet. You'll know when the cuttings have rooted by the new leaves they develop. Remove the plastic tent when you see new growth. You can repot the cuttings once you see new growth. Or, you can start new trees from seeds.

The seeds should be collected as soon as possible after the fruit is mature which is usually mid-September or early October. The cone-like fruit should be spread out to dry for several days until they open. The seeds can then be shaken from the dried cone or fruit.

If the seed is to be kept for any length of time, the red pulp should be allowed to dry enough to lose its fleshy character, placed in sealed containers and stored at 32 to 41 degrees F. If stored over winter at room temperature seed will lose its viability. The seed should be cleaned before planting or stratifying. To remove the fleshy seed coat, soak the seed overnight in warm water. Remove the seed coat by rubbing against hardware cloth or window screening. After cleaning, the seeds should be sown immediately or stored for 3 to 6 months at about 40 degrees F and planted in the spring. An excellent way to stratify seeds is to use a polyethylene bag and place alternating layers of a moist medium such as a sand and peat mixture and seeds in the bag. Tie the top of the bag and place in a refrigerator at about 40 degrees. The medium should be just moist enough to stick together but not so wet that it will drip if squeezed by hand.

Whether sown in the fall or stratified in the refrigerator and sown in the spring, the seeds should be covered with about l/4" of soil and mulched to prevent drying. Seedbeds should be kept moist until germination is complete. Partial shade should be provided the first summer for seedlings.

Best wishes with your project!

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