The Q&A Archives: Care for Magnolias

Question: I just purchased a house with a rather shady, though southern-exposure yard. A small (thin but 9' tall) magnolia is in a corner of the yard, shaded by larger trees. Will the magnolia grow and bloom in this environment? Beyond pruning back the other trees, what can I do to ensure its success?

Also, there are a couple of hydrangea bushes that I want to bloom dark pink. I know from reviewing your library to add superphosphate. However, I was wondering if there is an "old wives" version of that advice. For instance, the local botanical garden suggests using a "handful of rusty nails" to keep it blooming blue.

Answer: Magnolias do best in full sunshine, but some cultivars will perform in light shade. A major consideration for your tree is that it will get progressively more shade as the neighboring trees mature. Since your magnolia is small, you might want to move it to a sunnier spot so it can grow to its full potential. Established magnolias are difficult to move, so weigh the consequences between a poorly performing tree in its present location, and one that will take some time to adjust to a new location. Magnolia trees require deep, thorough waterings, but otherwise are relatively undemanding.

Some of the 'old wive's tales' do ring true. Rusty nails will help a blue hydrangea turn a deep blue. Pink or red hydrangeas will have intensified color if you keep the soil on the neutral or alkaline side (above 7.0 pH). There are a few compounds that you can add to sweeten your soil, or make it more alkaline. Dolomitic limestone contains lime, calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate, and all these elements work together to raise a soil's pH. Try an application over the rootmass of your hydrangea this fall, and see what color changes occur in the blooms next spring.

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