by Ann Farnham, LLA

The beautiful Saucer Magnolia, Magnolia soulangiana, blooms in Ewing in April and May.

This small tree or multistemmed large shrub is a hybrid and usually thrives in USDA Hardiness zones 4 – 9 (Ewing is USDA Hardiness Zone 6b). It is a cross between Magnolia denudata and Magnolia liliflora, reportedly a hybrid made by one of Napoleon’s retired cavalry officers, Étienne Soulange-Bodin, around 1820 in France.

In the garden it makes a beautiful focal point and is one of the first trees to bloom in the spring along with flowering cherries, redbuds, and the shrub, forsythia.

Saucer Magnolia blooms before its leaves appear in the spring but the flower buds are frequently damaged by frost as they open so early. Having a medium growth rate, a tree may reach a height of 20 to 30’ with a variable spread, pyramidal to rounded in form with low branches; it is also grown as a multi-stemmed shrub. There are dozens of varieties, each with a distinctive size and shape, with flowers which measure up to 4 to 8” across, and colors varying from purple-pink to white.

The best site for a Saucer Magnolia will have an acid, moist, porous and deep soil and full sun to partial shade. It tolerates wind and urban pollution fairly well. The roots need ample room to develop and the tree should be mulched to the drip-line (keep the mulch at least 6” from the trunk). If pruning is necessary, it should be done right after flowering.

There are several pests and diseases which attack Saucer Magnolia but fortunately they are infrequent. The Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker woodpeckers seem to favor its bark, and ring the tree with little holes, but the damage is slight.

The Ewing Environmental Commission (eec@ewingnj.org) welcomes suggestions for the Tree of the Month from all Ewing residents.

To calculate the economic and ecological benefits of the trees on your property go to treebenefits.com.