Magnolia Ideas?

gonzalezmelMarch 31, 2011

I purchased my very small home 5 years ago with a very large magnolia tree in the front yard- I'd say its about 50-60 ft. tall. Unfortunately (for me) magnolia's are all about the superficial root system, so 1/2 of my front yard is a weedy, rooty, not-grassy mess. Now, i'm all about 'natural' landscaping, but even i feel that something must be done! I don't feel that i can cut down a healthy tree that has been around longer than my half century old neighborhood, but i can't quite figure out what to do with the situation. I've considered building a stone ring around the tree, but have heard that might not be best for the tree. Any thoughts or other suggestions?

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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

A tough groundcover? I don't know what would be best in your area - try looking around at similar sized trees in public and private gardens and see what other people have done, and then pick the solution that you like best. I agree, though, that raising the soil level with a wall would not be a good idea for the tree.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2011 at 11:44AM
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Fori is not pleased

TN, huh? Except for that, it sounds like my neighborhood, and specifically MY LAWN! I've given up. I might plant ivy. But I'll see if you get any answers first.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2011 at 4:54PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I don't know why people are so reluctant to cut down trees... well, OK, I do understand. And if the tree has another fifty years of room on your site, then by all means you should protect it, work around it, adapt to it, cater to it. But however much you sacrifice for it, the tree is not a life form that is grateful, nor one that will graciously give way in return for your compromises. A big tree is a greedy, uncompromising thug.

Because of that, in the life of every urban tree there comes a time when it is too big for its space and has to come down.

Don't get me wrong, I know and love trees for their beauty, their shade, their leaves and flowers, and purely for themselves - I'm a tree nut, I read myself to sleep with books on trees every night. I lust after new trees, have planted far more of them in my yard than the site will hold in the long term, and I pay so much attention to them as I drive around that it's a wonder I don't have more accidents - well, I don't actually have accidents at all, so far. Anyway, I love trees, really.

But if this tree is that big, if it is spoiling your enjoyment of your yard, then it is time to stand back and really consider the question: tree or no tree? I mean, 60 feet? How tall is the house? How far is it from the house? Can the eaves be cleaned? Is it lifting sidewalks? When you put the house on the market, will the next owner cut down the tree immediately? If it's that big, think about doing it yourself. Yup, it makes you the bad guy in the neighbourhood. But if it's likely coming down in the next few years anyway, why are you torturing yourself?

If it's posterity you're worried about, look at it this way: the sooner you cut this one down and plant a new one, the sooner the new one will be 10, then 20 years old.

I don't have any hints for living with a root zone - did it for years under a neighbour's tree - except to just mulch and have a forest floor as a yard. That's really the only choice that works, trust me. But what I do want to suggest is that you put the option of cutting the tree down on the table in a serious way and plan the future treescape of your property.


    Bookmark   April 1, 2011 at 8:58PM
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When we moved from coastal SC a few years ago my house hunting wish list consisted of only two items; no alligators and no magnolias. The former had decided that my lakefront property provided comfortable living conditions and mature magnolias are a PITA to care for. Beautiful trees requiring constant leaf raking. During steamy summer months the cup-shaped dried leaves lying on the ground hold just enough moisture for mosquito larvae to hatch. Planting ivy under magnolias is a mistake as it impedes clean-up and becomes a tangled mess.

Please, a quick description of your magnolia...Christmas tree shape and branched to the ground? Or, is the branching more open with lower branches removed?

    Bookmark   April 2, 2011 at 8:21AM
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Perhaps this comes down to how badly you need the shade. I've got one in my back yard that measures about 30" in diameter, at the base. It's surrounded by knee-high holly fern, which conceals the leaves. (This area also catches shade from the house and patio roof.) Further away from the house, I have St. Augustine turf grass doing well, not more than 6 ft. from the trunk of the magnolia. Seems like I put some topsoil and mulch around it when I planted the ferns (but don't let soil touch the bark.) I've had to cut through some roots, which extend far from the trunk, but I've otherwise had no root problems. You ought to be able to put something around that grand old tree.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2011 at 1:27PM
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love_the_yard(z9A Jax FL)

I love my Southern Magnolia (Magnolia Grandiflora). I wouldn't cut it down for anything in the world. I planted amaryllis bulbs underneath mine and they are happy as clams. I don't disturb the roots of the tree, because it takes so little digging to plant half a bulb. The bulbs stay in the ground year-round because they are protected in the winter by the warmth of the tree, so it is a win-win. Here are some photos:

    Bookmark   April 2, 2011 at 4:12PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

If unsightly fallen leaves are part of the problem, would a mulching leaf-blower be a valuable tool? Our red oak carries ~ 25% of its leaves through the winter and then drops them when the new leaves start developing. Since new growth is happening in the beds under the tree, raking is not an option. DH uses the vacuum function on the leaf-blower to suck up and chop the leaves. Then he spreads them back under the tree as mulch. That takes care of the unsightlyness while still allowing the trees and the plantings to benefit from the organic matter of the fallen leaves.

Nandina - aligators in the garden ?! There are definite advantages in gardening in the frozen north! When I read about warm-zone gardeners dealing with nasty things like aligators and venomous snakes, it really makes me glad I don't garden there :-)

    Bookmark   April 3, 2011 at 10:04AM
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