anxious Tulip tree buds when bad weather threatens it.

acornivDecember 4, 2010

Hello - I'm assuming this is a stress response, but it just occurred to me (I'm not a gardener) our poor Tulip tree might be cured of anxiety by some sort of nutrient. Is this possible?

For 16 years, this lovely tree has produced beautiful buds whenever it senses a drop in temperature or wet spell. These buds bloom into brown limp rags that make the tree look like it has been TP'd.

I use this tree to accurately predict the weather (it does this better than the weather channel) but I'd rather have it be a happy calm and comfortable tree.

Thanks in advance,


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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

my tulip tree ... survives near zero temps all winter long up here in MI .... it is Liriodendron tulipifera ... though i am not sure it has buds [flower ] all winter long ...

so i dont understand why yours.. in GA ... has some problems with what you guys think is cold weather. ... lol ... if you want to know cold.. come up here and see how the ground froze last week ....

so i am wondering if you are using a common name and not talking about the same tree i have ...

so the first step is making sure we are talking about the right tree ...

that said .. mother nature is completely variable .. and every decade or so.. weird things happen .. like GA having a cold winter... if this tree is old.. then it has.. been there.. done that before .. and most likely will survive ... though next years flower show might be severely reduced, if not missing completely ..

and there is NOTHING YOU CAN DO ... if next years flower buds were damaged ... no amount of anything.. especially fertilizers ... nor love.. will make a tree regenerate the flower buds.. this time of year ...

if you are talking about the growth buds.. well.. most trees do have the ability to trigger dormant buds.. which you can not see.. and survive ... but again.. we have to make sure on that ID

bottom line.. its a tree.. not a child or grandchild .. it does not need to be fed ... based on the facts you provided.. short of telling us it is potted ...

finally ... the tree is not anxious.. you are... so have an adult beverage.. and let the tree do its own thing.. lol

good luck


    Bookmark   December 4, 2010 at 10:27AM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

I'm wondering if this is a Magnolia, sometimes called a tulip tree. The flowers of M soulangeana, for example, go brown if frosted or subjected to cold winds.

Here is a link that might be useful: frosted magnolia flowers

    Bookmark   December 4, 2010 at 10:55AM
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you must be talking about those ornamental magnolias. I have one, its normal for them to produce buds this time of year, mine does. However it shouldn't be flowering; the tree you have might be a cold-weather cultivar. Your climate is probably tricking it into blooming early.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2010 at 12:16PM
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Dan Staley

I'm wondering about the plant identification as well. Doesn't sound like any Liriodendron I've heard of.

Regardless of ID, fertilizer won't fix or help.


    Bookmark   December 4, 2010 at 12:27PM
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Agree that this is probably some sort of magnolia, which often go by the common name of tulip tree (from the shape of the flower). As flora notes, Magnolia x soulangiana does set winter buds that are easily damaged by cold weather.

Liriodendron, aka tulip poplar, is unlikely to produce any flower buds at this time of year :-)

    Bookmark   December 4, 2010 at 12:43PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

the common name for Magnolia x soulangiana up here in the great white north is saucer mag. .... go figure on that ..

link below ... does it look familiar ...

regardless.. the common purple/white one... holds its buds for me all winter long in z5 .... though i do have a problem with some some of the foo foo ones.. which i gave up on years ago .. like the yellows ...

my usual problem.. is the first wind storm of spring.. happening.. 9 out of ten years.. ON THE DAY THE FLOWERS OPEN ... whats that all about...

do you think the OP will ever come back????


Here is a link that might be useful: saucer magnolia

    Bookmark   December 4, 2010 at 1:34PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

forgot to flip to the images side .. try this one ...


Here is a link that might be useful: link

    Bookmark   December 4, 2010 at 1:35PM
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Thanks so much for the quick response. First off, the tree is not at risk - it has done this for years. Yes, this tree is locally called a Tulip Magnolia. Its blossoms look like magnolias; large and waxy white and purple tinges. This is not the big magnolias I grew up with, but a relatively delicate thing (about the size of a dogwood or peach, both of which we also have) with big blooms. My yard also has apple, oak, maple, cherry, tulip poplar, weeping willow and some other trees, none of which behave like this.

It's definitely triggered by weather changes, and going into shock ( like forcing blooms in paperwhites). I blame human tampering for the behavior, as I know enough basic science to know plants bloom for a reason and it wouldn't half bloom or bloom and then immediately die if conditions were right for it, and it was as nature intended. It takes a lot of energy to bloom, and winter is when plants need to conserve energy.

It has done this all but the first year we lived here (so for 15 years), and it does it (buds) just before every weather change that causes a temperature drop. It usually goes ahead and blooms, but the blooms are dreadful - look like used toilet paper. We only get to see its beautiful true blooms on rare occasions ( some years not at all).

We do get regular freezes, though it is usually too wet for snow (so we get ice instead). We get, typically, one or two light snows a year (last year we got 6" in one day - that was very unusual). Around the base of this tree we have crocus and paperwhites, which bloom beautifully in the same conditions.

Thanks, for the link. I'll check it out.


    Bookmark   December 4, 2010 at 3:26PM
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To the Original Poster -- if it's any consolation, the exact same thing happens here in Michigan all of the time to my various early spring blooming magnolias -- many years, they are damaged by late frosts and freezes. Truly, few things are more sad than seeing a beautiful tree full of buds and blooms turned into a brown mess the next morning.

The only way I can think of to stop this would be to keep the plant very small through a LOT of pruning, essentially an in-ground bonsai, and then cover it whenever weather threatens, which isn't very practical and which kind of defeats the purpose.

Second best option would be to carefully choose the site and try to plant in some kind of a sheltered micro-climate that might allow the flowers and buds to survive some cold snaps.

I'd like to say that picking out later-flowering cultivars might help somewhat, but I've had damaging freezes on these trees almost up to Memorial Day weekend -- none of the spring blooming magnolias bloom late enough to really avoid the threat to my knowledge (if someone knows otherwise, I would be happy to be corrected, I'd love to find a magnolia that blooms about 4 weeks after the saucer magnolias and is hardy in Michigan).

Otherwise, I guess it's just being satisfied with the summer blooming magnolias like sweetbay and M. grandiflora.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2010 at 5:01PM
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Thanks for the link Ken - yes, that is the tree. Funny how there are dozens and dozens of beautiful photos and not ONE of the way our blooms usually look, LOL.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2010 at 12:56AM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

" I blame human tampering for the behavior ...". There is nothing wrong with the tree and human tampering hasn't caused it to behave like this. It's just been planted in an inappropriate environment. These magnolias are very common front garden shrubs in the UK, almost as common as forsythia and flowering cherries. Most years they are fine. But the blooms are sensitive to cold winds so they need to be put somewhere suitable. It seems to me that it is just not the right plant for your garden and climate.

Here is a link that might be useful: Magnolias

    Bookmark   December 6, 2010 at 5:14PM
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