While they are a sight for sore eyes in early spring, the flowers of both Saucer Magnolia and Star Magnolia are susceptible to frost, especially in southern Ontario. For the last few years we have experienced early spring warm-ups followed by a very deep frost, even hard freeze. Depending on the exact timing this can ruin what is already a short bloom period on traditional early blooming magnolias.
The solution? Later flowering blooms of the Little Girl series of magnolia. Bred in the 1950’s by hybridizers at the U.S. National Arboretum, the Little Girl Hybrids were developed as a hardy cross between Magnolia liliiflora and Magnolia stellata. The intention was to keep the good flowering of star magnolia, but have a magnolia that bloomed later in the season.
I have one cultivar Magnolia ‘Susan’. Susan is compact, reaching 8 – 10 feet at maturity. Once established it grows 4-6 inches per year with little maintenance needed to maintain a nice form.
The buds of Magnolia x ‘Susan’ are a rich deep red-purple, appearing about two weeks after most traditional magnolia blooms. They begin to open before the leaves appear to narrow, twisted fuchsia coloured blooms. What is most amazing about Susan is how long the blooms last. In my zone 5 garden in Southern Ontario the buds begin to open in late April and usually last right through May. Susan even reblooms sporadically throughout the season although the late season blooms often stay in bud form.
The leaves of magnolia make it a terrific specimen plant even when it is not blooming. Large, oval, glossy green leaves stay nice looking late into the fall and are not bothered by pests. While I have found the odd Japanese Beetle on my magnolias they do not seem to do very much damage. Fall colour is a slight bronze-yellow and Susan holds it’s leaves late into the fall.
Susan’s architectural shape and smooth grey stems tipped with large, showy buds make it a terrific plant choice for providing winter interest in the garden.
Magnolia x ‘Susan’ thrives best in full sun to part shade, in well drained soil.
All in all, Susan is a beautiful, multi-stemmed large shrub that makes a terrific specimen plant in the garden.
Garden Location: My Magnolia x Susan started as multi-branched specimen just under three fee tall in 2004. By 2011 it had reached over six feet. The only pruning I have done is to limb up the bottom branches to open up the space underneath so it will ultimately take on a small tree form.