Published on 02/03/97

Asian Star Prepares for Southern Spring Show

Since the mid-1800s Southerners have enjoyed the early spring show of Japanese magnolias. This year will be no exception.

"We often refer to these trees as saucer magnolias," said Jim Midcap, a University of Georgia Extension Service horticulturist. "They can be seen from the Georgia-Florida line to the north Georgia mountains."

Japanese magnolias are deciduous trees that bloom in early spring before the leaves come out, which makes for a great flower show.

"We get a flush of nice pink flowers on them that are usually 3 to 4 inches tall and just about as wide," Midcap said. "The big, showy flowers last for a week or so."

Winter weather often steals the show when early warm spells cause Japanese magnolias' buds to swell. Cold weather on the heels of a warm spell can zap the buds and be a real show-stopper.

"In the northern areas of the state, we see the buds get nipped by frost about one out of every three winters," Midcap said.

Japanese magnolias are like other magnolias in the look of their flowers. Both have large flowers with many petals and a group of stamens in the center.

They tend to be large shrubs to small trees. Young plants are six to eight feet tall and most will mature to 20 to 25 feet.

"Japanese magnolias are easy to recognize because they get a fuzzy flower bud that's about a half-inch around and an inch tall and is covered with long silky hairs," Midcap said. "They're sitting out there just waiting for the temperature to warm up."

Unlike many flowering trees, Japanese magnolias aren't too fussy about winter weather.

"They are perfectly hardy here," Midcap said. "They don't need many chilling hours. You see them in the Thomasville and Cairo areas and even in north Florida.

"Japanese magnolias are good small trees that give nice spring flowers and then fade back into the landscape for the rest of the year," he said.

For your own personal spring flower show, plant Japanese magnolias just as any other woody ornamental.

Midcap offers these tips:

* Don't plant them too deep. Plant them at the dame depth they were growing in the nursery.

* If they come out of a container, break up the root ball.

* Provide ample water for them to get established the first year. After that, they don't require much maintenance and don't have many disease or insect problems.

Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.