Magnolia soulangeana, commonly called “Saucer Magnolia” or “Tulip Magnolia” has been in glorious full bloom in the Mary Snoddy garden the past three weeks. This deciduous tree draws attention because the large purple and white blooms appear in very early spring before its leaves emerge. Unfortunately, the delicate petals are blasted by late freezes some years, leaving them an ugly, wilted brown. The leaves emerge later and are rarely impacted by cold weather. There is little to no fall color.
Saucer magnolias branch low and, in my opinion, are prettiest if they are allowed to keep those lower branches. The bark is attractive, but trees appear somewhat top heavy when limbed up. Trees reach 20 to 30 feet tall; mature widths vary. They grow in zones 5 to 9, and are tolerant of different soil types.
There are many different cultivars available. Bloom colors vary from pink to deep purple. There are variations in petal shape, too. Buy trees when they are in bloom to be positive on color.
If you have a choice, try to plant your specimen in a cool spot in your garden rather than a protected, warm microclimate that may spur early bloom. Be on the lookout for deer – They think the tender leaves are extra tasty.