Only for suckers

Multiple branches of two late winter flowering magnolias, ‘Royal Star’ and ‘Merrill’, arch to contact soil, rooting as a result. Several from each of the magnolias have been dug and potted on a mild December afternoon to share at a point when substantial enough roots have developed.

Though the precise timing escapes me, in the past decade ‘Merrill’ (Magnolia x loebneri ‘Merrill’, above) was severely damaged by winds that broke a substantial portion of the top third of the thirty foot tall multi stemmed tree. I considered radical pruning to lower its height to repair the unsightly damage, but the tree is situated at the forest’s edge so that the worst of the injury was disguised by spring growth of maples behind it. There appeared no safe means to accomplish the pruning (though this has not stopped other similarly perilous removals), and fortunately, a year later only slight evidence of the disfigurement remained. Today, there is none, and ‘Merrill’ is prized for late winter blooms that arrive a week earlier than the star magnolia’s.

At the time that ‘Royal Star’ (Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’, above) was planted I perplexingly did not consider the soil dampness. In fact, the nearby garden shed was constructed over top of a spring, clearly illustrating my cluelessness at the time. While few trees will survive such damp soils, I am also embarrassed to admit that a Franklinia (Franklinia alatamaha, below) was planted nearby in similar dampness. I believe that the spring was nearly dormant for most of a decade, so the magnolia and Franklinia thrived until the spring revived.

In a few years the Franklinia declined and perished, but ‘Royal Star’ shows no ill effect. Probably, this magnolia is not an ideal candidate for swampy soils, but once established it tolerates the dampness. In any case, rooted stems were dug from both magnolias, with several more of the Star magnolia left behind. Other deciduous magnolias, ‘Jane’ and ‘Elizabeth’ (and other deciduous and evergreen magnolias) are more upright in branching, so none make ground contact.

Clethra alnifolia ‘Ruby Spice’

Several root suckers of the pink flowered ‘Ruby Spice’ summersweet (Clethra alnifolia ‘Ruby Spice’, above) have also been dug and potted. I find the brief flowering and yellow autumn foliage to be pleasant but unremarkable, both pink and white flowered varieties. While summersweets will tolerate damp soils (such as where ‘Royal Star’ is planted), two are planted successfully in the dry shade of the side garden that borders the forest.

Of all suckering shrubs in the garden, paperbushes (Edgeworthia chrysantha, above) are most prolific. One spreads to at least fifteen feet, perhaps even twenty, with two others close behind. Several others, more recently planted, must be pruned to minimize their spread so pathways are not obstructed. When leaves drop in autumn it is clear that root suckers or rooted stems (perhaps both) have extended the shrubs’ spread considerably, though growth of the primary shrub is far beyond the six or eight feet sited by references.

Root suckers are closely bunched beside the the paperbushes’ main stems, and rooted branches are much too large to be practical to dig. Difficulty accessing the younger rooted shrubs through low, spreading branching complicates digging and potting, but I’m not easily discouraged. With significant late winter blooms, paperbushes have become a favorite, though they suffer increasing damage for every degree that temperatures drop below zero. While inappropriate for some due to marginal cold hardiness and size, there are certain to be gardens that will welcome these shrubs.

Digging of seedlings of hellebores and divisions of over crowded perennials will wait until spring. Perhaps then, gatherings will be possible to share these with fellow gardeners.

One Comment Add yours

  1. tonytomeo says:

    Most of the magnolias that we grew on the farm were grafted. If I remember correctly, only the star magnolias were not grafted. For my own garden, I do not mind ungrafted magnolias that should probably be grafted. I figure that I would determine why they were supposed to be grafted later. If their roots are unstable, I will deal with it as problems develop, or remove the tree. I do the same with citrus, which are grafted to stay dwarf.

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