By Sandra Nelson
This week’s pick is by Karl Hying, Landscape Designer
“The Sweetbay Magnolia, with its wonderful fragrance, blooms late May into June, long after other magnolias are done.”
Elegant is the word of choice to describe this fragrant beauty. A striking alternative for a unique specimen planting, Sweetbay Magnolia also shines as a patio tree or as part of a foundation planting where its lemony fragrance can be fully enjoyed. Small, creamy-white blooms appear in May and June, tucked amid glossy green and silver-hued leaves. In the fall, cone-like fruit appear which eventually burst open and reveal bright red seeds, fought over by birds and squirrels alike.
Evergreen in the warmer climate of the south, Sweetbay Magnolia may be deciduous in colder areas and might need some winter coddling when young. It prefers a more protected location, avoiding wind-swept areas. Although it blooms more profusely in full sun (6 hours of direct sun), it does well in partial sun too (4 – 6 hours). Like other magnolias, Sweetbay needs a well-drained acidic soil, although it does surprisingly well in heavy clay soil. It requires a high level of moisture and will even withstand periodic flooding. It’s a perfect choice for the edge of a rain garden or in a low spot in the yard. With its smaller mature height of 15 – 25 feet, it is a good option for planting underneath power lines.
Very few insects of diseases bother Sweetbay Magnolia, but it will show signs of chlorosis (yellowing of the leaves) in alkaline soils.
Zones: 5 – 9 A newer cultivar, Moonglow Sweetbay is more cold tolerant and is viable in Zone 4.