Posts Tagged Magnolia ‘Butterflies’
On behalf of winter-weary gardeners everywhere, I bid you welcome! Spring — you are here, right? It is, of course, the day of the vernal equinox, that astronomical milestone that marks your onset. I ask, because, well, you seem to be a bit more capricious than usual this year.
Yes, the plants in my yard are showing definite signs of moving toward a new growing season, as evidenced by the beautiful native wildflowers in the above photo, blooming yesterday in my yard. They are just beginning to reach peak bloom; the ones in my north garden only yesterday peeked above ground. By last year’s vernal equinox, these flowers were nearly done.
Likewise, my beautiful Magnolia ‘Butterflies’ was well past peak bloom by last year’s equinox. This year, flower buds are just now swelling, as you can see here:
The native spicebushes (Lindera benzoin) are reaching peak bloom just in time for your arrival. Last year, they maxed out two weeks earlier. I love the tiny specks of bright yellow that adorn every branch.
One non-native early bloomer — my large Winterhazel — is about a week and a half behind last year’s peak blooming moment. The photo here was taken yesterday, and you can see that the flower clusters are just now pushing out their pendant strings of sunny bells.
My other big non-native bloomers — the loropetalum shrubs — seem to be more attuned to daylight changes than temperature. Flower buds are brimming with magenta color; a few are flaunting their bright strappy petals. But I’m guessing that the full spring display will occur just about the same time it did the previous two years.
That’s all well and good, Spring. A little variation in bloom time among the ornamentals on my five acres of North Carolina Piedmont is entirely to be expected. That variability is actually part of what keeps gardening exciting; I never know when and what each season will bring.
On the other hand, your capriciousness is also a source of frustration. You see, I had a feeling you were going to take your time coming this year. So I started my spring greens in the greenhouse later than last year, planning to transplant them into their permanent beds about now. I expected later frosts, maybe even a light freeze, but because I cover the transplants in protective garden fabric, I figured they would remain unharmed.
But, Spring, you have turned my planting schedule upside down with this predicted ten-day bout of well-below-normal temperatures that includes a very hard freeze tomorrow night. The weather seers are calling for a low of 26 degrees Fahrenheit at the local airport. Here in the boonies, that will likely mean a low hovering in the mid-teens.
I can’t put tender transplants into the ground when you are bringing winter temperatures to my garden. That would be plant murder! Meanwhile, right on schedule, my onion starts arrived in the mail two days ago. Somehow, I must persuade them to be patient, because I can’t plant them yet either.
Spring, it’s getting crowded in the greenhouse. The greens are itching for permanent digs. My pots of ornamental plants that overwinter in the greenhouse are all putting out new growth, gaining size and enthusiasm for your arrival daily.
I know I can’t stop your games, Spring, so I’ll do my best to convince the greens to be patient a few days. I think I know what you’re up to. After lingering early and long last year, you don’t want to party here at all. I think you’re planning to pound us with winter weather until April arrives, and then depart almost immediately, letting summer’s temperatures sear us before the canopy trees are even properly leafed out. The models of the weather forecasters seem to agree. They are calling for above-normal temperatures for most of the US during the month of April, which is why I’m going to sow tomato and pepper seeds in the germination chamber in my greenhouse later today.
I love you, Spring, really, I do. But, frankly, your whimsy is one of the reasons my hair is as white as the new snow covering Boston — again — this week.
The vernal equinox occurred during the wee hours this morning. Astronomically speaking, that makes spring officially here. As is true for much of the United States this year, the news is entirely anticlimactic.
My early spring bloomers have not only been blooming for weeks, many of them finished almost as soon as they started, thanks to the record heat and drought that continues to plague my corner of the Piedmont in North Carolina.
Case in point: my lovely Magnolia ‘Butterflies.’ Two days after it began blooming, petal drop started. The above photo was taken three days ago. Now almost all the petals have dropped.
Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’ didn’t wait her usual week after Butterflies to commence her floral display. Instead, she peaked the same day the photo above of Butterflies was taken. Here’s a shot of the whole tree. Elizabeth is a knock-out — visually and aromatically — when she is at her peak like this:
Wonder Spouse took all these photos, by the way. You may well want to click on them to enlarge them, so you can fully appreciate their quality. Here’s a close-up of Elizabeth’s flowers taken the same day as the above photo:
The Bloodroots growing on my north-east-facing slope above the creek began blooming about the same time that Magnolia ‘Butterflies’ got started. Here’s one that’s been open for a couple of days:
And here’s what most of them looked like that day:
Not to be outdone by these precocious bloomers, the first flowers of my native Pinxterbloom Azalea were nearly open the same day that the above photos were taken (March 17). That’s three weeks ahead of last year.
For the first time that I can remember, my oak trees are racing the Loblolly Pines to see which will release their pollen first. I think it may well be a tie. I cannot remember that happening before. Not ever in all the 5+ decades I’ve lived in North Carolina.
So, Vernal Equinox — welcome, I guess. The party started well before your arrival this year. And it’s already well on its way to its conclusion. I just hope that by the time the Summer Solstice arrives, my landscape doesn’t look too much like the Sahara Desert.
In mid-March, this is what I expect to see: vivid crocus blooms. This year, these two are stragglers, blooming later than their crocus comrades by more than three weeks.
My blooming trees are at least a week ahead of last year. Prompted by our absurd eighty-degree weather, Magnolia ‘Butterflies‘ has exploded into flower. Look how vividly yellow they are in the early morning as they just open:
And here’s what the tree looked like as I stared up its trunk from ground level:
I couldn’t stay too long. The potent perfume of the zillions of flowers was overwhelming.
My Chinese redbud is at peak bloom. Here’s a close-up:
And now the native redbuds are getting into the act. Here’s what the branches of one of my larger specimens looked like this morning:
And, yes, the sky really was that blue.
The winterhazels are nearly at peak bloom. Here’s a view of branches obscuring one of my bird feeders:
And here’s a close-up of winterhazel flowers:
I think their vivid color makes forsythias look dowdy.
There’s lots more, of course, but I want to give you a brief veggie update. Yesterday, I transplanted the Super Marzano tomatoes to larger pots. They didn’t miss a beat. Here they are looking like they’ve always lived in these pots:
And here are the other tomato, pepper, and basil seedlings:
Their roots are mostly hitting the bottom of their pots now. So they’ll be getting upgraded to bigger pots very soon.
Today, I sowed seeds of many of the free flowers that I got from Renee’s Garden as a benefit of my membership in the Garden Writers’ Association. I’ll be reporting on how they do throughout the growing season. I also sowed more basil seeds, because I’m planning on giving away some plants to a community garden. I’ve got the greenhouse and the seeds; I figure I should share the wealth.
Last weekend, Wonder Spouse double-shredded a big pile of fallen leaves that we had collected last winter. These broken-up leaves make the absolutely best mulch in the world for my vegetable garden. As fast as Wonder Spouse shredded it, I was tucking it around my sprouting sugar snap peas and onion plants. The peas responded instantly by growing taller. Here’s what they looked like this morning:
I am worried about our heat wave. We are predicted to remain 20 degrees above normal several more days, then we back down to a mere 10 degrees above normal. Even though I got my spring garden planted earlier than ever before, if the heat persists, I won’t get much of a yield from it.
For now, I’m watering often, in hopes that plenty of moisture will help the spring veggies thrive despite the heat. Our area remains in moderate drought, so every time I’m watering, I’m also praying for significant, frequent rain. And cooler temperatures, of course. Eighty-four degrees in mid-March is too much for any of us to handle for long.
See those little green sprouts just peeking up through the soil? Those are the Sugar Sprint Snap Peas I planted two weeks and four days ago. A few peas have been up for several days, but this morning I counted 24 pea sprouts. When the warmth returns day after tomorrow, I predict that at least that many more will appear. I like peas. I planted a lot of seeds.
Although I thought I had watered them well, I think the peas were waiting for a significant rain event, which we finally got this past weekend. My rain gauge reported 1.1 inches of rain for the two-day event. My creek actually rose and got silty! The floodplain held puddles of rainwater for over 24 hours. That hasn’t happened in so long that I can’t remember the last time it happened. Ten years ago, the floodplain was usually puddle-covered most of the winter. Of course, it helps to actually have a winter season, something we didn’t get this year.
Which brings me back to those enthusiastic peas. Most years, I’m just thinking about planting them, and this year they’re up and running. Did I mention how much we love the flavor of snap peas? They freeze well, so no pea is ever wasted.
It’s not just the vegetables that aren’t waiting for the vernal equinox to start their spring shows. Check out the blooms on my Chinese Redbud:
Not all the blooms have opened, but enough now display their lavender radiance to brighten that corner of my winter landscape.
The native spicebush is covered in diminutive yellow flowers that make their visual impact by their sheer numbers — especially effective against a winter sky:
The crimson flowers of the red maples are morphing into equally vivid seeds — samaras, the botanists call them.
Many of my ornamental stars are rushing full tilt into spring bloom. Check out these pink hyacinths:
My beautiful Magnolia acuminata ‘Butterflies’ is cracking open its petals. I’m hoping they’re still closed enough to avoid getting zapped by tonight’s predicted temperatures in the low twenties.
There’s more, which I’ll show you soon. Every time I walk our five acres these days, something else is taking a headlong leap into a spring that hasn’t officially started yet.
Meanwhile in the greenhouse, all the tomatoes I sowed last Wednesday have germinated; most achieved 100% germination. Viva Italia, Early Goliath, Sweet Treats, and Big Beef are all up; these are my old reliable varieties, and I’m not surprised they’re raring to go. Indigo Rose seedlings began showing up a day after the first sprouts of those other varieties, and now all but one of the seeds I sowed has sprouted. My primary supplier of tomato seeds sent me a freebie package of mixed heirloom tomatoes, which I couldn’t resist. Most of those have germinated now, responding in about the same time frame as Indigo Rose.
With the impending explosion of tomatoes in the greenhouse, it is imperative that all spring veggie starts get planted out into the garden ASAP. My goal is to get them all tucked in before predicted rains return this Friday. I’m also hoping to direct-sow all the other spring garden veggies: beets, two carrot varieties, and many varieties of salad greens. Before I can start, I must pull winter weeds and crimson clover off of two large beds. I see a tired body and cranky joints in my near future.
But the pain will be worth it when I’m dining on just-harvested spring salads. My timing is good. The full moon will be smiling down on the newly planted garden this Thursday while Spring Peepers and American Toads chorus in the swamp, and the eerie territorial calls of Screech Owls (heard for the first time ever yesterday) echo among the still bare trees.
It happens so fast this time of year. One moment the forest is ablaze with vivid leaves that dance in the lightest breeze. The next moment the color moves from branches to forest floor, leaves settling at the bases of parent trees, creating patchworks of color for feet to kick up during crisp autumn walks. But the bright leaf carpet is fleeting, quickly morphing to browns and rusts, as if to match the starkness of bare branches above.
Different tree species move through this cycle at varying rates. Leaves of Ashes and Black Cherries in my yard go from green to brown and abandon their branches in mid-September, seemingly eager to begin their winter rest. Tulip Poplar leaves turn bright yellow next, and begin to drift to the ground (along with thousands of seeds) about the time the Red Maples and Sweet Gum leaves are painting themselves gold, pumpkin orange, and garnet red.
Some trees drop their leaves over the course of several weeks. Some seem to receive a signal (perhaps the change in daylight?) that causes them to shrug off their leaves all at once, leaving carpets of color at their feet. That’s what my Halesia diptera did a few days ago, as you can see in the above photo. Wonder Spouse used the opportunity to create a new fall header for my blog.
The Sycamores (Platanus occidentalis) that grow along my creek recently cast off their gold and brown leaves simultaneously, creating quite a colorful, crunchy carpet on my floodplain as you can see here:
I love these trees best in winter, when their magnificent trunks glow in weakened sunshine.
The compound leaves of the young Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) on my hill turn a sickly greenish yellow mostly; their weight causes them to stick close together near the base of the tree like this:
Here’s a closer view of some of the leaves:
Sweet Gum leaves end up blowing everywhere, mixing in with the leaves of other species. Here are a few examples that turned my favorite rich garnet hue:
Finally for today, I want to show you autumn leaves of three of my deciduous Magnolia specimens. First up, the fallen leaves of Umbrella Magnolia (Magnolia tripetala). This native of moist forests of the Piedmont and Mountains grows along my creek. I rescued it from a similar setting on a friend’s land that was slated for the bulldozer. Although its leaves are not as large as Bigleaf Magnolia (M. macrophylla), you can see how the Umbrella Magnolia leaves dominate the forest floor:
My two cultivars of Cucumber Magnolia not only bloom at different times, they also drop their leaves at different times. Leaves of M. acuminata var. ‘Butterflies’ turn briefly pale yellow, then brown and fall quickly in mid-October, sticking close to the base of the tree, as you can see here:
The older cultivar of this species that I grow - M. acuminata var ‘Elizabeth’ – not only blooms later, but also retains its rich gold-and-brown leaves much longer. As I type this, Elizabeth has not yet released her bright cloak of autumn color, as shown in this close-up of a few branches here:
Always the last to relinquish their hold on autumn are the native oaks. They only began to color up a couple of weeks ago, and only a few of their leaves have fallen. It will be late November, some years even mid-December, before my mighty oak canopy trees stand starkly naked against a wintry sky.
That’s OK by me. It gives me a reason to postpone raking. After all, there’s no reason to do it more than once, right?
Enough time has passed since the hard freeze of last Tuesday morning’s early hours for me to assess damage to my plants. Three magnolias were dramatically impacted. Magnolia ‘Butterflies’ lost its final few blossoms and some early emerging leaves to the cold.
Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’ was hit harder. Most of its flowers were still at peak bloom, as you may remember from this entry. Now Elizabeth looks like this:
The good news is that Elizabeth’s leaves were still tightly closed within their buds, so as soon as the mushy brown flowers fall, it will look normal.
Another of my magnolias that has not yet bloomed for me was just leafing out. Magnolia sprengeri ‘Diva’ has grown into a 12-foot tree – too tall for me to cover. This Chinese magnolia cultivar is supposed to have gorgeous pink blooms. But now that its first flush of new leaves have been blackened by the freeze, it probably won’t have enough enthusiasm to generate flower buds for next spring either.
Remember the Piedmont Azalea (Rhododendron canescens) that I described as about to bloom? Despite my attempt to cover it, many flower buds were damaged, as you can see here:
Not all the flower buds look so damaged, so I will likely see some healthy pink blossoms. But the shrub won’t be the showstopper it should have been.
A few additional trees and shrubs have damaged bits here and there, but I believe the newly leafed-out canopy trees all survived intact. All in all, the freeze could have been far more disastrous. It appears that we’ve dodged another black spring.
I wish I could report similar good news regarding precipitation. Yes, we got some, but nearby areas got much more, as has been the heart-breaking trend for some months now. Our automated gauge only registered 0.87 while many others within 30 miles of here got an inch and a half or more. Our creek levels came up briefly, but have already receded. The biggest winner appears to be the lawn; we will be mowing this weekend for sure.
I am grateful that the freeze didn’t hurt more tender vegetation, but I confess I am getting pretty cranky about the way the precipitation continues to detour around my thirsty yard.
Spectacular right? Just in time for spring’s premier, my Magnolia ‘Butterflies’ has graced our yard with hundreds of fragrant yellow blossoms. If you stand 100 yards downwind of it, the sweet scent of all those flowers is still powerfully present.
This Magnolia cultivar is a cross between M. acuminata and M. denudata. The flowers are 3-5 inches across (mine are closer to 5 inches), and the tree matures to an estimated height between 18 to 20 feet.
I got mine as a tiny foot-tall plant from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden as a one-free-plant-a-year benefit of membership about 17 years ago. Since I doubt I’ll ever make it to that garden, I now am a member at the level that provides me only with the fabulous handbooks they produce every year. In those early years, I acquired several other choice plants from this fine institution; I’ll tell you about those another time.
Although experts say Magnolia ‘Butterflies’ tops out at 20 feet, I think our tree is more enthusiastic. It is easily 20 feet right now, and it appears to be growing taller every year. Here’s a shot I took this morning that gives you a sense of the visual impact of the entire tree in the landscape:
Because the flowers bloom before its leaves emerge, the tree really pops in the early spring landscape. Southeast Piedmont gardeners should know, however, that some springs are kinder than others to this early bloomer. More than once a late freeze has completely zapped the flowers just as they opened, turning bright yellow petals to brown overnight.
But for me, this breathtakingly exquisite tree is worth the gamble. When my 20-foot-tall tree is covered in hundreds of fragrant yellow blossoms, I know spring has sprung.