Magnolia tree shedding leaves? Don’t panic!

When I get the same exact question a dozen times in a span of about 48 hours, I know it’s time for a tip sheet on the topic.

One that’s been dominating my email and Facebook since last week goes something like, “Randy, my magnolia tree is dropping brown leaves like crazy. What’s going on? How can I fix it?”

Let’s start with the good news: this is completely normal for magnolia trees at this time of year. And I’ll bet it’s going to be even more pronounced because of the February freeze. It’s not life-threatening, and nothing needs to be fixed. But I have some advice on how to sooth your magnolia’s weary soul with some focused feeding.

From April through May, magnolia trees are usually expending a lot of energy to produce their much sought-after blooms. But they often need to “rob Peter to pay Paul,” taking energy away from their leaves and pushing it towards generating a flush of blooms. So, maybe 5-10 percent of the leaves are shunned for the trade-off.

This is normally a short-lived issue. And while you don’t really need to do anything, I think you should employ my focused feeding rules, applying azalea food right away and following that with a liquid organic drench. While that won’t stop the leaf shedding, it will help support healthier new leaves that will come on later this year. And it will also help push out a few more blooms.

By the way, as I’ve written previously, I have had a long-standing love/hate relationship with magnolias. I’ve never met a magnolia more 20 years old I didn’t absolutely love. And I’ve never met one less than 10 years old that I didn’t just hate. It has to do with those leaves and blooms. The leaves are impossible to break down into compost because of their size and rigidness. But you gotta love those blooms.

Two years ago, I wrote an article about Little Gem magnolias, which are often planted too close to home foundations. It’s worth a read if you’ve ever wondered why so many new-home landscapes seem to feature these trees.

PHOTOS: Randy Lemmon, Mid-Atlantic Gardening

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