The Trick To Growing A Gorgeous Magnolia Tree From Seed

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The Trick To Growing A Gorgeous Magnolia Tree From Seed

If you’re interested in growing a magnolia tree from seed, be prepared for a long journey. Trees take a lot of time to grow, and it will likely take more than ten years before your tree flowers. But before you even think about planting the seeds, you need to prepare them for germination, and that alone takes several months. Patience is key, but the experience is bound to be rewarding and educational.

To grow a magnolia tree from seed, you need to refrigerate the seeds first. This process is called seed stratification, which mimics the natural process that occurs in the wild. During winter, the seeds enter a period of dormancy when they are buried in frozen ground. When the warmth of spring arrives, the seeds wake up, and only then do they receive their signal from nature that it’s time to start growing into a tree. If you skip this important step, the seeds may take even longer to germinate or may not grow at all.

How to propagate magnolia seeds

Magnolia berries and seed pod

petratrollgrafik/Shutterstock

As if the challenges of growing a tree aren’t enough, did you know that it’s also not possible to buy magnolia seeds in packets from your local plant shop, garden center, or even online? This is because the seeds are no good after they have dried out. This means you will need to collect a fresh seed pod from a magnolia tree during fall-time. The pods have around 40 berries. They are fully ripe and ready to pick when they are bright red, and inside each berry is a single seed. The natural process in the wild involves birds eating berries whole, digesting the fruit, and then excreting the hard black seed. You can extract the black seed without eating the fruit, though. Simply leave the red berries in a glass of water to soften overnight — this will make it easier to peel off the hard outer skin of the seed.

Now that you have your seeds, it’s time to mimic stratification. Fill a container with moist (not wet) sand and mix in the seeds. If you can squeeze the sand in your hand and see water dripping from it, it’s too wet. Next, leave the container in a fridge for three months or more. Yes, you read that right, we are mimicking a whole season here, and we need at least three months of freezing cold “weather.”

How to plant a magnolia tree

transplanting young magnolia tree plant

Mariia Boiko/Shutterstock

When you take the seeds out from the fridge in three months’ time, the change in temperature will tell the seed that winter is over and trigger its growth. Many people like to start the seeds off in pots so that it is easier to tend to the plants during the more vulnerable stages and then move them to their permanent spots later on. The best time to plant is during the spring, covering the seed with half of a centimeter of soil. If you decide to plant the seed outside directly into the soil, mulch will help the ground maintain the consistent moisture your seeds will need to sprout. Don’t forget to make sure you allow enough space for your magnolia tree to grow to its full size.

It’s a good idea to erect some protection from strong sunlight during the first year. As the tree develops, you may also need to use stakes and lines to give it some support, as it will be top-heavy. After planting, don’t be tempted to fertilize your plant any time soon. You should wait until the next growing season for the first fertilizing treatment. Then, for the following three years, you can feed it every other month from March to September, and a couple of times a season after that.

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Dr Heidi Parkes

By Dr Heidi Parkes

Senior Information Extension Officer QLD Dept of Agriculture & Fisheries.