Green, Glorious, And Mighty Messy

The magnolia is the Scarlett O'Hara of treedom, but there's another, less romantic side to its story.
This large Southern magnolia graces Florida’s Capitol Building in Tallahassee.

For many people, the grand Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) typifies the elegance of Gone With the Wind country. What could be more Southern than sipping an icy mint julep on the veranda while sitting in a well-worn rocking chair in the cool, deep shade of an ancient magnolia?

But wait – let’s look more closely at that time-honored image. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, growing under that spreading, shallow-rooted tree. The ground is littered with piles of the woody, cone-like fruits and masses of persistent, leathery leaves that drop all year long.

The truth is that the elegant magnolia is mighty messy. Southern magnolias are a wonderful addition to Florida landscapes, but only in locations where their litter will not destroy lawns or gardens.

The former owners of our house had planted two magnolias in the middle of the front yard. We were forever picking up leaves from the lawn. The house was two years old when we bought it, so that those 10-foot magnolias hadn’t been in the ground for too long. We transplanted them out to the front meadow area. Moving them wasn’t easy, but they have survived for four years – now they can drop as many leaves as they want and no one needs to pick them up. The other option would have been to create a large mulched bed around the trees and plant it with compatible shrubs. 

Read the entire article in the November 2008 issue