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Does Magnolia stellata Leonard Messel tolerate transplanting well?

bart bart
2 months ago

The tree in question has been in place for perhaps 5 or 6 years, but it is no more than between 4-5 feet tall and wide. I planted it in a bad spot,where it is too exposed to the broiling south-western sun. Italy has been hit very hard by global warming and climate change,and this summer of 2022 has been atrociously hot and dry,yet Leonard Messel DOES still hang in there, in spite of it's terrible location. It lost all it's leaves (it has done so every summer); I shaded it and began watering it every ten days or so (this in the past month) and it is leafing out again,so I think it deserves a second chance and would like to move it to a spot where the soil is deeper and it would recieve afternoon shade. But I know fom experience that some plants just do not accept being moved very graciously, and by doing so one runs a high risk of the plant just dying. Do magnolias accept transplanting easily, or should I just try to improve the conditions of its' present location?

Comments (27)

  • bart bart
    Original Author
    2 months ago

    Thank you SO much,fredbarber!

    Here in Italy, autumn is most decidedly the moment to do all planting and moving of plants. I was hoping to do Leonard M this autumn,so it won't have to go through yet another wretched Tuscan summer in this vulnerable spot. What do you think? better to leave it where it is for another year and a half, doing this root-pruning process,or just root-prune it and move it out-right? In the article,they say to root-prune it in the spring for fall transplanting, but honestly that sounds like a way to just kill the tree off in this climate; any more our springs-alas!-are very short, cut off by savage heat . (this year the heat arrived in May; in 2003 it arrived in April!) For example, this summer was so bad that I lost several potted plants that I'd put out the previous autumn,in spite of regular watering. By the way, I have no running water out at my land where my garden is located,(it's a 20-minute drive from my home) so daily watering is just not an option.

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  • fredbarber
    2 months ago

    That's a tough call, Bart. Clearly, your biggest problem is the difficulty of irrigation to supplement whatever natural moisture you're able to get. You are wise to take advantage of your natural growing seasons and moisture cycle.


    I think my inclination would still be to attempt to improve Lenny's root health before trying to move him. As a Tuscan, you probably know that grapevines are intentionally grown under dry conditions in order to force them to develop extensive (and especially deep) root systems. If we assume that your magnolia has behaved similarly, driving its roots out and down in order to try to recover what moisture there is, that would suggest that much of that root system would be lost in the transplant, further jeopardizing the tree's health. Root pruning is, itself, somewhat violent, but less so than a full transplant. It might serve to spread out the shock in addition to, hopefully, improving the plant's health and increasing the density of its root system first.


    I completely agree with you that root pruning now, with the wet weather ahead, would be a better plan than waiting until it warms up next year. That should allow you to accomplish the move next fall, as the wet season again approaches.


    There's a drip irrigation technique that's become popular here in connection with transplantation of trees and large shrubs. A heavy plastic bag designed for the purpose is put alongside or, better yet, around the plant and drip heads are inserted at intervals. It doesn't take a great deal of water to fill the bag and the water is dispensed slowly, evenly and efficiently. While it's generally used here only following transplantation, I'll bet it could be used to improve the results of root pruning in a dry climate. Here's an article that discusses the technique. (Given your climatic conditions, I might ignore the article's recommendation that the technique only be used in the short term.) You may also be able to find local resources for both supplies and advice.


    https://blog.davey.com/2019/05/do-tree-watering-bags-work/


    Drip irrigation doesn't reduce the tree's overall water requirements, but may make it easier for you to deal with it. When it comes time to transplant, you may have a one-time need for a greater quantity of water, of course.

    bart bart thanked fredbarber
  • bart bart
    Original Author
    2 months ago

    Hmm... well, I still have time to think about it. I hear what you're saying about grape vines (I am,however, a "transplant" myself, lol. Born in the USA). However,I was under the impression that magnolias, by nature, tend to have a rather shallow root system. I grow roses and whilst some do put down those uber-deep roots, others that were badly planted or planted in shallow soil just spread their roots out,and remain only semi-established, and pop out easily when moved. I might end up trying to investigate Leonard's root system, when (and if?) we ever get decent rain...

  • fredbarber
    2 months ago

    Looking further online, I see what you mean about the root systems. Some of the pictures make it look as though they almost naturally create more of a root ball than most larger trees. And the articles generally suggest that they are difficult to transplant.


    Your suggestion of investigating the root system of yours sounds sensible. Maybe dig carefully a couple feet from the trunk to see what's out there, then move cautiously closer to see if the root density picks up. If you find adequate root density at a distance that would leave you with a manageable sized root ball, just go for it. If the root system looks to be too widely spread or inadequate, consider waiting and trying to improve the situation by next fall.


    Speaking of roses, I have a fair number of 100- (or so) year-old bushes that we acquired with our house. One of them is Father Hugo, a large shrubby species rose with lots of thorns, tiny leaflets and sweetly scented single pale yellow flowers. When we moved here, Father Hugo was in a very poor location -- under a set of three dogwoods that obviously went in after him but had grown to dominate the area. I dug him up -- the main bush and an offset, separately, with sizeable root balls -- and moved them to better locations. The offset didn't thrive (I think its new location was too hot and dry), but the main bush is still growing happily some 35 years later. Miracles can, indeed, happen.

    bart bart thanked fredbarber
  • bart bart
    Original Author
    2 months ago

    From my experience, roses tend to be very gracious about being moved,as long as you don't move the same plant too many times. Instead, I have failed in trying to move ceanothus-one plant did survive, but died off a few years afterward; I'm not sure if this was due to having been moved or from just poor location; I sort of suspect a combination of factors. Also have failed in moving cypress Totem; I don't know if the non-Totems accept moving or not. I did seemingly successfully move a magnolia Susan,but then I moved it again, and then a third time,so it's not surprising that that one died.(WHAT WAS I THINKING???,lol!)

    Actually I can see at least one of Leonard M's roots,which is very superficial, only covered by thin soil and mulch. Leonard is planted on a sort of hillock,where one side of the soil slopes sharply down (all of my garden is on a sharp slope). This is one of the reasons I want to move it; I don't think the roots have space in which to spread out on that side; I think the poor tree may be sort of just kind of perching on a mound of bad soil ; in which case it might be fairly easy to just lift it up! but investigation will be necessary.

    Btw, I never worry about digging up a rootball when moving roses...

  • jacqueline9CA
    2 months ago

    bart bart - it does sound as if your tree will profit from being moved. I just wanted to say that fredbarber's description of those "watering bags" (usually used for recently planted or transplanted trees) might be something you could look into for the future, after the tree gets transplanted. Our town uses them for newly planted street trees, instead of what they used to do, which was to drive a water truck around and water them from the truck. The bags are water tight, with small holes in the bottom, as described. Then, when you want to give the tree more water, you just fill up the bag (which is what the town water trucks are now doing - lasts way longer than surface watering).


    Jackie

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  • Embothrium
    2 months ago
    last modified: 2 months ago

    Are you mulching 4 in. or more deep? Sounds like all you have to do is overcome the summer baking of the soil where your tree already is instead of lifting it, hoping it survives the move to a different spot. A different spot in the same climate. So what about mulch in combination with starting the watering much earlier in the season?

    Otherwise regarding some of the other ideas being tossed around on this thread existing roots of cold climate adapted woody plants elongate in autumn when the winter stem buds are set at the stem tips. After which there isn't much happening from then until spring bud break, with such plants basically hibernating in winter - transplanting after a given specimen has already completed this annual root growth episode will have no advantage over spring planting or transplanting. With digging a plant up when it is too late resulting in the recently expanded root system being cut back. At a time when it will not be able to respond until the following year.

    This is why bare-rooted trees and shrubs dug in November and warehoused until the following year, shipped for spring planting amount to cuttings with partial (cut back) root systems already present. And how these act as though dead until the tops bud out - same as during the significant lengthening of existing roots in fall the burst of new root generation in spring is regulated by what the overwintering stem buds are doing at the time. Regulated by hormones generated by these buds.

    Root pruning in advance of transplanting depends on the resulting branching of the existing roots out near their tips being retained when the pre-pruned specimen is dug later. With if these are instead cut off during the moving operation any advantage of the pruning being lost (there is a shared tendency to stick the spade in where it went before).

    Applications of high phosphorus products can produce a phosphorus excess which adversely affects plant growth. And requires excavation and replacement of soil so affected because phosphorus leaches extremely slowly. So that as with other applications of soil minerals sampling and testing of involved soils should precede application of high phosphorus products in particular. With in my region for instance phosphorus inadequacies only being found on a recurring basis in the sandy soil + high rainfall combination of the outer coastal strip.

    In addition there is a lot of practical information about your plant on this and various linked to pages associated with it:

    Magnolia × loebneri 'Leonard Messel'|magnolia 'Leonard Messel'/RHS Gardening

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  • bart bart
    Original Author
    2 months ago

    Embothrium, I'm not sure I understood what you were saying in your post. I don't know what your climate is like, but here in hot Tuscany, Italy, plants work on their roots during later autumn and during the winter; they come closest to dormancy during the summer, which is when one gets the most die-back. Moving and planting should be all done before Christmas, in order to allow the plants to benefit from the cooler temperature and the rain.

    I honestly don't think that the only issue for my tree is "summer baking of the soil". This year was so hot, and the sun so intense, that I think it literally burnt the leaves dry (I'm seeing similar burning on certain exposed wooded hills, etc). As I wrote in my last post "Actually I can see at least one of Leonard M's roots,which is very superficial, only covered by thin soil and mulch. Leonard is planted on a sort of hillock,where one side of the soil slopes sharply down (all of my garden is on a sharp slope). This is one of the reasons I want to move it; I don't think the roots have space in which to spread out on that side; I think the poor tree may be sort of just kind of perching on a mound of bad soil " . It's too bad I'm such a computer dufus and don't know how to post a little sketch of what I'm talking about. So, yes, "a different spot in the same climate", but not exactly if the new spot provides some shade and deeper soil; also a flatter spot, where I actually could provide a better mulch...

  • Embothrium
    2 months ago
    last modified: 2 months ago

    Your climate would not radically change the genetically ingrained basic annual growth schedule of your tree. Deciduous magnolias in particular are especially apt to have problems due to cutting back of roots at times when it is not usual for a cold climate adapted deciduous tree or shrub to be producing new roots - if you look at the RHS pages magnolias are specifically mentioned as being hard to move.

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  • bart bart
    Original Author
    2 months ago

    Finally I got a chance to see the RHS link...I don't know, Embothrium. They include roses in their list of plants resent root disturbance! that isn't my experience, by any means. I may just go ahead and try it; it just seems to me that the poor tree would be kinda doomed to a life of struggle and suffering if left in this spot ,always requiring shading in summer and lots of water , which is so scarce in my garden.

  • cathz6
    2 months ago
    last modified: 2 months ago

    Bart,

    If the cost of those water bags is more than you'd like, you can use used gallon plastic water jugs for the same effect. Just dig a small hole a bit wider and deeper than the neck of the jug, holding your fingers over the jug opening, invert the jug (which is full of water) upside down with the neck in the hole. Pull up the soil around the neck to keep it from gulping out. You will lose some water in the process but not much. Over a week's time (here) the water will gradually seep from the jug maintaining more even moisture while the jug gradually collapses. I do this in addition to giving the plant a gallon of water once a week. So that's a total of 2 gallons in one week. Use your judgement for how many gallons the plant will need depending on size and how it reacts.

    Magnolias have a reputation for being difficult to move, which I don't doubt. I did successfully move a young magnolia hybrid (2-4 years old), Royal Gold? (It was over 40 years ago - I'm a little fuzzy on the name). Still I do agree that it should be moved (once only). And root pruned this Fall (by 1/2 or 1/3) and again next Spring or Fall (you know your climate best). Then finally planted in the Fall either of 2023 or 2024.

    Good luck and good wishes. It's hard to see a plant struggling.

    Cath


    P.S. If you are going to root prune, do it ASAP so that it has the maximum time to form new roots close to the crown before the challenges of an Italian summer.

    bart bart thanked cathz6
  • bart bart
    Original Author
    2 months ago

    Thank you, cathz6. I really, really appreciate your idea of making do-it-yourself-,CHEAP water bags that also have the great virtue of recycling plastic jugs. I definitely can see myself doing that; (I can't afford to spend even more $ than I already do on garden stuff).

    Once we are more decidedly into autumn, I intend to explore around the base of the plant in order to get a better idea of it's root system. The fact is that with my hard, rocky soil, I have often dug up plants (roses) to move them only to find that the roots have never penetrated deeply into the soil, but have remained close to the surface; if this is the case with this tree, it might be a simple question of lifting it off of it's mound. I could definitely see this as a possibility in this case, since I did no soil prep before planting it out,and as far as I know ,magnolias have the tendency towards rather superficial roots. On the other hand, roses' roots want to go down deep.

    My tree, btw , has been in the ground for about 6 seasons.

  • Embothrium
    2 months ago
    last modified: 2 months ago

    All plants need to grow on rocks that do not trap and hold puddles of water that will drown them during wet conditions is an adequate depth of soil to be present above the rock layer - if your magnolia is already perched on a soil mound add more soil around the edge and mulch 4 in. deep. Instead of disturbing the tree's roots in autumn or winter, which I guarantee a deciduous magnolia will not like.

    bart bart thanked Embothrium
  • bart bart
    Original Author
    2 months ago

    I can't do as you advise, Embothrium. This mound is on a sharp slope,above a path. I would have to build a wall of at least 3 feet high and several meters long. Then the magnolia's roots would be boxed in on that side by stone which would bake in the summer. Magnolia Leonard Messel is not a rare tree; I'd like to save this one, but not at the cost of undertaking such a major project that would take years to realize and might or might not function.I have too many other major projects that demand being done.

    In any case, yesterday I went out there and looked at the tree carefully. Though it's been in there several years, the trunk and the top of the root ball still move around quite easily; I probably could've just pulled the poor thing out (though it definitely would NOT have liked THAT,lol) . This gives me the strong idea that it has very little in the way of anchor roots. Considering this ,I am leaning more and more towards the idea of letting it go dormant and then investigating around its' base with a hand digger. I think it might just pop out easily. The idea of root-pruning it doesn't appeal to me; I' afraid that could just kill it out-right

  • jacqueline9CA
    last month

    Good luck with moving your tree, bart bart. It does sound as if you latest plan is the correct one. Let us know what you do, and what happens after that.


    Jackie

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  • Embothrium
    last month

    Because it's a deciduous magnolia move at end of winter - right before bud break - instead of at the beginning.

    bart bart thanked Embothrium
  • Sheila z8a Rogue Valley OR
    last month

    Except for the extreme heat areas like where Bart is.

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  • bart bart
    Original Author
    last month

    Sheila ia right-here, all transplanting and planting should be done by Christmas. In spring it gets too hot and dry too fast. I'll probably wait until the end of October/beginning of November to make sure that the sun is too low to cause problems.

  • Embothrium
    last month
    last modified: last month

    Except for the extreme heat areas like where Bart is.

    Bart's magnolia isn't going to do anything between now and spring bud break that would confer an advantage to moving it well before then. Because cold climate adapted woody plants in general elongate existing, undamaged roots (50% of annual total) in autumn and generate new roots in spring. Autumn in this context is when winter stem buds have matured; spring is when these same buds open. At both times hormones are sent by these buds to the roots which cause them to grow. And the time between autumn and spring is basically one of hibernation - roots of deciduous magnolias may rot if cut or broken during the dormant season.

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  • Sheila z8a Rogue Valley OR
    last month

    Moving in heat kills plants for sure.

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  • rosesmi5a
    last month

    I have read that Magnolias should only be moved in the spring because of their fleshy rather surface-growing root system -- but that is for a cooler/cold climate.

    Magnolias do not tolerate drought very well, so if your fall/winters have a bit more moisture than your summers, :) I'd go for the fall transplant.

    Whenever I have moved a magnolia, I am always struck by how wide-ranging, shallow and FRAGILE their root system is -- roots can even snap. I would be prepared to slip a large piece of cardboard (like a refrigerator's shipping box) under the roots as you dig. After moving it, mulch well for quite a wide area and keep it well-watered its first 2-3 years, and very well mulched after that. After care seems to be more important with magnolias than with many other types of trees in my experience. Remember their ancestral wild provenance and try to mimic that (mountain forests of Japan, Korea...)

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  • bart bart
    Original Author
    last month

    Thank you, rosesmi.Experience has taught me that here,to plant/transplant something in spring is to kill it. Things just get too hot too fast, the sun's radiation is exponentially so much more powerful ,the evaporation rate is way, way too fast. Gardening is NOT an exact science, that's for sure! I'll try to follow your advice and hope for the best. There may be a chance to save this tree-as I mentioned it does not seem to be well-rooted into the ground at all, in spite of the time it's been in this spot,so I'll try to be as careful as possible to conserve as much of the roots as I can; using a hand-digger should help. But if it does fail, it shouldn't be too difficult to replace this tree for a reasonable price...and I will have learned the answer to my own question,lol!

  • bart bart
    Original Author
    17 days ago

    Well, I did the deed yesterday-dug out my LM magnolia. It took all afternoon; I dug it out almost entirely with a hand-digger,and did manage to conserve a great deal of the root system (rosesmi, your description of the root system is quite exactly right!). I was surprised to see, however, that some of the roots had found their way into what I think is the bed-rock; these of course I had to cut short,as well as others that had traveled out very, very far out from the plant. I do see now why many recommend the root-pruning a year before the move,but hopefully mine having begun life as a potted plant has enough roots close to the base so it can over-look the shortening. It was a huge job, but I'm not sorry; that spot was totally wrong for a magnolia-very, very rocky, and far too shallow, with bedrock quite close to the surface. What's more, on the down-ward side of this slope, the soil was bone-dry, in spite of the fairly decent rain we'd had the day before. I plan to have a garden path run over this area rather than try anything else there.

    The new spot is, of course, still on a slope(my entire garden is), but with a huge difference; the soil is very deep,and I can raise the downward-side up by several meters without burying the tree's trunk; behind the tree I can build a retaining wall (for now it's just made of branches, etc.). So if it manages to overcome the shock of the move, it ought to have a pretty decent spot this time,where I can heavily mulch it. I also plan to put up shade cloth in the summer, until the tree which should provide it shelter from the south-western sun grows big enough to do the job. We shall see...

  • jacqueline9CA
    17 days ago

    Wow - I am impressed - that is a LOT of work! It sounds to me as if that tree has a wonderful future, with all of the care you are taking for it and its new home.


    Jackie

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  • fredbarber
    17 days ago

    I hope your transplant is successful, Bart. It certainly sounds like you've given Leonard a better chance to thrive than it's had so far.


    We've only recently started to have overnight temps near or below freezing here and my Leonard Messel has shed about 2/3 of its leaves. The rest will probably fall this week or next. This makes next years' flower buds much more obvious, giving me optimism that the coming snows will be followed by yet another glorious (if short) season of bloom.


    I'm often struck by the intense emotional grasp that our plants hold on us. By any objective measure, it makes no sense to go through this level of effort for a plant that could probably be easily and economically replaced. The respect you've shown for the struggle your magnolia has faced, for its own survival instinct, is admirable. I can relate -- I recently dug up a rose bush (probably close to a century old) that had been overtaken by deep shade, nurtured it for the summer in a pot where it could grow some new roots under favorable conditions, then replanted it at the other, sunny end of the arbor. There's no reason to have done that except that the rose had lived here far longer than I and deserved a new chance to thrive.


    Keep us updated as your project progresses.

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  • bart bart
    Original Author
    16 days ago

    Thank you both so much, Jackie and fredbarber. It certainly WAS a lot of work, but that's the only way we can really learn about plants, right? Iremember way back when I moved my forst roses, going to such pains to get as many roots out as possible-much as I did with this magnolia. Over the years, I've learned that, at least with roses, such pains aren't necessary (at least not with a strong, healthy rose).; now I'm quite cavalier about it. I definitely see now why magnolias might be considered hard to transplant-those roots are fragile indeed! Roses, instead, have tough, woody roots; I consider the remark in the RHS article that roses are difficult to move is just plain inaccurate.

    My next challenge: I'm going to try moving a wisteria "Prolific". It just isn't growing where it is Probably soil too poor; I was grossly mistaken when I planted it , thinking that wisterias are so tough and vigorous that you can just pop them in and they'll grow like Jack's beanstalk. That may be true in the south-east of the USA,with deep, rich soil and plenty of summer rain, but it is NOT the case on my rocky ,hot, dry hillside. This, too, is a plant that is said to be difficult to move, and would be easy to replace (in fact, I have one that is growing quite well in another area of my garden,and plan to try air-layering this spring to get a new plant), but I am curious and ,yeah, I guess i AM a bit sentimental about the plant. It has survived-and bloomed-this far; why not give it a better chance?