Magnolias are one of the featured plants at this year's University of Delaware Botanic Gardens plant sale.

Native Delaware: Magnolias

Magnolias featured plant at 2013 UD Botanic Gardens sale

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8:47 a.m., April 2, 2013--John Frett is a like a kid in a candy store when it comes to choosing magnolias for the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens plant sale – he wants them all.

“How can one resist those magnificent flowers, some appearing in early spring, some in late spring or summer,” notes Frett, who is director of the gardens. “Then there is the fragrance, the evergreen foliage and, to round out the package, colored fruits in the fall. I would love to include every magnolia variety in the sale, but I have to pare down my selection to a few exquisite gems.”

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Magnolias are one of the featured plants at this year’s plant sale, to be held April 26-27. Many gardeners like to plant early blooming (and non-native) magnolias, such as Magnolia ‘genie,’ which will be available at the sale. But there is distinct advantage to the native varieties, says Frett.

“You need to be patient because our native magnolias don’t flower until mid- to late season, from about mid-April until summer. But on the upside, you won’t need to worry about frost damage like you do with saucer magnolia and the other early bloomers,” he says.

A few early magnolias could be close to bloom when Frett leads garden walks on April 3-4 that focus on magnolias and other plant sale highlights. The gardens feature an extensive magnolia collection centered around Townsend Hall and also in a large planting near the UD swimming pool.  If time allows, Frett will duck into the greenhouses to show off container plants started from seed by UD students.

“The sale is a real learning opportunity,” says Frett. “A number of our undergraduate classes take part in starting seeds and grad students help with propagation.”

One of the rare magnolias offered at the sale is Magnolia ashei Ash Magnolia, a native with coarse leaves that can get as large as 18 inches long. “It gives the plant a real tropical feel,” says Frett. 

At maturity, Magnolia ashei Ash Magnolia will reach 15 to 20 feet. If you don’t have a lot of space, instead consider a dwarf magnolia such as Sweet Thing, a dwarf cultivar of native sweetbay. This little guy tops out at 5 to 8 feet in high after 15 to 20 years.

Rhododendron is another plant that is well represented at the sale. Six different selections are offered, all of them native. The Catawba rhododendron, which features dark-red flowers in late May, is probably the most common native rhodo in local gardens. And for good reason. It’s known to be an excellent performer and is a good food source for butterflies and hummingbirds.

If you enjoy surprises, pick up a flame azalea for your yard. Another butterfly friendly selection, this plant features vivid orange blooms. Or yellow, pink, salmon or scarlet ones. The plant flowers in May so it’s anyone’s guess which color you’ll be getting at the UD sale.

Guided walks

April 3-4:  Learn about plants offered at the sale during a stroll through the UD Botanic Gardens. 4 p.m. $10. To register call 831-2531 or email botanicgardens@udel.edu.

Plant sale

April 26, 3-7 p.m., and April 27, 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Sale is located across from Fischer Greenhouse on UD’s South Campus in Newark. For more information, call 831-2531 or email botanicgardens@udel.edu.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

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