With its sweeping branches and sweet scented blossoms, magnolia evokes memories of hot summer days. You can start a magnolia from a cutting or even from seed. Magnolias are so long lived that your grandchildren and their children will enjoy the fragrant blooms on the tree you started. Magnolia is fully hardy in the UK, but flower buds may suffer from frost damage during late winter.
Gather seeds. Collect as soon as possible after they mature in mid-September to early October. Spread the cone-like fruit out to dry for several days. Shake the seeds out of the dried cone.
Store seeds over winter. Place seeds in a plastic bag containing sand and peat moss. Store in the fridge at 4 degrees C (40F) or lower for three to six months before planting.
Plant the seeds. The following spring, plant the seeds either directly in a seedbed in the ground or in individual starter pots filled with rich potting soil. Sow seeds 6.5 mm (1/4 inch) deep and firm soil gently over the seeds. Keep the soil moist until the seeds germinate.
To grow magnolia from cuttings, gather pieces of soft wood in later winter or early spring. Soft wood is new wood whose bark is still soft enough to be easily pierced with your fingernail. Cut pieces that are around 15 cm (6 inches) long, and try to include a couple leaves at the top. Make a clean diagonal cut at the bottom of the cutting. This is the part you will insert into the soil.
Place the cutting in rooting medium. Use either vermiculite or peat moss to root cuttings. Fill starter pots with rooting medium. Leave the cutting about half above the soil line. Cover each pot with its own plastic bag. Humidity is vital when rooting softwood cuttings. Keep the plastic over the pot, except when watering. Place the pots in a protected spot in the shade. Check for roots in four to six weeks. Another sign that the cutting has "taken" is if it starts to grow new leaves.
Transplant seedlings or cuttings where the tree is to grow. Transplant seedlings when they are about 30 cm (1 foot) high and cuttings when they have a small root ball and their leaves are actively growing. Add some regular garden compost to the hole when transplanting. Place the magnolia so the soil is at the same place on the trunk as it was before transplanting it. Water well and feed the seedling with liquid fertiliser every two weeks until late summer, and then stop feeding until spring.
Provide shade and consistent water for your young magnolias during their first summer.
Magnolias don't like to be transplanted; plant them in the location where you plan to grow them as soon as they are ready, either from seed or cutting.
Peat moss and vermiculite are available at garden centres and home improvement shops.