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Leaf drop is normal for magnolia trees


Published: Saturday, May 4, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 12:01 p.m.

Q: My magnolia tree is dropping its leaves. It always drops some leaves, but these are brown with black spots.

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Our beautiful Southern magnolia trees are known for their gorgeous white blooms and fragrant scent. (Courtesy of Wendy Wilber)

A: Our beautiful Southern magnolia trees are known for a couple things. First, are the gorgeous white blooms that festoon their evergreen branches in the early summertime. Their fragrant scent is a signal to us that the warm weather is here and that we live in the South. The other thing magnolias are known for is dropping their large, tough leaves. As an evergreen tree, magnolias periodically drop leaves during the year. In April and May they shed a large number of leaves leading up to flowering and putting on new vegetation. The shed leaves are yellowish-brown and often show algal leaf spots. This leaf drop is perfectly normal, and it precedes the beautiful magnolia blooms.

You can enjoy the heavenly aroma as you are raking up the leaves. Use the leaves as mulch under the tree or put shredded leaves in your compost pile.

If you are thinking about planting a magnolia tree, be sure to give it plenty of room. The standard trees can reach 100 feet at full maturity. If that is too much tree for you, select some of the smaller dwarf cultivars like "Little Gem" or "Brackens Brown Beauty" or "Alma." The dwarf magnolia cultivars only grow to 20 or 30 feet, and bloom soon after planting. For more information on magnolia trees, visit the UF/IFAS Extension website at www.solutionsforyourlife.com

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Q: I would like to use more Florida-friendly plants in my landscape, but I am not always sure if what I am buying is going to work for me. I want color for me, and to attract butterflies. Where should I go to find out more?

A: The nursery centers are loaded with plants that have great colors, but sometimes they don't last very long in the landscape. It really comes down to putting the right plant in the right place, but to do that you have to do a little education. There are a few good websites out there. My favorite is at the University of Florida's Florida-Friendly Landscaping website, http://fyn.ifas.ufl.edu, and its companion website, www.floridayards.org. Both have excellent information and a plant database that can help you decide the right plant for you. Many times the best choice for your Florida-friendly landscape is a native plant, but there are other proven tough plants that are well-adapted to Florida's soils and climate.

Good plants for color and for butterfly attracting include firebush, gaillardia, coreopsis, porter weed, salvias, passion vine, native milkweed and pentas. All of these perform best in full sun and do well in our sandy soil. You can find these and more Florida-friendly plants at local nurseries. In Alachua County, the Master Gardeners have a plant sale once a year in May, and they offer many Florida-friendly plants as well as fruit trees and herbs. The sale is 8 a.m. to noon May 18 at 2800 NE 39th Ave. in Gainesville, near the fairgrounds. The Master Gardeners use the funds raised to support their local community service projects. Call 955-2402 for more information.

Wendy Wilber is an extension agent with UF/IFAS. Email her at wlwilber@ifas.ufl.edu.

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