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  • Writer's pictureClaire Marie

Southern Magnolias

My Dad may have been a Yankee, but Mom was a pure Southern girl. That means, I know how a Southern Magnolia tree (Magnolia Grandiflora to be more exact) should be allowed to grow. What exactly do I mean by that?

Do you remember going to your grandparent's house or some other older relative's house as a child? Do you remember that huge tree (often multiple trees) you and your cousins climbed in the yard? Well, that huge tree with the sprawling limbs was probably a Southern Magnolia, especially if you grew up or visited south of the Mason-Dixon line. Many times, a new tree would start growing from a limb that rested on the ground and sprouted roots, making the tree even better.

Well, a quick search reveals that some breeds of Magnolias are more compact and columnar than others, but why? What's the point? That's no fun and they kinda look stupid with their lower limbs chopped off. A Southern Magnolia should be HUGE and sprawling - 60 to 80 feet tall and 20 to 40 feet wide. Yes - that wide!

Besides, you can always tell when a non-southerner has pruned a Southern Magnolia tree by the fact that there are no lower limbs. I know not having lower limbs supposedly makes it easier to mow the grass, but grass won't grow under the tree anyway, so why cut them that way? While the leaves are huge, and they don't compost very quickly, they do make a good natural weed barrier after they build up for a while. All you need to do is rake or blow all the leaves under those lower branches. That's a good reason to keep those lower limbs on the trees - instead of cutting those lower limbs, you top the tree and allow it to spread. It makes for a much more beautiful tree and a great jungle gym for your kids and grandkids.

So, finding good pictures of what a Southern Magnolia should look like isn't easy. It's way easier to find examples of how they should NOT look, but I found a few websites with some. This family blog shows some excellent photos of why magnolias are great for climbing. And this website describes them like this - "Although magnolias may be trimmed and trained in other shapes, Southern tradition dictates a magnolia is a lovely lady with her long skirt skimming the ground…no trunk showing." Oddly, I haven't taken any pictures of Magnolia trees myself as most in my area have been butchered by improper trimming.

What do you think? Should a Magnolia tree be large and sprawling or compactly trimmed? Did you climb trees during your childhood? Were they Magnolias? What kinds of trees did you climb? If none, why not?

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1 Comment

Christopher Tipton
Christopher Tipton
Oct 18, 2022

I loved climbing trees as a kid (city boy too). My maternal grandmother had a triple lot loaded with different fruit trees (which helped the family through the Great Depression). The apple tree was the absolute best for climbing. Our next door neighbors had a good climbing tree too. Of course, these days we'd never be allowed to climb it for fear of lawsuits. I grew up in Detroit so we didn't have any Southern Magnolias. Mores the pity. I fell out of those trees more than once. How I managed to avoid broken bones is the question. None of my sibs got seriously hurt falling out of trees. Bumbles bounce I guess. :-)

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