NOTHING STANDS OUT MORE in the winter landscape than a broad-leaved evergreen. One of my favorites is a magnolia named Little Gem. It gets its name from its glossy leaves, which are usually 4 to 8 inches long and somewhat oval in shape with a slightly pointed tip. The top of the leaf is dark green and glossy; the underside is a velvety dark brown. In the winter, the glossiness dulls slightly, and the leaves seem darker in color.
LITTLE GEM IS QUITE SMALL by magnolia standards. It grows only 20 feet tall and less than 10 feet wide with maturity. It grows slowly and is suitable for a variety of landscape applications, including a medium evergreen screen or hedge. The thick evergreen leaves provide a dense screen and can provide some sound buffering as well.
THE CREAMY WHITE FLOWERS are 4 to 6 inches wide when fully open. Most Southern magnolias bloom in May and June, but Little Gem continues to flower sporadically throughout summer and even into fall.
KENTUCKY IS ON THE NORTHERN END of the growing range for Southern magnolias, but they perform acceptably well here. Full sun to part shade and rich, moist, well-drained soil are best. This is not the plant for a site with poor soil conditions.
OTHER EXCELLENT SOUTHERN MAGNOLIAS include Bracken’s Brown Beauty, D.D. Blanchard, and Edith Bogue. They grow at least 10 to 15 feet taller on average than Little Gem in our area. They are an excellent choice when a larger tree is needed.
Shelly Nold is a horticulturist and owner of The Plant Kingdom. Send stories and ideas to her at The Plant Kingdom, 4101 Westport Road, Louisville, KY 40207.
ASK THE GARDENER
by Angie McManus
I have a 3-year-old American beautybush that is doing well, but it will not bloom. What is wrong?
American beautyberry (Callicarpa Americana) is a nice understory shrub. It has an open growth habit with purple berries that add wonderful color to your garden in the fall. There are a few reasons your shrub may not be flowering and fruiting. This shrub requires full sun to light shade to bloom. Ideally, this native plant should get a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight.
Beautyberry blooms on new growth, meaning it will not produce flowers on previous years’ growth. If you have not pruned your shrub, this might be why you have not seen any flowers or fruit. Beautyberry should be pruned annually while it is dormant during the late winter or early spring.
It is quite forgiving, so later this winter, go ahead and cut it back to around a foot. To promote healthy growth, prune out one-quarter to one-third of the oldest stems each year. This will rejuvenate your shrub, and as long as it is getting enough sunlight, it should bloom next summer, and you will be able to enjoy the fruit next fall.
It sounds like your shrub is healthy, and beautyberry does not have many insect or disease problems, so I suspect your shrub may just need to be pruned or moved to a sunnier location.
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