Image by Michael Arrighi
By Jackie Carroll
In the fall of the year after the flowers are long gone from a magnolia tree, the seed pods have an interesting surprise in store. Magnolia seed pods, which resemble exotic-looking cones, spread open to reveal bright red berries, and the tree comes to life with birds, squirrels and other wildlife that relish these tasty fruits. Inside the berries, you’ll find the magnolia seeds. And when conditions are just right, you may find a magnolia seedling growing under a magnolia tree.
Propagating Magnolia Seeds
In addition to transplanting and growing a magnolia seedling, you can also try your hand at growing magnolias from seed. Propagating magnolia seeds takes a little extra effort because you can’t buy them in packets. Once the seeds dry out, they are no longer viable, so in order to grow a magnolia tree from seed, you have to harvest fresh seeds from the berries.
Before you go to the trouble of harvesting magnolia seed pods, try to determine whether the parent tree is a hybrid. Hybrid magnolias don’t breed true, and the resulting tree may not resemble the parent. You may not be able to tell that you’ve made a mistake until 10 to 15 years after you plant the seed, when the new tree produces its first flowers.
Harvesting Magnolia Seed Pods
When harvesting the magnolia seed pods for collection of its seeds, you must pick the berries from the pod when they are bright red and fully ripe.
Remove the fleshy berry from the seeds and soak the seeds in lukewarm water overnight. The next day, remove the outer coating from the seed by rubbing it against hardware cloth or a wire screen.
Magnolia seeds must go through a process called stratification in order to germinate. Place the seeds in a container of moist sand and mix well. The sand should not be so wet that water drips from your hand when you squeeze it.
Place the container in the refrigerator and leave it undisturbed for at least three months or until you are ready to plant the seeds. When you bring the seeds out of the refrigerator, it triggers a signal that tells the seed that winter has passed and it’s time to grow a magnolia tree from seed.
Growing Magnolias from Seed
When you’re ready to grow a magnolia tree from seed, you should plant the seeds in spring, either directly in the ground or in pots.
Cover the seeds with about 1/4 inch of soil and keep the soil moist until your seedlings emerge.
A layer of mulch will help the soil hold moisture while the magnolia seedling grows. New seedlings will also need protection from strong sunlight for the first year.