Is it possible to start a magnolia tree from seed? —Delores Childress, Charlotte, NC
You can start a magnolia from seed, but the resulting tree won’t be identical to the original, and it will take longer to bloom than a similar grafted tree from a nursery.
Gather ripe seed in the fall, when red seeds are visible on the fruit. Plant them right away or keep them in a cool, dark, moist place for planting the following spring.
Either way, clean the seeds immediately and don’t allow them to dry out. Soak seeds overnight in warm water, then remove their fleshy coating by rubbing them against a sheet of window screening or hardware cloth.
To get the seeds ready for spring planting, store them in your refrigerator for three months or more. This process is called “stratifying.” Sandwich them in a plastic zipper bag with a mix of sand and peat moss that’s moist but not so wet that it drips when you squeeze it.
If you plant the seeds in fall, sow them in your garden and mark the area so you won’t disturb it early next spring as you do your spring clean-up. In mild climates, you can sow seeds in a large container. Magnolia seedlings usually grow quite rapidly. After about two years, they’ll be ready to transplant into their permanent location.