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My Magnolia Buds Do Not Open for Some Reason. Is It Frost?

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Picture of star magnolia tree.

Picture of M. stellata.

David Beaulieu
Question: My Magnolia Buds Do Not Open for Some Reason. Is It Frost?
"We have an older northern magnolia tree (we live in northeastern Indiana)," writes a reader. "It is healthy and had produced beautiful blooms in the spring. However the past 3 springs the tree will bud with blooms but the buds do not open. The first year I believe it happened due to a killing frost. Then last year I assumed the same however I noticed other magnolias in our area in full bloom. Again this spring, the bloom buds seem to be closed while others in our neighborhood are opening. What could be the reason? And is there anything I can do to help it?"
Answer:

A number of problems are potential culprits when magnolia buds are not opening. One possibility is that thrips are attacking your magnolia buds. Weather comes to mind as a possible reason for the failure, too. I don't know what kind of spring weather you've had in the Midwest, but here in New England we've had a cold spring. Magnolia buds can rot during extended periods of such weather, and once rot sets in, they do not open.

Also, don't rule out frost as the culprit last year just because your neighbors' magnolia buds opened up into flowers. Frost is a surprisingly localized phenomenon. I've had specimens avoid frost damage in one area of my landscaping, only to discover that the very same type of plant in another part of my landscaping had succumbed to the frost!

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