Magnolias are an ancient tree, going back over 58 million years in the fossil record. In fact, magnolias are so old that they predate bees and are pollinated even today by beetles. Magnolias are stately trees with a distinctive flower that makes them prized in many locations, especially in the southern U.S. The magnolia is the state tree of Mississippi. The magnolia can be propagated by seeds, cuttings or layering. Magnolias grow best in hardiness zones 6 through 10.
Propagate by Seeds
Collect seeds in the fall as soon as the large seeds pods open, revealing the bright red or orange seeds within.
Soak the fresh seeds in a bowl of water for 48 hours. Discard any that float.
Remove the bright red or orange fleshy part of the seeds after they have soaked for two days by rubbing the seeds between your thumb and forefinger.
Pat the cleaned seeds dry with a paper towel and put the seeds in a baggie. Seal the the baggie and place it in the vegetable drawer of your refrigerator for 90 to 120 days. This is known as stratification.
Choose a sunny and well-drained place in your yard or garden, keeping in mind that magnolia trees can grow to be 25 feet to 40 feet tall. Dig a hole a 6 inches deep and 6 inches across. Fill the hole with a combination of 50% garden soil and 50% organic manure. Plant the seeds 1/2 inch deep and water. Keep the soil damp but not soggy. Seeds should sprout within three to four weeks.
Propagate a Magnolia With Cuttings
Choose a variety of magnolia that can be propagated from cuttings. Magnolia denudata, magnolia acuminata, and magnolia grandiflora are three varieties that are particularly difficult to grow from cuttings. (Varieties that are difficult to grow from cuttings may be grown from seeds or from layering, which will be discussed shortly.)
Take a soft wood cutting. This is a cutting from relatively new growth, taken in early summer, before the stem has become hard and woody. To determine whether a cutting is the right age, bend the cutting between your thumb and forefinger--if the cutting snaps cleanly, the wood is of the proper age, but if the cutting merely bends, it is too green, or if it breaks without bending, then it is too old. Cuttings should be approximately 6 inches long, from the tip of a branch, cut just below a leaf node.
Remove all but the top two or three leaves and cut those leaves in half to reduce water loss.
Dip the cut end of the cutting into a rooting hormone powder and then carefully plant the bottom 3 inches of your cutting in a growing tray filled with a starter plant mix. Dampen the planting mix, but do not soak it. Spray your cutting with a misting bottle.
Cut the bottom off a clear, 2-liter soda bottle and place the bottle over your cutting. The plastic soda bottle will act somewhat like a tiny greenhouse, keeping your cuttings in a humid environment. Place the tray in a warm room (at least 72 degrees F constantly), where your cutting can receive sunlight but not direct sun (which could bake it.)
Mist your cutting at least daily and keep the soil damp but not soggy. Your cutting should show signs of growth after two to three months.
Propagating Magnolias by Layering
Begin your layering project in spring or early summer. Bend a branch of your magnolia down to the ground.
Make a small X cut with a sharp knife in the underside of the branch approximately 14 inches from the tip. Cover the portion of the branch with the X cut with a combination of 60 percent garden soil and 40 percent peat moss. This portion of the branch should be approximately 1 to 1 1/2 inches deep. Leave 12 inches of the tip of the branch above ground. Bend the tip upward and stake it.
Keep the buried portion of the branch damp but not soaking (do not puddle water) for up to two years. Carefully check for roots to have formed on the buried portion of the branch after two seasons.
Cut the branch just beyond the roots and carefully replant the branch in the location where you wish your new magnolia to be.