Column by Gary Church: Magnolia's blooms won't retire from 'March to Frost'

The ‘March to Frost’ magnolia keeps blooming throughout the year.

Retirement is a wonderful thing. You now have time to do what you never had time to do before, like sit out on the patio most of the day and talk to ducks.

Dr. August Kehr retired from teaching agriculture, but kept doing what he loved most, which was plant breeding. After his retirement, he developed nine azaleas, 12 rhododendrons, and a whopping 31 magnolias. In my retirement, I’ve only been able to develop a much larger stomach.

Kehr’s goal was to produce a yellow azalea, and a yellow magnolia. He did succeed with the yellow magnolia. It is named Sunspire magnolia, should you ever want to grow one.

You probably assume that this article is about the yellow magnolia, but I’m sorry to inform you, your assumption is not correct.

Another one of Kehr’s creations was a re-blooming magnolia. Those of you who have magnolias realize they are very showy when they are in bloom, but that only lasts for two weeks, if that long.

In 1997, when he came out with the new magnolia, he called it “May to Frost,” suggesting that it was in bloom all that time. Kehr passed away in 2001. He probably thought that it was a good name, but people in warmer climates didn’t agree. Their magnolias bloomed for a longer period, bless their hearts. In 2010, the name was changed to “March to Frost,” to keep everyone happy.

The upright tulip shaped blooms are a deep rose-purple color. The flowers rarely open up fully though. The flowers are smaller than the other magnolias, but no other magnolia puts out more blooms than the “March to Frost” variety.

The first flush of flowers appear on bare branches around mid-April to early May. For you with the old varieties, that’s it, you’re done. “March to Frost” continues to have flowers pop up, and then like myself, take a rest. I understand fully, how much those rests are needed.

The next flush of blooms appear in early July, just as you are setting off your fireworks.

Guess what it does next? It rests again. In late August or early September, just when you think summer is over, it blooms again.

I would not mark all of these dates on your calendar. Each plant does it’s own thing, so don’t expect a tight schedule.

Should you decide to grow one of these gems, here are a few suggestions. They are a slow grower. If you are in your late 90s, maybe you should consider growing another variety.

Plant it where it will remain forever. They do not like to be disturbed. They are a lot like me. My wife’s family moved every other week, but I only moved once, from the West Side of New Castle to Neshannock. My grave is located about 200 yards away, so that won’t be a big move either.

The tree will eventually get 20 feet tall and about 18 feet wide and will take temperatures as low as -24 degrees, unlike my wife who can’t stand anything under 78 degrees.

There is no need to prune the tree, unless you absolutely need to. The new buds form on the tips of the branches, so only prune them right after they bloom.

I hope you all have a nice Thanksgiving, and that I don’t end up in jail. My daughter, who lives in Hubbard, Ohio, is cooking the turkey. I may have to sneak across the border if I want to enjoy my two legs, mashed potatoes and gravy. Plus, I heard through the grapevine, that the pretzel salad is making a big comeback this year, which makes me happy.

I’m sure all of this food will help me in my quest of a larger stomach.

Make your space a green space.

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