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Wednesday - February 04, 2009

From: Lexington, KY
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Rare or Endangered Plants, Pruning, Trees
Title: Storm damage to native sweet bay magnolias in Kentucky
Answered by: Barbara Medford


Can you please share information on storm damage to sweet bay magnolias; if the top is broken off can the tree maintain its natural shape or will the sides begin to grow more than the top; i.e., growth hormones, etc.


Magnolia virginiana (sweetbay) is a wetlands tree, usually only about 20 feet tall, although it can grow taller and be evergreen in its more southern habitat. Our Native Plant Database does not show it as native to Kentucky, and the USDA Plants Profile does not show it growing in Kentucky, but that is often out of date and inaccurate. 

That having been said, we're not sure we understand your question about growth hormones. Were you referring to natural hormones that the tree might have to repair its own damage, or to hormones applied to the tree in some way?  Apparently, this is one of the trees that suffered the most damage in the 2004 hurricanes in Florida. It seemed to be snapped off and have large limbs broken off much more frequently than any other native tree species.  Are you referring to recent damage? We found out from our own webpage on this tree that it should be pruned after blooming and during growing season because dormant magnolias do not easily heal. Beyond that, we could not learn anything about the possibility of the tree returning to some natural shape after storm damage. This is a lovely, valuable tree and is considered Threatened or Endangered in at least four states, so it is well worth the effort to preserve it.

From this distance, we have no way to determine whether dead limbs should be pruned off now, or some attempt be made at pruning to restore a more natural shape. We would suggest you consult a licensed arborist who can look at the tree and make a diagnosis and recommend solutions. Also, the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture has a Home and Garden site that should lead you to someone who might have information you need. 

Magnolia virginiana

Magnolia virginiana

Magnolia virginiana

Magnolia virginiana



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