Magnolia 'Yellow River' - Yellow River magnolia
This magnolia variety has only recently been imported from China, under the name Fei Huang. It is a sensational plant with large yellow flowers. It belongs to magnolia denudata (Yulan magnolia) group, however, we have not been able to search for the exact breeding details. The Chinese probably keep it top confidential against the spies from the West…It is a true sensation as it bears large flowers that are 15 cm wide and vanilla yellow when fully opened. Freshly opened buds are deep yellow same as the stamens in the centre of the flower. Petals are rather obovate with rounded tips. Does it get you excited? Well, the best is yet to come. The flowers have the sweetest scent we ever smelled on magnolias. The perfume is rich, fruity or melon sweet, not citrus as some other sources say.
It flowers on bare branches with one or two small, bright green leaves beneath the calyx. This magnolia is a late variety which blooms only in mid or late spring, usually from mid May, thus avoiding possible damage by late frosts. The blooming period can be extended on older plants as it tends to have two waves: first, the large buds from the tips of the branches come to flower, and only then the rest, the smaller flower buds from the inside of the shrub. It is quite precocious as it flowers in its 3rd year.
Deciduous leaves are obovate, quite sizeable, and fresh green from spring till autumn when they turn yellow and brown and soon fall down. The shrub is nevertheless attractive even in winter when it is covered with large and hairy, silvery grey flower buds. It is too new to tell the exact size of a mature plant. Having watched it grow we estimate its usual garden size to some 3-4m high.
Magnolias are not supposed to be pruned. You can prune old shrubs if ill, or trim them to shape or to reduce size, or make an elementary cut to young plants of unsightly or unhealthy appearance. Do this as soon as possible after flowering to secure setting of flower buds for the following year. Be aware that each magnolia can respond differently to pruning.
Our Yellow River has been in our garden since 2002 when I discovered it in a small local garden centre. It was hidden among other unattractive stuff. It was a thin terminal, some 60-80 cm tall, with three short branches, all on one side. This sad look improved only the label with a coloured photograph of the flower which made me buy it. After 2 years it started flowering and in 2005 it had branches set regularly along the main stem. It just helped itself without pruning or shaping. Clever girl! Since them we have had it in our offer every year because it really is stunning.
Deciduous magnolias are quite easy plants. All they need is light, well-drained, acidic soil with equal moisture throughout the year. Once established they can do with occasional drought but will not look as nice as the ones with regular watering. Just pay attention to how to plant your magnolia. First, find it a spot where it will live forever and ever. It does not like transplanting. And as it makes shallow roots reaching well over its spread stay away from disturbing the roots by digging or messing about around it. Just cover the soil with bark mulch and do not plant anything else near it after say the second year after planting onwards. You could damage the very important top roots that absorb maximum moisture and nutrients from the soil. Also avoid planting magnolia too deep. Thus you could be digging its grave. It is fully hardy, it survived our winter of -27°C with no damage whatsoever (USDA zone 5). Just make sure it is not in a too exposed windy area. We still recommend mulching it well to keep it moist in any season.
Chlumec 23, 382 32 Velešín, Czech republic