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The Transplanted Gardener: When a Butterfly doesn’t emerge

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Photos courtesy of Craig Summers Black.

(Read caption) Before: Butterflies magnolia was the focal point of the front landscape.

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A very late fairly cold snap this spring spelled doom for far too many plants hereabouts – including my favorite tree, the yellow magnolia that the front landscape is built around. (

Evergreens became everbrowns. Agastaches refused to reappear. And my 12-year-old, 20-foot-tall Magnolia 'Butterflies' – which is guaranteed winter hardy to at least - 20 F. (-29 C); some catalogs vow 30 below (-34 C) – shuffled off its mortal coil. And this cold blast was only in the minus teens.

I thought that maybe the leaves were just blasted;  it wouldn’t be the first time its flower buds got frosted. But this time the tree remained skeletal for far too long. Long about June (well, sometimes it takes me awhile) I knew something was definitely wrong.

I tested the twigs and, yup, they snapped right off. Same for the small limbs. And the medium-sized ones. Even the big ones. Snap, snap, snap.

So I took out my pocketknife and scraped off a bit of bark on the trunk up high: Nope. Then down about eye height. Eureka: Green. Life!

Next course of action: the chain saw.

I lopped off all the limbs and took the tree down by half, down to where I knew there was living tissue. () In effect, what I did was top the poor thing – something you should never ever do, of course. But this was, literally, a matter of life and death. I was hoping to force sprouts and shoots to emerge from the trunk, which I could then edit down to train one as a leader.

No such luck.

Until … until …

I was wildly plucking that pesky tradescantia weed  from inside the horseshoe driveway (a more futile gesture there never was, but what are you going to do?), when I found new magnolia growth hidden under the gold juniper.

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