Why Magnolia Buds Don't Open

Magnolia tree branch with flower buds
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Full of anticipation for the splendid spring blooms that these flowering trees bring year after year, many a disappointed gardener has been forced to ask, "My magnolia buds are not opening for some reason this spring; is it due to frost damage?"

Magnolia Buds

Note that a magnolia tree will have two different kinds of buds. The flower buds are bigger and are supposed to open earlier. The smaller buds are leaf buds; those pop open later in the season.

Fun Fact

A furry covering, known as a bud scale, protects each magnolia blossom from the elements like a thick, warm sweater. Both types of Magnolia buds somewhat resemble the catkins on pussy willows.

It's Probably the Weather

A number of problems are potential culprits when magnolia buds (either for flowers or for leaves) are not opening. One possibility is that thrips are attacking your magnolia buds. But weather comes to mind, first and foremost, as a possible reason for the failure. What kind of spring weather did you this year? Magnolia buds can rot during extended periods of such weather, and once rot sets in, the buds will not open.

Also, do not rule out frost as the culprit. Frost is a surprisingly localized phenomenon. Homeowners observe that some specimens will avoid frost damage in one area of their landscaping, only to discover that the very same type of plant in another part of the landscape has succumbed to the frost.

The possibility that bad weather (whether it be frost, cold temperatures, or damp conditions) is to blame should logically occur to the gardener's mind first​ because magnolia trees set bud in fall. That means that there is a lot of weather—much of it bad, in the North—for those buds to wait out before it is time for them to open in spring. They are at the mercy of the weather for all of that time. For example, if the flower buds should open prematurely due to unusually warm weather in winter, and then normal winter weather comes back with a bang, you will lose the flowers. In other words, the actual flowers are unable to withstand wintry conditions that the unopened buds are usually able to withstand just fine.