Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Caring for a Michelia figo

(Michelia figo image courtesy of floridata.com)

Quick question- I have a Michelia figo, not very big, in a 4" clay pot. I have it on a windowsill where it gets full blazing sun- do you think that's too much? It doesn't seem to be growing much and the leaves look ever so slightly yellowish. (I have kept it watered and fed). Thoughts?

I love it when people ask me about a plant I don’t know! Excuse my snooping, but where did you get it?

According to Flora: A Gardener’s Encyclopedia (Timber Press, 2003) the genus Michelia includes about 45 species of mostly evergreen shrubs native to tropical and subtropical Asia. Named after an early eighteenth-century Italian botanist, Pietro Antonio Michele, Michelias are members of the Magnolia family (Magnoliaceae) and those amazingly beautiful and fragrant blossoms are supposed to bloom during summer. They grow best in fertile, well-drained soil and situated in full sun and sheltered from strong wind. Michelia figo is commonly called port-wine magnolia or banana shrub, again because of the rich fragrance, and in its native habitat it can grow to 15 feet tall.

It sounds to me like the sunny spot it is in was the right choice. Depending on when you got it and what the light conditions were like before, it might still be acclimating to its new environment. Luckily you bought it young and small and that is a good thing since younger plants are often more adaptable and can recuperate more quickly to new environments. Just last week I moved some tropical seedlings out to my front stoop and even though I lost a few leaves to scorch, they seem to be quite happy and holding up fine. If it is in a 4” pot then I am assuming you didn’t repot it when you bought it. I would probably do that. In fact I often repot new plants right away just to make sure I know they are then set up for success. Transplanting it into a slightly larger container, say 5-6” in diameter, and giving it some rich, fresh soil you can be a little more certain that it has both the nutrients and the drainage it requires. If the slight yellowing is any kind of nutrient deficiency the repotting should take care of that. Since this is a tropical shrub I would also do whatever I could to increase the humidity. Avoid any drafts from A/C as that can be a quick killer of humidity-loving tropicals. If you have the window open so it can get a little humidity from the outside I bet that would help. Then of course there is what I call “the saucer trick”. Place a layer of pebbles in the saucer so that excess water can collect in that “buffer zone” and evaporate to provide more humidity to the area right around the plant. Even if the soil is moist I might add a little water to my saucers just to make sure I’m keeping the humidity level increased. I’m not typically one that mists my plants, but if you do then an early morning misting before the hot midday sun might not be a bad thing. Lastly, you could incorporate a balance fertilizer into your watering regiment for the summer, but in the long run I would just rely on regular watering and transplanting again with fresh soil in a few years.

Hope this helps. If you get your Michelia figo to flower be sure and send a photo my way!

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