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Michelia Alba ownership thread

Just Started(Sydney)
6 months ago
last modified: 6 months ago

So I finally got the plant. I had never seen this plant in real life. And though I knew it is a tree, I never could imagine its dimensions. Michelia Figo with its comparatively tiny leaves led my thinking process astray. Michelia Alba has big leaves.

Here is the plant itself. I personally cannot imagine the leaves that big staying upright on the plant. Gave it a good soak of water. Now will withhold watering till I put it in a pot.

It is looking slightly off. The leaves have yellow spots . Maybe the 4 days of darkness it endured during shipping. To be on safe side with respect to bugs, I hosed the undersides of the leaves.

The potting mix it arrived in is very interesting. It is very light and very porous. I will put this plant in 511 mix. And that too on the extra fast drainage side.

Good that I did not buy a pot as of now. I will put it in a bigger pot. Those leaves. I mean this plant is supposed to grow into a big tree.

This is such a tropical plant. One look and you know that this guys grows in the area where there is plenty of sunshine and humidity. A place where plants grow the whole year. And hence feeling a bit guilty to have it here in Sydney. Its scorching summers or freezing winters. And rains. Well we are in midst of a severe drought.

And it will get a pot to grow in. Not sure how well I can manage this beast of a tree in a pot.

Will keep the thread updated.

Comments (42)

  • tropicofcancer (6b SW-PA)

    Since it is winter where you are, I would wait to do a full repot. I am guessing, in your area, Dec will be better time when the plant goes into full growth mode. I looked up the monthly temps for Sydney, Australia and it seems it is mild year round.

  • Just Started(Sydney)

    We are coming out of a rather mild winters now. Thanks to global warming.

    Summers are unforgiving here. January till March is anywhere between 95F to 110F.

    October to December is pleasant but given the drought all bets are off.

    Can hold off repot. Not in a hurry as such. And it will be an increase in pot size only. No fiddling around with roots.

    Still wondering why the yellow spots on the leaves.

  • davidrt28 (zone 7)

    "Its scorching summers or freezing winters."

    thanks, I needed a LOL today. Even the more 'continental' western suburbs are an incredibly mild climate by North American standards. All time record low for Penrith is -1.4C. That's higher than, say, downtown Los Angeles. Downtown Sydney has never been below freezing. Not even true of Miami in the USA.

    Anyhow, nice plant! Keep us updated! Where does one go about buying a plant like this in Australia? Are they something found in typical garden centers, or do you have to get it from a more specialist grower, or mail order nursery? At least in suburban Melbourne where I spent a bit more time, I noticed a vibrant nursery scene. Doesn't seem like big box stores have taken over as much "down under" as they have here. Although they do exist: I went into one looking for a cheap styrofoam cooler for my roadtrip. Was told they aren't sold anymore.

  • Just Started(Sydney)

    @davidrt28 (zone 7), I got it from Daleys Fruit. They have this with availibility of almost always 0. But since last year and half I used to occasionaly check on its availibiity. And a week ago they got a few and I snapped one.

    Never saw this in the gardening section of Hardware store which I frequent.

    Big box stores have not really taken over. For one they are more expensive then the standalone nurseries. I always found the same rose variety 5 to 10 dollars more expensive in the only big Hardware store chain we have here.

    E-commerce has saved the specialist/standalone growers and nurseries. Shipping services are fast and efficient and lo presto. I buy and get a plant delivered from 700 km away nursery at very reasonable rates.

    Tip for anyone interested: When looking for this plant always check on Gumtree. I found two sellers with this plant but they were in different state. Few days later I did find a within state seller but the person was asking a bit too much for it. And search for both "michelia alba" and "white champaca". Asian sellers mostly list it as white champaca.

  • davidrt28 (zone 7)

    Welcome to Gardenweb! It's always nice to have correspondents from "Down Under". You can see an American plant collector's impression of SE AU here:

    but please don't bump those threads, just post any thoughts here if you have any!

  • Grant Yang

    Hi Just Started(Sydney), “Still wondering why the yellow spots on the leaves”: these are normal & you will see as the tree grows the leaves can often get spots & yellow portions here or there gradually, then will fall off sometimes. As long as the main trunk is robust and it has green side branches it will keep going and thriving. I am in Sydney too and have had several michelia alba living & flowering for several years plus several dead ones too. A good place in Sydney to purchase this tree is ”Canley Vale Nursery” in Cabramatta where they sell for $55 each, I saw there was 1 left yesterday when I was there.

    Here is a photo of one of my michelia alba flowering last summer:

  • Just Started(Sydney)

    Hi Grant,

    Thanks for the clarification on the yellow spots. I was losing sleep over the spider mites. They were deadly in my garden two years ago. Simply smashed my Roses and Jasmines for a 6. Since last year I have been wise about them.

    Now since you are in Sydney, I will love to hear what worked and what did not work for you. This one is going to stay in pot forever. I simply do not have space. If you have kept yours in pot then I will like to know what potting mix you are using.

    And what are you using to feed the plant.

    And thanks for the heads up on the "Canley Vale Nursery". If this one dies on me then I will be visiting them.

  • Grant Yang

    @Just Started(Sydney) I have some Michelia alba in pots & they lived well although they won’t grow as big as those in grounds. The soil I put in pots are those $6 / bag (30 litr) potting mixes sold in BigW made by Brunnings brand which they labelled as premium potting mix or something similar. I used to buy those more expensive blue coloured osmocote potting mix about $20/bag(60 litre) from Bunnings Warehouse but didn’t feel they made difference. My feeling is the soil’s drainage & ventilation capability are more important than their fertility. Initially I had some michelia alba planted on my heavy clay soil ground and they quickly died, while another one planted in a well mulched ground without fertile soil grew well to become my tallest michelia alba.

    I used the Yates dynamic lifter for flowers & Neutrog Sudden Impact for roses to feed my michelia alba, but I guess any fertiliser dedicated for flowers will do.

    One thing to keep the michelia alba in pot you might pay attention to is after a year or so they will stick their roots out through the pots’ drainage hole at the bottom seeking new soil:this root will be fragile like a prolonged ginger. In my case I simply moved the pot to a place in ground where I dug a hole to accommodate the overgrowing root. If you plan to leave the plant forever in pot maybe you would change to a bigger pot without leaving the sticking out root in open air or breaking it?

    Just Started(Sydney) thanked Grant Yang
  • Just Started(Sydney)

    Hi @Grant Yang !

    Thanks for response. Thats a lot of information which as you know leads to more questions. lol.

    1. Where did you keep the plant in the peak of summer. From what I read it prefers afternoon shade in peak of summer. And does not like windy places.

    2. Now that you have mentioned fragile roots, did you ever repot a plant to a bigger container? Or did you ever do root pruning? Just wondering if it is possible to remove the old soil during repot/root prune. And does it survive well the root damage which happens when repotting/root pruning.

    3. How was your experience of growing them in pots? Did they flourish? I can only grow them in pots and hence want to know what I am up against.

    4. And finally, does it live up to the hype? I love Jasmine Sumbac thick strong punchy smell. And Osmanthus Fragrans with its apricot smell was kind of a let down.

  • Just Started(Sydney)

    Few updates.

    I potted the plant up in 511 mix.

    The leaves are still on the lighter shade of green. But thankfully no leaf drop as of yet.

    There is a bit of slow release fertlizer added. Not yet started the high dose of the soluble plant food. It is still not summers yet. But there is leafing happening. Which brings me to the strange growth in the picture below.

    The blue circled ones I think are new leaves. Good.

    What is that in the red circle? I think it was new leaves which got killed off due to transplant shock or too much water?

  • Meyermike(Zone 6a Ma.)

    I did everything right and mines thrived, until the spider mites caught me off guard and killed mines this summer. Never again. I will treat for those even if I don't see anything as a safety precaution from now on. I learn something new every year with these plants the past several years.

  • Grant Yang

    @Just Started(Sydney)

    1. Sydney's peak summer scorching sun shines at 40 degrees or even high 30''s can burn the new leaves so you need to cover the leaves or move your pot to shady spot when temperature is too high. The heathy branches & leaves seem to resist wind pretty well.

    2. Apart from the initial potting into bigger pot right after purchasing I never repot michelia alba only moved grown-up ones from pot to ground, so not much to suggest here. I didn't do roots pruning when moving the plants into ground or during initial repotting .

    3. They can flourish in pots : I had one in roughly 45 litre pot last year that was in half shade position &it bloomed with 200 - 300 flowers during summer & autumn : it also had a big root coming out of the draining hole of the pot so I later buried the pot partially into ground.

    4. Yes michelia alba flowers are really very fragrant which you will so find out this spring around late October or early November. The fragrance is cool & soothing, very pleasant.

    Just Started(Sydney) thanked Grant Yang
  • Meyermike(Zone 6a Ma.)

    How's the Michelia doing these days? Curious. I also see you have citrus? Nice. How come you don't become a part of the citrus forums? We have fun there and learn a lot. My Michelia is inside my greenhouse now with lots of warmth and air movement and fertilizer. It's a happy camper for sure.

  • Just Started(Sydney)

    Doing well actually. No spider mites as weather is still on cooler side. Repotting in 511 mix has been a success. Nice new lime green foliage. Will place an order for foliage pro. High time I got it. I got too many pots with 511 mix now.

    Need to fix the tilt of the plant. Not sure if I should tie it hard to stake. I thought a loose support will help it to develop stronger trunk and eventually I can remove support. Looks like it will take some time.

  • Just Started(Sydney)

    @Meyermike(Zone 6a Ma.) I am in citrus forum. I do post. And while I have your attention, can I get you to respond on the question I asked sometime ago.

  • Meyermike(Zone 6a Ma.)

    Just Started, You are right. I did see your lates post and it took off on the citrus forum. Sorry about that. Good to see you there. I will look at the question for you)

    It seems your trees is doing great! That is the best mix for that tree. I love that mix and if you need any tips on how to keep it healthy during winter just ask away)

  • Just Started(Sydney)

    Hoping that pics get uploaded.

    New growth

  • Just Started(Sydney)

    Give it shade and leaves turn dark. This one is half light and half dark since I did not rotate the pot.

  • Just Started(Sydney)

    I am tempted to give it a full dose of nitrogen rich fish emulsion based feed. It seems to be in its growth phase.

    Watering is a different story. I have to water it every second day otherwise leaves go droopy. A bit concerned about that. But then the 511 mix I made, I made it on the faster draining side. Time will tell.

    Also the spot it is in right now, gets full on sunlight till 12 in afternoon. Should I be moving to somewhere more shadier?

  • Grant Yang

    @Just Started(Sydney) When day temperature reaches high 30’s yes you better move it to shady spot to avoid leave sunburn

  • Meyermike(Zone 6a Ma.)

    Even way up here in New England where the sun is not as strong as other places full sun still makes my tree look horrible. I stick mines in anything but full hot middle of the afternoon sun and it does great. Big green leaves and lots of blooms that last a long time.

  • Just Started(Sydney)

    @Grant Yang Will move it to a sunny till 10 AM in morning spot. Can I put it under a tree? I am afraid it wont be getting much of sunlight during anytime of the day then.

    @Meyermike(Zone 6a Ma.) That is news. I thought this plant being a tropical will be a bit more on the sun loving side.

  • Grant Yang

    @Just Started(Sydney) putting under tree is also fine. In general michelia alba likes some mild sunshine but cannot endure heavy scorching sunshine which will burn its leaves

  • Just Started(Sydney)

    Timely advice @Grant Yang. Tomorrow we have 37 degree Celsius. Did you put stake to keep your tree straight?

  • Grant Yang

    @Just Started(Sydney)Yes I put in some stakes (metal / wood etc.) to prevent the Michelia alba branches from being damaged by strong wind.

  • Just Started(Sydney)

    Is it normal for new leaves to droop or is it temperatures or too much water or fertilizer?

    Some leaf burn too. Not sure again about it.

  • Just Started(Sydney)

    Well I got the first flower of the season. Smell is nice. Very sweet, oily viscose but not overpowering. I like it.

  • Dar

    I find the flowers doesn't always smell the same. If you pick it and let it sit it sort of "ferments" and takes on a whole different personality. Sometimes I get a hint of the Juicy Fruit gum smell, some days it smells like something else.

  • sabut

    I almost killed my Alba by forgetting about it for a couple of weeks. When I remembered I had it, all leaves were wilting and were covered by spider mites. I sprayed it with a couple of different insecticides with a few days between them. The plant dropped almost all leaves but started to grow new foliage. Now I have a problem with some tiny pests eating new leaves. I do not see the web anymore but every few days I see tiny black dots at the bottom of the leaves (pic1), and some new leaves start drying out in the same place at the sides close to the base of the leaf (pic2). I remove the bugs by hand but they reappear every couple of days. Anybody had this problem before? How did you get rid of them?

  • Just Started(Sydney)

    As a stop gap measure keep hosing the undersides of the leaves everyday. Make sure that the plant does not get overwatered in the process. Maybe cover the soil?

  • Meyermike(Zone 6a Ma.)

    Just like I said up above, those mites will catch you off guard and kill your tree.

    I used 'All Seasons Dormant Oil' and that did the trick. You have to spray one a week for three weeks in a row. Then once every couple of months after that even in the growing season.

  • Just Started(Sydney)

    It's a bit humid now in Sydney and Michelia Alba has pressed the pedal to floor. Growing as if there is no tommorow and flowering too. The smell does waft. Smell is wrong word. It's a perfume. Put your nose against the flower and you will not like the smell. But smell it from a distance and you will get the floral fruity light perfume notes. It is very light and very fresh and refreshing. Humidity does do wonders to this plant.

    511 mix is the way to go for this plant. You cannot afford to overwater it.

  • Meyermike(Zone 6a Ma.)

    Just Started, good for you! That is exactly what mine did this past summer until the mites got to it and killed the entire plant when I noticed too late. It wa sjust awesome while it lasted. The flowers up close smell to me like very ripe pears...Just so heavenly. Happy for you. I can't wait until spring arrives up here since my other one won't have to struggle all winter.

  • Just Started(Sydney)

    And my Michelia got cooked in 113 F heat yesterday. All the new leaves burnt and that too in shade. It is what it is I guess. Life still goes on.

  • Grant Yang

    @Just Started(Sydney) you left your potted tree under the scorching sun? Even young trees in ground can be burnt in the over 40 degree Celsius temperatures

  • Kawagoe (Santa Clara,CAHome of SF 49ers)

    Yeah, I have purchased my first plant last weekend at flea market.

    This plant already had flower buds. Hope it will bloom soon. I cannot wait to smell the flower.

  • Just Started(Sydney)

    @Grant Yang Not in sun. Got only morning sun that day. But the hot winds did it in.

  • Grant Yang

    @Just Started(Sydney) oh, so your tree died even sitting in shade during mid day & afternoon hot temperatures? My condolence. Was the last Saturday the second hottest day this summer?

  • Just Started(Sydney)

    @Grant Yang It survived. But all the new shiny leaves got toasted brown. It got windy when the temperature was at peak. Scorching winds were too much for it. Now have found a corner for it. Sheltered from afternoon sun as well as wind. This guy is delicate.

    Have put in some fertilizer pellets and left it in rain to soak up all natural rain water mixed with plant food. A much deserved treat after the horror temperatures we saw. And boy is it not pouring. 511 mix rocks in times like this.

  • Grant Yang

    yes it likes natural rain falls and will thrive after getting soaked up

  • Just Started(Sydney)

    Six months on and what have I got to show? A fast growing plant with an awesome perfume.

    Rains in Sydney did their magic. Something is there in rain water which is lacking in my tap water.

    Two questions:

    1. Can I prune off the fast growing tip to make it grow laterally.

    2. Now that Winters are approaching are there any tips and tricks to make it survive better?

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