Q: I want to replace the Redbay trees which have died recently in my landscape. What would be a suitable tree?
A: You might consider planting Magnolia virginiana, Sweetbay magnolia or Swamp magnolia. When crushing leaves, it emanates a spicy fragrance similar to the Redbay leaf. Unlike the Redbay, Sweetbay magnolia leaves should not be used for cooking or seasoning. It is not evergreen, like so many of its cousins, so you should be prepared to rake leaves in the fall. Sweetbay magnolia prefers moist, acid soil and is often found along roadsides in our area. It is easy to recognize Sweetbay magnolia even from a distance as the silvery, colored underside of the leaves show up in the wind. The tree produces creamy, lightly scented flowers throughout the summer and early fall. It can reach heights of up to 60 feet so be sure you allow for the height. For those interested in attracting wildlife, the fruit provides food for birds and squirrels. The bark on Sweetbay magnolia is thin so it is important to keep this tree away from mower blades or string weed cutters as the tree can be easily damaged. As with any tree, keep lawn grass as far away as possible. A couple of inches of mulch under the canopy spread out to the drip line (under the branches) will help keep weeds down and moisture in around the roots. Be sure to keep the mulch away from the trunk of any tree or shrub – no mulch volcanoes! Sweetbay magnolia is a native tree and found throughout most of the United States. The photo is from Vanderbilt University.