Create Your Garden

Magnolia Tree: How to Grow and Care with Success

Saucer Magnolia, Southern Magnolia, Star Magnolia, Loebner Magnolia, Sweet Bay Magnolia, Cucumber Tree

Magnolia, Magnolia Tree, Saucer Magnolia, Southern Magnolia, Star Magnolia, Loebner Magnolia, Sweet Bay Magnolia, Cucumber Tree

A magnolia tree in full bloom is a stunning sight to behold.

What is Magnolia?

Magnolia is a genus of deciduous or evergreen shrubs or trees that are widely known for their large, showy, fragrant flowers. There are over species of magnolia, and they are native to East Asia and the Americas.

Flowers: One of the most iconic features of the magnolia tree is its large, showy flowers, which can range in color from white, pink, purple, and even yellow.  The flowers can range in size from a few inches to over a foot in diameter.

Fragrance: Many magnolia species are also prized for their fragrant flowers, which can fill a garden or landscape with a sweet, pleasant aroma.

Foliage: Magnolia trees are also prized for their evergreen or deciduous foliage, which can vary in shape and size depending on the species.

Bloom time: The trees typically bloom in the spring or summer.  One of the unique features of magnolia trees is that they are often among the first trees to bloom in the spring, with some species blooming as early as late winter. This makes them a popular choice for gardeners looking to add color to their landscape early in the season. These trees are also prized for their long blooming season, which can last several weeks or even months.

Size: Magnolia trees can vary in size from small shrubs, up to 15 feet (4.5 meters) tall to large trees that can reach heights of up to 80 feet (24 meters) or more. They are long-lived, with some specimens living for over 100 years.

Uses: In addition to their ornamental value, magnolia trees have also been used for medicinal purposes for centuries. The bark, leaves, and flowers of the magnolia tree have been used in traditional medicine for centuries to treat a variety of ailments. Some studies suggest that magnolia bark extract may have anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, and anti-cancer properties.

Hardiness: Magnolias have different hardiness zones depending on the species and cultivar. Generally, they can grow in USDA hardiness zones 4 to 10. The sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) can grow in zones 5 to 9, while the southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) is hardy in zones 7 to 10.

Whether you’re looking for a large shade tree or a compact shrub, there is a magnolia species that will fit your needs. With proper planting and care, your magnolia tree or shrub can provide years of beauty and enjoyment.

Guide Information

Hardiness 4 - 10
Plant Type Shrubs, Trees
Genus Magnolia
Exposure Full Sun, Partial Sun
Season of Interest Spring (Early, Mid, Late)
Summer (Early, Mid, Late)
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Low, Average
Soil Type Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil pH Acid, Neutral
Soil Drainage Moist but Well-Drained, Well-Drained
Characteristics Fragrant, Showy
Tolerance Drought
Attracts Bees, Birds, Butterflies
Landscaping Ideas Wall-Side Borders, Patio And Containers, Beds And Borders
Garden Styles City and Courtyard, Informal and Cottage
Magnolia ‘Daybreak’
Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’
Magnolia stellata ‘Jane Platt’ (Star Magnolia)

Why Should I Grow a Magnolia Tree?

There are several reasons why you should consider growing a magnolia tree:

Beautiful flowers: Magnolia trees produce large and showy flowers that are often fragrant and come in a variety of colors.

Year-round interest: Even when not in bloom, evergreen magnolia trees have attractive foliage that can add interest to your landscape.

Easy to care for: Once established, magnolia trees are generally low-maintenance and don’t require much pruning.

Wildlife attraction: Magnolia trees are known to attract pollinators like bees and butterflies, as well as birds and other wildlife.

Property value: A mature and well-maintained magnolia tree can add value to your property and enhance its curb appeal.

Historical significance: Magnolia trees have a rich history and are often associated with the American South and its culture.

Medicinal properties: Some species of magnolia have been used in traditional medicine for their potential health benefits.

Overall, a magnolia tree can be a beautiful and valuable addition to your landscape.

Popular Magnolia Tree Types

Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora): USDA zones 7-10, can reach up to 80 feet (24 meters) tall and 50 feet (15 meters) wide, blooms from late spring to fall with large white fragrant flowers. It bears glossy evergreen leaves. Native to the United States.

Saucer magnolia (Magnolia × soulangeana): USDA zones 5-9, typically grows 20-30 feet (6-9 meters) tall and wide, blooms in early-mid spring with large pink or purple flowers. The foliage turns golden brown in the fall before shedding to the ground.

Star magnolia (Magnolia stellata): USDA zones 4-8, grows up to 15 feet (4.5 meters) tall and wide, blooms in early spring with fragrant white or pink star-shaped flowers, has deciduous green leaves.

Loebner magnolia (Magnolia ×loebneri): USDA zones 4-9, typically grows up to 30 feet (9 meters) tall and wide, blooms in early spring with fragrant white or pink flowers, has deciduous green leaves.

Sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana): USDA zones 5-10, grows up to 35 feet (10.5 meters) tall and wide, blooms in mid-spring and sporadically throughout the summer with fragrant white flowers. The foliage of glossy leaves is semi-evergreen to evergreen. Native to the United States.

Cucumber tree (Magnolia acuminata): USDA zones 4-8, grows up to 70 feet (21 meters) tall and 30 feet (9 meters) wide, blooms in late spring to early summer with yellow-green or yellow flowers, has deciduous green leaves. Native to the United States.

Find the right magnolia tree for your garden.

Magnolia ‘Gold Star’
Magnolia ‘Susan’
Magnolia × loebneri ‘Encore’

When to Plant a Magnolia Tree

  • The best time to plant a magnolia tree is in the late winter or early spring when the ground is not frozen, and the weather is mild. This allows the tree to establish its root system before the hot summer months.
  • In warmer climates, planting in the fall may also be possible. It’s important to avoid planting during extreme weather conditions such as extreme heat, cold, or drought.

Where to Plant Magnolia

  • Sunlight: Magnolia trees generally prefer full sun to partial shade
  • Soil: They can thrive in a variety of soil types (clay, loam or sand) as long as the soil is rich in organic matter, well-draining, and not overly alkaline. The ideal soil pH range for magnolias is between 5.5 and 6.5.
  • Water: Magnolia trees perform best in evenly moist soil, but they can tolerate some drought once established. In general, they prefer moderate watering, with the soil being allowed to dry out somewhat between waterings. Magnolias can be sensitive to standing water or waterlogged soil.
  • Placement: Regarding planting location, it’s important to choose a site that provides adequate space for the tree to grow and develop its full canopy. Plant your magnolia tree in a location protected from strong winds, as its large leaves can be damaged. Additionally, it is recommended to plant magnolias away from sidewalks and driveways, as their shallow roots can cause damage to concrete surfaces.

How to Plant a Magnolia Tree

Here are the general steps for planting a magnolia tree:

  • Choose the right location: Pick a spot that receives plenty of sunlight, has well-draining soil, and enough space for the tree to grow.
  • Prepare the soil: Magnolias prefer slightly acidic, moist soil. If your soil is too alkaline, add elemental sulfur. If it’s too acidic, add lime. Add compost or organic matter to improve soil structure and fertility.
  • Dig the hole: The hole should be two to three times wider than the root ball and just as deep. Make sure the hole is level and not too deep or shallow.
  • Plant the tree: Gently remove the tree from its container and place it in the hole. Fill the hole with soil, tamping down firmly around the base of the tree. Water the tree thoroughly.
Magnolia × loebneri ‘Leonard Messel’
Magnolia × soulangeana ‘Lennei’ (Saucer Magnolia)
Magnolia × soulangeana ‘Lilliputian’ (Saucer Magnolia)

Magnolia Tree Care

Magnolias are generally low-maintenance trees, but there are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to caring for them:

  • Watering: Newly planted magnolia trees need regular watering until they are established. Mature trees generally do not need to be watered unless there is a drought.
  • Fertilizing: Magnolias do not require a lot of fertilizer, but a slow-release fertilizer can be applied in early spring to encourage healthy growth.
  • Mulching: Add a layer of mulch around the base of the tree, but not touching the trunk. Mulch helps retain moisture and suppresses weeds.
  • Winter Protection: In colder climates, magnolia trees may benefit from winter protection, such as burlap wrap or anti-desiccant spray, to prevent damage from frost or harsh winds.

Overall, magnolias are relatively easy to care for and can provide stunning beauty and fragrance to your garden or landscape.

How to Prune a Magnolia Tree

Pruning a Magnolia tree depends on whether it is deciduous or evergreen.

For deciduous Magnolias:

  • Prune between mid-summer and early fall. Cuts are liable to bleed sap if made in late winter or early spring
  • Remove any dead, damaged, or diseased branches first.
  • Thin out any crossing or rubbing branches to encourage proper air circulation and sunlight penetration.
  • Cut back any branches that are too long or growing in an undesirable direction.
  • Avoid pruning too heavily, as this can affect the tree’s flowering the following season.

For evergreen Magnolias:

  • Prune free-standing trees in spring as growth begins and wall-trained specimens in summer after they have finished flowering.
  • Remove any dead, damaged, or diseased branches first.
  • Thin out any crossing or rubbing branches to encourage proper air circulation and sunlight penetration.
  • Pinch back the tips of the branches to encourage bushier growth.
  • Avoid pruning too heavily, as this can affect the tree’s flowering the following season.
Magnolia × soulangeana (Saucer Magnolia)
Magnolia acuminata (Cucumber Tree)
Magnolia denudata ‘Forrest’s Pink’ (Yulan Magnolia)

How to Propagate

Magnolias can be propagated using various methods, including seed propagation, layering, and cutting.

  • Seed Propagation: Magnolias can be propagated from seed, but it takes time and patience. The seeds need to be sown as soon as they are ripe, preferably in the fall. They should be sown in a well-draining soil mix and kept moist. Germination can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months.
  • Layering: Layering is a simple method of propagation where a branch is bent down and buried in the soil while still attached to the parent plant. The branch should be wounded and treated with rooting hormone before being buried. Once roots have formed, the new plant can be cut away from the parent plant and transplanted.
  • Cuttings: Cuttings are a popular method of propagation for magnolias. Softwood cuttings can be taken in the spring, and hardwood cuttings in the late summer or early fall. The cuttings should be treated with rooting hormone and placed in a well-draining soil mix. They should be kept moist and out of direct sunlight until roots have formed.
Magnolia denudata (Yulan Magnolia)
Magnolia grandiflora ‘Kay Parris’ (Southern Magnolia)
Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’ (Southern Magnolia)

Pests and Diseases

Magnolias can be susceptible to several pests and diseases, including:

Aphids: These insects can cause damage to the leaves and flowers by sucking the sap out of them, leading to yellowing and distortion. To control aphids, spray the plant with a mixture of water and insecticidal soap or neem oil.

Mealybugs: These insects are small, soft-bodied, and covered in a white, waxy coating. They feed on the sap of the plant and can cause stunted growth, yellowing leaves, and wilting. To control mealybugs, you can use a solution of 1 part rubbing alcohol and 1 part water to wipe down the affected areas of the plant.

Scale insects: These pests can suck the sap from the leaves, stems, and bark of the tree, causing yellowing, stunted growth, and even death. Scale insects can be controlled with insecticidal soaps or horticultural oils.

Powdery mildew: This fungal disease can cause a white, powdery coating on the tree leaves, affecting its overall health and appearance. Powdery mildew can be controlled with fungicides and by ensuring good air circulation around the tree.

Leaf spot: This is a fungal disease that can cause brown or black spots on the leaves, leading to defoliation and reduced vigor. Leaf spot can be controlled with fungicides and by ensuring good air circulation around the tree.

Regular inspection and monitoring of the magnolia tree for pests and diseases can help prevent and control any potential issues. Proper care, such as adequate watering and fertilization, can also help keep the tree healthy and less susceptible to problems.

Magnolia grandiflora (Southern Magnolia)
Magnolia sieboldii (Oyama Magnolia)
Magnolia stellata ‘Centennial’ (Star Magnolia)

Frequently Asked Questions

What is special about a magnolia tree?

Magnolia trees are known for their stunning and fragrant flowers, which come in a variety of colors and sizes. They are also valued for their attractive foliage, with some species having large, glossy leaves that stay green all year round. Magnolia trees are also often associated with the American South and are a symbol of hospitality and grace.

What do magnolias smell like?

Magnolias have a sweet, heady, and fragrant aroma that is often described as citrusy, floral, or spicy. The scent of magnolia flowers can be intense and can fill the air around the tree. Different magnolia species may have slightly different fragrances, but all share a strong and pleasing scent that is highly sought after in perfumery and aromatherapy.

How big does a magnolia tree?

The size of a magnolia tree depends on the species and the growing conditions. Some magnolia trees can grow up to 80 feet (24 meters) tall, while others stay relatively small, around 10-20 feet (3-6 meters) tall.

Where should you not plant a magnolia tree?

Magnolia trees should not be planted in areas with poor drainage or compacted soils. They should also be kept away from buildings, sidewalks, and other structures as their shallow roots can cause damage. Additionally, some magnolia species are sensitive to harsh winds and frost, so they should not be planted in areas with strong winds or frequent frost.

Click here to compare all Magnolia varieties

Magnolia salicifolia (Anise Magnolia)
Magnolia tripetala (Umbrella Magnolia)
Magnolia virginiana (Sweet Bay Magnolia)
Compare All Magnolia
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Guides with
Magnolia
While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.

Guide Information

Hardiness 4 - 10
Plant Type Shrubs, Trees
Genus Magnolia
Exposure Full Sun, Partial Sun
Season of Interest Spring (Early, Mid, Late)
Summer (Early, Mid, Late)
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Low, Average
Soil Type Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil pH Acid, Neutral
Soil Drainage Moist but Well-Drained, Well-Drained
Characteristics Fragrant, Showy
Tolerance Drought
Attracts Bees, Birds, Butterflies
Landscaping Ideas Wall-Side Borders, Patio And Containers, Beds And Borders
Garden Styles City and Courtyard, Informal and Cottage
Compare All Magnolia
Compare Now
Guides with
Magnolia

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