How to care for a Magnolia Tree

Known for their large, fragrant flowers, Magnolias come in a variety of shapes and sizes. With over 200 plant species, Magnolias can grow in shades of white, purple, green, pink, or yellow. The Magnolia flowers may be star shaped or bowl shaped, depending on if the species is an evergreen or a deciduous tree or shrub. Native to East Asia, North America, and Central America, Magnolias can survive climates from temperate to tropical, depending on the species. With such a huge selection, there is a Magnolia that will fit perfectly in your garden.


Table of Contents

  1. Magnolia Tree Identification and Facts
  2. Planting Magnolia Trees
  3. Growing Magnolias
  4. Diseases of Magnolia Trees
  5. Magnolia Trees in Winter

Magnolia Tree Identification and Facts

With such a large genus, there is a Magnolia perfect for any type of garden and climate. Read below to find Magnolia tree facts and any details you will need to add a Magnolia to your garden.

Deciduous Magnolia Trees

Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata)

The star magnolia is native to Japan. Bearing large, star-shaped flowers of pink and white, star magnolias bloom in early spring. A slow growing tree, star magnolias grow from 5 to 8 feet tall and can reach 15 feet in diameter. Compact and cold hardy, the star magnolia is perfect for small gardens in temperate climates.

Saucer Magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana)

A hybrid plant, the saucer magnolia is one of the most common magnolias in horticulture. With large flowers in shades of white, purple, and pink, the saucer magnolia tree can reach heights of 25 feet. Renowned for its ease of cultivation, the saucer magnolia is suitable for many climates and soils. It is commonly grown in the United States and the British Isles.

Cucumber Magnolia (Magnolia acuminata)

The Cucumber Magnolia, otherwise known as the cucumber tree, is among the largest of magnolia species. Although it typically only reaches 50 – 60 feet tall, this tree can grow as tall as 98 feet in ideal conditions. The large, green leaves are plain and simple for magnolias, and the fruit they produce resemble cucumbers, hence the name cucumber tree. This magnolia is one of the few of its species to produce golden leaves in the fall. In addition, the cucumber magnolia is one of the hardiest magnolias for cold climates. With its height and large leaves, the cucumber magnolia is ideal for providing shade and privacy.

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Kobus Magnolia (Magnolia kobus)

Kobus Magnolia, otherwise known as mokryeon or kobushi magnolia, hails from Japan and Korea. This tree is relatively small with an average height of 25 feet. However, its size cannot deter the Kobus magnolia’s picturesque bloom in early spring. Thriving in temperate areas, this tree is a slow grower, taking many years to flower. Despite this, do not be fooled. With small, fragrant, and white flowers, the Kobus magnolia brings a stately appearance to any garden and is certainly worth the wait.

Loebner Magnolia (Magnolia x loebneri)

A hybrid of the Kobus magnolia and the star magnolia, the loebner magnolia is a pink flowered tree or large shrub. This magnolia grows only to 20 feet tall and boast compact, elegant flowers. The flowers range from pale pink to darker purple and pink in color. Similar to its parent species, the Loebner magnolia thrives in temperate climates and bloom in early to mid-spring.

Evergreen Magnolia Trees

Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)

Native to the Southern United States, the southern magnolia, or bull bay, is perhaps the most widely grown magnolia tree. The southern magnolia can reach heights of 90 feet and grows dark green leaves and large, white, and fragrant flowers. Ideal for subtropical environments, the southern magnolia is a slow growing and majestic addition to any garden. Despite being an evergreen, the southern magnolia drops its leaves year-round, but this tree is truly worth the price.

Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana)

Otherwise known as swampbay or white bay, the sweetbay magnolia flowers resemble the southern magnolia. The flowers, although smaller than those of the southern magnolia, have an extremely potent fragrance. This fragrance is similar to a strong vanilla scent and is noticeable from hundreds of yards away. Compared to the southern magnolia, sweetbay can withstand a more temperate and colder climate. With its fast growth and scented flowers, the sweetbay magnolia is ideal for large gardens and parks.

Planting Magnolia Trees

It is essential to plan where to plant your magnolia tree ahead of time. The location where its planted will help keep your magnolia alive. If in an area that expects colder winters than your magnolia can handle, try to choose a spot shielded from winds. Most magnolias need between 12 and 24 feet of space to thrive. Follow the instructions below to properly plant your magnolia tree.

  1. Remove the first two inches of soil and store in a separate container. This will be used later in the planting process.
  2. Dig a hole at least 1.5 times wider than the root container or ball and slightly shorter than the root.
  3. Place the root ball or container in the middle of the hole. The upper root should be slightly above the ground.
  4. Fill in the hole with the topmost soil you have on the side. Keep the top of the root ball uncovered. Other methods include partially filling the soil in, irrigating, then allowing the water to fully drain before filling in the hole completely.
  5. After planting, water two to three times a week for the first 6 months, and then weekly once established. Use 2 gallons of water per inch of the magnolia’s trunk diameter.
  6. Fertilizer can help magnolia tree growth, but it is not necessary.

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Growing Magnolias

One of the best features of Magnolias is their ease of growth. These trees are easy to care for and can live for centuries. Below is all you will need to know for your magnolia tree needs.

  • Soil and Watering – The majority of magnolias prefer slightly acidic soils for growth. Try to keep your soil well drained and moist. Once a magnolia reaches adulthood, it becomes hardier and can resist more changes in its soil.
  • Light – Most Magnolias thrive in full sunlight or partial shade. However, if the magnolia is growing in a warmer and dry climate, then extended shade from the sun might be necessary. In addition, attempt to keep your magnolia away from strong winds – exposure to heavy wind can tear flowers or even remove branches.
  • Fertilizer – Young magnolias need some fertilizer at the time of planting. However, once a magnolia is established and blooming, then no additional fertilizer should be needed.
  • Pruning – Whether or not to prune your magnolia depends on your needs. To keep your magnolia compact, prune after the tree has finished blooming in the beginning of summer. Otherwise, no pruning is necessary other than the odd shape up or damaged limb.
  • Garden Pests – Luckily, magnolias are resistant to almost all pests from a garden.

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Diseases of Magnolia Trees

Although resistant to garden pests, magnolia trees have a few diseases that you should know about. Despite being uncommon, magnolia tree diseases can seriously endanger your tree. Below are some of the most commonly occurring diseases of magnolia trees and some treatments to help you cure your magnolia.

  • Wood Rot – Characterized by damp, darker colored, and deteriorated conditions, wood rot is a nasty form of decay. Triggered by moisture and fungi, wood rot needs to be caught early on to save the tree. If you notice any signs of wood rot on your magnolia, it will be necessary to cut out all affected parts of the tree.
  • Canker – Formed by injuries to the tree that allow pathogens or insects to infect the tee, cankers are an unsightly blight to all gardening enthusiasts. Cankers are easily spotted by noticing unusual knots on your magnolia or sections that are peeling off. To cure your tree, it is best to prune the canker plus about an inch of the healthy tissue to ensure it is completely removed.
  • Leaf Spots – Leaf spots on your magnolia tree can be fungal or algal in nature. Luckily, out of all the diseases of magnolia trees, leaf spots are not a serious condition. In most cases, it is unnecessary to treat leaf spots if you are practicing good watering and soil habits. Simply clean any dead leaves and continue to treat your magnolia with care.

Magnolia tree diseases are rare and usually not serious. Do your best to monitor the condition of your magnolia to keep your plant in the best health possible.

Magnolia Trees in Winter

Although some magnolia trees are cold resistant, it is essential to plan ahead for your magnolia tree in winter. Pick a magnolia species that thrives in the climate you plan to plant it in. When planting your magnolia, choose a location that has some protection against possible cold winds. If you expect a particularly cold frost, it is best to insulate your magnolia. Wrap the base of the tree with dry insulation such as cardboard or cornstalks. In addition, outdoor lights near your magnolia will help keep it warm during cold winter nights. It is important to plan for frosts to keep your magnolia trees healthy in the winter.

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