Magnolia trees are a popular ornamental plant renowned for their large and fragrant flowers. They are fairly resistant to disease and pests and are easy to care for, making them an ideal pick for a new gardener. Magnolias come in tree or shrub form, and they can be deciduous or evergreen. Their blossoms make a showy appearance in spring or summer, with colors ranging from classic white to pinks and purples and even yellows. Most magnolia trees grow quickly, giving you a small, full-grown tree in as little as a few years.
Ensure the magnolia sapling you choose has a straight, well-defined dominant stem. To remove the magnolia from its pot, gently turn the pot over and tap on it to allow the root ball to slide out. Turn the magnolia upright and gently loosen the bottom of the compressed root ball. This allows the roots to spread out and take hold in the ground after planting.
Magnolias do well in moist, well-drained soil that is slightly acidic, though they can handle neutral to slightly alkaline. If you can, opt for 5.5 to 6.5 pH. When you’re ready to plant, dig a hole roughly two times the size of your pot and at an equal depth as the root ball. Loosen the root ball and place it into the hole. Fill and pack the soil around the root ball until it is covered, ensuring the very top is level with the soil. You may add mulch to the newly planted area, but make sure to leave space around the base so it isn’t smothered. Make sure your new tree’s root systems are firmly planted in the soil and do not leave them exposed. Even yard maintenance with a lawnmower or weed trimmer can inadvertently damage the tree due to its fragile root system.
Magnolias thrive in settings with full sun to light shade. If you live in an area that gets quite hot, plant your tree where it will get partial sunlight but is sheltered from harsh afternoon sun. Avoid areas that are exposed to windy conditions as this can potentially damage blooms and branches.
Newly transplanted magnolias will need watering at least two to three times per week until the roots are established. Thoroughly soak the soil and the surrounding area. After the first six months, you can water weekly (magnolias require about one to two inches of water a week). For more mature trees, the rate of watering will depend on the temperature. Magnolias generally prefer more water during the growing season and less in the winter. Due to their shallow root system, they can be prone to overwatering — indicated by drooping leaves — as well as underwatering.
In general, magnolia trees don’t require much, if any, fertilizer, so only apply it if your tree is looking weak. If it is necessary, fertilize deciduous magnolia trees in late fall after the leaves have fallen. For evergreen varieties, you can fertilize three to four weeks before the soil temperature falls below 40° F. Make sure you apply the fertilizer evenly along the surface, and don’t apply too much or it could harm instead of help your tree.
Magnolia trees can be grown in most places in the United States, but different varieties perform better in different regions. For example, the popular southern magnolia does best in USDA plant hardiness zones 7 through 9. Whatever variety you choose, ensure that it can survive the coldest temperatures in your area.
To keep young evergreen magnolia trees healthy and to stimulate more blooms, prune them in mid-to-late spring. For young deciduous magnolia trees, pruning in mid-summer to early autumn is best. Less is more when it comes to pruning. Remove weak, damaged, or dead branches and suckers — small branches that sprout at the base of the tree — by cutting them off at the trunk. Only use clean, sharp pruning shears or loppers. Wounds do not heal quickly on magnolias, and they can be fatal, so limit pruning to more mature and established trees.
The hardy magnolia can generally withstand the cold, but if you live in zone 4 or colder, where temperatures can drop below 0° F, you should take extra steps to ensure your tree survives the winter. Apply mulch to the top of the root ball to insulate and protect those shallow roots. For extra protection, place three or four tall stakes around the tree, no nearer than 18” from the trunk. Wrap burlap around the stakes and insulate the space with leaf debris.
Propagating magnolias from cuttings is possible, though it’s best to wait until after buds have appeared in summer. When you’re ready to cut, sterilize a hand pruner or a knife. Take a cutting between 6 and 8 inches long that has active bud growth. Remove all but the top two leaves. Place your cutting into clean water right away so that it doesn’t dry out before you are ready to place it in a container. Once your pot is filled with rooting medium, create a 2-inch vertical slice at the base of the cutting. Dip it into a rooting hormone powder and plant it. Keep the container in indirect light and ensure that it remains moderately moist until you begin to see new growth. It may take several weeks before your cutting’s root system is strong and stable enough for it to be transplanted into a larger container or directly into the ground.
Bacterial blight, leaf scorch, and leaf spots are some of the most common diseases that afflict magnolia trees. These problems are caused by bacteria and fungi and are more likely to show up in humid conditions and when the leaves and flowers get too moist. Maintaining good airflow around the tree and removing any fallen plant debris will help lower the risk of these issues. Cankers are dead parts of bark or branches that form when the magnolia tree has suffered an open wound from an infection or natural or mechanical damage. When you notice a canker, move quickly to control it by cutting off the dead branch or limb. Make sure not to cut into the canker itself, as doing so can restart fungal growth, allowing the damage to spread. During colder months, some varieties of magnolia tree can succumb to winter burn: the edges of the leaves dry out on the side of the tree that has been most exposed to the sun or the wind.
Common pests like scales, aphids, thrips, and mealybugs can feast on the magnolia’s leaves, roots, and flowers. You may wish to introduce predatory insects, such as ladybugs and lacewings, to help manage the pest population. However, if you notice areas of large insect infestation, apply neem oil or horticultural oil to the foliage to keep the pests away.
With their large waxy leaves and voluminous, fragrant flowers, the magnolia tree adds a lovely element to any garden. Its blossoms smell rich and sweet, and they can live for a long time. Enjoy them in your outdoor space or carefully remove a few in-bloom branches to display in your home — the cut flowers generally last about a week in a vase with clean water. Add them to an arrangement or showcase them on their own.
The dogwood tree is often mistaken for the magnolia because both produce large flowers, though the dogwood is shorter. Camellias are often used as a companion plant for the magnolia. Their flowers have a similar shape but are smaller.
Magnolia flowers and leaves are not toxic to humans or pets. Keep in mind that, come springtime, the magnolia will start to drop its leaves and create significant leaf litter along the ground. Though the plant matter will eventually decompose, if you appreciate a tidy garden area, you will have to rake up and remove the debris.
The magnolia boasts over 200 varieties of both trees and shrubs, including eight that are native to the United States. The Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) is one of the best known; it can reach 80 feet tall with a canopy extending as wide as 50 feet.