|Official Plant Name||Magnolia Grandiflora|
|Native Area||East and Southeast Asia, Eastern North America, Central and South America, West Indies|
|Hardiness Rating||Typically H6|
|Foliage||Large ovate leaves which are leathery to the touch|
|Flowers||Large white or pink flowers|
|When To Plant||March, April, October, November|
|Flowering Months||March, April, May, June, July, August|
|When To Prune||July, August|
Full Sun or Dappled Shade
2 – 14M
4 – 8M
March – August
Most Soil Types
Moist but well drained
Neutral / Alkaline
Magnolia trees are beautiful flowering trees which can make a grand statement in a garden.
Not everyone will be able to grow a Magnolia tree in their garden. But if you have the right conditions and can give them what they need, then they are a truly beautiful sight. Smaller specimens can also be considered for a container garden.
Magnolia trees are trees or large shrubs with large and attractive flowers. Interestingly, this is an ancient genus, which evolved before the evolution of bees. Its large, tough flowers are thought to have evolved for pollination by beetles.
Magnolia are native to east and southeast Asia, and to eastern North America, Central America and the West Indies, and some species are also found in South America.
Magnolias are spreading in form, characterised by, and primarily chosen for, their big, fragrant flowers. Their flowers can come in a range of different hues, and most are bowl or star-shaped.
The tree was named after French botanist Pierre Magnol by Charles Plumier (1646-1704). The dramatic flowers of plants in this genus make them a popular horticultural choice.
Why Grow One in Your Garden?
Of course, Magnolia trees are usually grown as ornamental additions to a garden – to provide beautiful blooms. But this is not the only reason to consider growing a Magnolia tree in your garden.
Magnolia grandiflora petals, for example, are sometimes pickled and used as spicy flavouring. And the flowers of many species are considered edible. In certain Asian cultures, Magnolia buds are used, pickled, in rice and scented teas. Some species of Magnolia also have traditional medicinal uses.
There are a number of different Magnolia trees to choose from. Deciding on the right magnolia to grow is an important part of the picture. You need to think about which magnolia will be suitable for your own particular garden. You might choose:
- Magnolia grandiflora
- M. delavayi
- M. kobus
- M. liliiflora
- M x loebneri
- M. salicifolia
- M. seiboldii
- M. stellata
- M. Virginiana
- M. Wilsonii
Magnolias can vary quite significantly from one another. Some are deciduous and some are evergreen, and each one has distinct flower shape, colour and form.
Where To Grow a Magnolia Tree
Most magnolia trees must be grown in full sun, in a warm and sheltered position. They are typically H6 hardy, but their flowers can easily be damaged by frost in the spring. Frost can also damage evergreen foliage in autumn.
A sheltered site is particularly important – M. grandiflora and M. delavayi will thrive when espaliered against a warm south facing wall, and may not survive the winter outdoors in areas where winter temperatures drop below around minus 5 degrees C.
Wind damage can be a problem, so magnolias must be planted where wind rock and wind damage to leaves will not be a problem.
Most magnolia trees will do best in an acidic or neutral soil. However, many Magnolia species can tolerate alkaline conditions.
In dry alkaline conditions, M. Grandiflora or M. delayvayi could be good options to consider. On moister soils, M. kobus, M. x loebneri or M. M. wilsonii could be good bets. M. grandiflora and M. virginiana will tolerate wetter soil conditions.
However, if you do have alkaline soil, particularly very alkaline soil, you will usually do better to grow a smaller magnolia specimen in a container, with a moderately acidic potting mix.
If you do not have an area with full sun and would like to grow a magnolia in light, dappled shade, then late-flowering species like M. sieboldii and M. wilsonii can tolerate this best.
However, you should always grow magnolias in full sun here in the UK where possible. These later flowering species can also be the best bet in cooler, more northerly regions.
Planting a Magnolia Tree
Magnolias are usually best planted in the autumn, or in the late spring.
Since these trees have rather shallow roots, you do not need to dig a very deep hole so planting is relatively easy, Make sure that you dig your planting hole to the same depth as the pot the magnolia came in, and make sure that the point where it has been grafted is not below the soil.
Avoid doing any damage to the roots of the plant, since any damage to the roots can affect flowering. Firm the soil back gently around the tree, tamp it down, and water well.
It is a good idea to mulch around your new magnolia tree with an organic mulch of bark, leaf mould or garden compost.
Caring For a Magnolia Tree
The most common issue encountered by those trying to grow Magnolia trees is a lack of flowering. It is most important to make sure that you have planted your Magnolia tree in an appropriate position, and chosen the right species for your situation.
It is also important to note, however, that newly planted trees might not flower at first. It can take a few years for a newly planted Magnolia tree to ‘settle in’ before it flowers.
To promote good growth and healthy flowering, make sure a magnolia gets as much sun as possible. However, it is also important to ensure that the soil in the planting location does not try out during the summer months.
Always take care to water in dry weather, especially before the tree reaches maturity. Remember, watering needs will be higher when a magnolia is grown in a container.
Once your magnolia tree has flowered (which, depending on variety, will be some time between March and August), this is a good time to undertake any necessary pruning.
Magnolias should only be pruned lightly, to remove any dead, damaged, diseased branches, or any branches which cross and are rubbing against one another. These trees do not respond well to more extreme pruning, and can stop flowering when pruned too zealously.
If you have a mature magnolia tree that requires renovation, it is best to undertake this work gradually over a number of years – pruning only a few branches at a time so as to reduce stress.
Each spring, you should replenish the mulch around your magnolias, to maintain fertility. Use composted wood chip or bark, leaf mould, compost, or a well-rotted manure.
Should you wish to propagate new plants from a Magnolia tree, this can be done by taking cuttings. It is best to take softwood cuttings from deciduous magnolias in early summer, and semi-ripe cuttings from evergreen types in late summer or early autumn.
However, note that this is not the easiest garden task for beginners, and cuttings may need extra light and heat in winter.
A permaculture garden designer, sustainability consultant and freelance writer, Elizabeth works as an advocate for positive change. She aims to inspire others to reconnect with nature and live in a more eco-friendly way. She also tries to practice what she preaches as she tends her own forest garden, polyculture beds and polytunnel. See her personal website here.