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By: Teo Spengler
Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) is a magnificent tree cultivated for its glossy green leaves and lovely white blossoms. Remarkably flexible for an outstanding ornamental, southern magnolia thrives not only in the South, but also in the Pacific Northwest. If you are thinking of planting a southern magnolia tree, you’ll want to read up on the trees and their cultural requirements. Read on for all the information you need about southern magnolia care.
Magnolias are named after French botanist Pierre Magnol. He spotted the trees and liked them so much that he brought some to Europe three centuries ago. Before you start growing southern magnolias, you need to realize that your slender saplings will mature into very large trees. Check the size of your planting site before you proceed.
These trees grow to a height of 80 feet (24 m.) tall with a spread of some 40 feet (12 m.). Southern magnolia facts suggest that the trees grow quite fast, shooting up some 12 to 24 inches (30-60 cm.) per year.
Although many gardeners love the white, fragrant blossoms, the leaves are also beautiful and reason enough to start growing southern magnolias. The leaves are long and leathery, growing up to 10 inches (25 cm.) long. Southern magnolia is an evergreen, so you’ll see those glossy, deep green leaves on the canopy all winter long.
But the blossoms are also exceptional. The petals grow in white or ivory and these cup-shaped blooms can grow to over a foot across! Those growing southern magnolia generally rave about the sweet delightful fragrance of the flowers. When the flowers fade, look for brown cones and bright red seeds.
Southern magnolia tree care is easiest when you pick a correct site for this ornamental. Before you start planting a southern magnolia tree, read up on its growing requirements.
These magnolias are surprisingly hardy for trees termed “southern.” Southern magnolia facts tell you that they thrive in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 6 through 10. This means that gardeners in half the nation can cultivate them.
On the other hand, you’ll want to find a location with deep, loamy or sandy soil that is acidic or at least pH neutral. The soil must be well draining for the trees to thrive.
If you want a healthy tree with the maximum number of spring flowers, plant your magnolia in full sun. It will also grow in partial shade as long as it gets at least four hours a day of direct, unfiltered sunlight. If you live in the north, provide the tree protection from winter sun.
The root system of the southern magnolia is shallow and wide-spreading. Provide adequate irrigation without leaving the soil wet.
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University of Alabama arborists conducted a 17-year study of southern magnolia growth from 1983 to 2000. The fastest growing cultivars were 'Margaret Davis' (Magnolia grandiflora 'Margaret Davis) and 'Smith Fogle' (Magnolia grandiflora 'Smith Fogle'), based on total height, caliper (trunk width) and canopy width, with 'Smith Fogle' matching the overall winner 'Margaret Davis' on height and canopy width. The slowest growing cultivars were 'Little Gem' (Magnolia grandiflora 'Little Gem') and 'Majestic Beauty' (Magnolia grandiflora 'Majestic Beauty').
Cultivars are grown from cuttings and have characteristics identical to their parent tree. Magnolias grown from seed, called seedlings, grow faster than cultivars, but their shape, leaves and the density of their canopies are unpredictable and highly variable. Of the seedlings monitored in the Alabama study, just one seedling was attractive enough to merit commercial sale, and it had few or no outstanding characteristics. If you want your magnolia tree to grow into a predictable shape and with the kind of leaves that you want, it's better to plant a slower-growing cultivar from a nursery.
Fast growing trees grow more than 24 inches a year. 'Samuel Sommer' (Magnolia grandiflora 'Samuel Sommer') is a fast-growing cultivar that has bronze and green leaves up to 14 inches wide, and grows from 30 to 40 feet tall and 30 feet wide. The widely-planted 'Claudia Wannamaker' (Magnolia grandiflora 'Claudia Wannamaker') is a fast grower with a broad pyramid form.
With its fragrant, showy springtime blossoms, the magnolia offers gardeners a glimpse of spring and summer bounty. California gardeners can grow several types of magnolia trees. Purchase container saplings in the spring or fall and plant the trees straightaway. Magnolia trees need little pruning and care once established, according to the Magnolia Society. Since California has a long dry season and frequent drought conditions, gardeners must water the magnolia tree often.
Purchase a magnolia recommended for planting in California in the spring (see Resources). Gardeners can select the saucer magnolia, lily magnolia, star magnolia or magnolia galaxy, among other cultivars.
Select a site that offers your magnolia tree enough room to mature, protection from wind and full sun. While magnolia trees can grow in part shade they will develop fewer flowers. Southern California gardeners may wish to provide the tree with afternoon shade. According to the University of Minnesota, magnolia trees will grow fine in any soil except those that are highly alkaline (above 8.0 pH).
Dig a hole for your magnolia tree that's twice the size of the tree's root ball. Remove rocks and weeds from the hole before planting.
Pull your magnolia tree from its container. Separate out the roots gently, unwinding or untangling any tangled roots. Then place the magnolia tree in the hole so it sits in the same depth as it did in the container. Check to ensure the tree is vertically straight then cover over the roots to plant your magnolia.
Water your newly planted magnolia tree until the ground becomes saturated.
Mulch the soil around the base of your magnolia tree with a 2-inch layer of mulch. This helps the soil retain moisture.
Water your magnolia tree when the soil becomes dry to the touch. In California's rainy season, withhold watering if the soil receives more than 1 inch of water per week. In the dry season, irrigate the tree weekly with 1 inch of water.
Prune magnolia trees only to remove dead or damaged wood or cut off branches that crisscross other branches. Wait to prune until your magnolia has bloomed for the season, in early to mid spring.
Fertilize the magnolia tree in the spring or fall with a slow-release balanced fertilizer, such as 10-10-10. Use 1 cup of fertilizer per inch of tree trunk diameter. Scatter the fertilizer on the ground in a ring around the tree, then water to work it into the soil.
Buy a container magnolia tree only. The trees don't perform well when sold bare-root or balled-and-burlapped, since they have sensitive roots.
Knowing how to plant a magnolia tree is vital to the tree’s survival and health. Location for the tree is just as important as the method of planting, as the tree will be spending the rest of its life in that place.
Magnolia trees require at least five hours of full sun per day and moist, well-drained, acidic soils.
These trees will handle wet to dry fluctuations in moisture well and will tolerate high moisture areas. Mature trees can reach a height of 50 feet and width of 40 feet, so plant the magnolia tree in a location where it will have plenty of room to grow without hitting other trees or nearby buildings.
Once purchased, pick a spot, preferably on the north side in an sunny area. Ensure the shallow roots aren’t in danger of being damaged by soil compaction. They appreciate a reasonably fertile, neutral soil that is well-drained, and nutrient-laden. Be sure to avoid highly alkaline soil because of diseases such as chlorosis
The planting hole for a magnolia tree should be dug to measure at least twice the width and depth of the tree’s root ball. All rocks, weeds, and other roots should be cleared from the hole, and soil in the hole should be turned a depth of six inches to aerate for the root system.
The magnolia tree’s root ball should be placed in the center of the hole with the top of the root ball at the same level as surface soil. Before filling in the hole with the remaining soil, break apart dirt clods and make sure soil is well separated and sifted to ensure maximum airflow around the new root ball. Soil should not be packed firmly but gently around the root system at the base of the tree.
The sapling should be secured with two stakes and twine to help it stand up to wind and establish a firm position in the ground in maturity. The area should be mulched to prevent weeds and watered with ample moisture to develop and solidify the ground soil.
To maintain, always water deeply, without water-logging. If you see weak or significant dieback, despite otherwise sufficient conditions, your tree may be in need of fertilizer. Controlled-release fertilization products are best to prevent excessive application and leaf damage.
I am glad that I came across your blog! It is Spring and that means my husband spends all of his free-time working in our home garden. I am not much of a gardener myself, but my husband is…so, I will be sure to share this post with him. I think this concept of planting in containers, especially Magnolias, will be of much interest to him.
Gardening, as they say, is good for the soul. You and Your Husband will appreciate the tips that I am giving. Spring is the busiest time for gardening in seed planting and preparation. Good luck in the growing season.
Oh my gosh! I can grow a magnolia in a pot!? Awesome! Thanks for the great instructions.
It is amazing what pant breeders are doing. They often make plants that you first thought impossible to grow in containers possible. This will be discussed in future articles.
I really appreciate this post because it came at the right time. I am currently preparing my garden for planting season. I am going to bookmark your post. Thank you so much!
Thank you for the warm words. I have a lot of ideas for forthcoming articles. Please visit back.
Please can you let me know if the magnolla plant will do well indoors as well
As magnolias like plenty of sunshine then it is better to plant outside in a container, but they can be brought in winter, especially when severe frosts are forecasted.
What an interesting concept! I’m a avid gardener but never heard of planting Magnolias in a pot……I don’t have a Magnolia tree in my yard, so, I’m gonna try your suggestion. I’ll try planting a southern magnolia. Thanks for the info.
That is the surprising thing about gardening, as you are constantly learning, and Most people do not think about Magnolias in containers. Hope this has got your creative juices flowing.
I’m moving to a smaller apartment next month with a small patio, so I’m glad that I found your site.
I never thought to put a tree in a pot! It seems like it can be tricky, but your post lays it out so that anyone can try it.
I have a few questions though. Why put “salvaged material” on the bottom of the pot? And what makes “ericaceous compost” more expensive?
Thanks for the kind words. To answer your questions salvaged material will help with drainage to prevent the drainage holes from getting blocked by compost. Use salvage material as it is more environmentally friendly.
Ericaceous compost is more costly as it is not used as much as multipurpose compost.
Thank you for your comments
Thanks, Antonio, this was a great article.
I am Canadian, so, unfortunately, we can’t grow them up here, but my son and daughter in law now live in Texas. I was able to see these beautiful trees up close when we visit.
I’ve told them that when they buy their first house, I want to come down and landscape for them. And the idea of having a magnolia in a pot is awesome! I’m bookmarking your page for future use!
I hope your son and daughter in law find a home soon, as Magnolia in pots look brillant. Thank you for the bookmark.