If you’ve always gazed wistfully at magnolia trees and wished you could have one, stop wishing and get reading, because it may be easier than you thought. There are more than 80 varieties of magnolia and some are hardy enough to thrive in the cooler northern states, with some being evergreen and some deciduous. Let’s find out more.
Magnolias are easy to care for
They offer lush and dramatic leaves and flowers for little work. They’re also pretty disease- and pest-resistant. If you’re in the south some varieties will handle those summers and if you’re further north you can select a type that’s cold-hardy. They look great all year round and will attract birds and other wildlife into your garden.
The Southern Magnolia
This iconic pyramid-shaped evergreen tree can reach 80 feet in height and 40 feet in width. Its blooms are the state flowers of Mississippi and Louisiana and they come out in late spring, followed by cone-shaped furry fruit.
They can be untidy, because those big leaves drop all year round; try not to bother, just let the lower branches cover it all up! There’s a cold-loving variety – Bracken’s Brown Beauty – if you’re northern.
The Saucer Magnolia
This is a deciduous tree and it also blooms in spring. It reaches around 25 feet in height and width and the pink blooms look great against the sometimes-bare branches.
The Sweetbay Magnolia
A versatile tree, this variety can be evergreen or deciduous depending on the climate. They reach 50 feet in height and produce small, lemony-smelling flowers in the early summer. The sweetbay makes for a good summer shade tree.
Growing Your Magnolia
It’s important to give larger varieties the room to grow, and while these trees can cope with a variety of conditions, they’ll thrive best with mildly acidic, loose, moist well-draining soil. If your soil is clay, add compost and peat moss.
They grow best in USDA zones 7-10, although some hardier types can get down to zone 5. They like partial shade to full sun, with moist soil helping them with sunny conditions. They will need a bit of watering in their first years, but once mature they can cope with some drought.
One thing to bear in mind is that some types don’t flower until they’re 15 years old; if this is important to you, choose an early bloomer and try a grafted tree. There are magnolia trees for sale online that have been “started off” for you.
If your magnolia is pot-grown, plant it in fall or spring; field-grown and transplanted trees do better in the early spring. Make sure you spread out the roots as these trees have a tendency to become rootbound. You may need to support the tree with stakes because it may be top-heavy.
You should give your new magnolia an inch of water a week and don’t fertilize a newly-planted tree until its next growing season. For the first three years fertilize it every other month from March to September, then just once or twice a growing season thereafter.
Treating It Right
Magnolias don’t give you many problems – even a touch of scale can be left to sort itself out. If you intend to prune or shape the tree, do it while it’s small as larger branches don’t bounce back from pruning too well. The bark is also delicate, so be careful with garden tools and weed-whackers.