Magnolias are magnificent flowering plants featuring blossoms in white, pink, red, purple, or a more recent development, rich yellow. These plants show a remarkable variety of leaf shapes and plant forms. New varieties and hybrids appear every year, but distribution is spotty in local nurseries. Many more kinds are available from mail-order specialists.
Magnolias include both evergreen and deciduous types. Most have large, striking blossoms composed of petal-like segments, but a few are grown for use as foliage plants.
For any magnolia, choose the planting site carefully—virtually all of these trees are hard to move once established. Magnolias never look their best when crowded. Pick a location where the shallow, fleshy roots won’t be damaged by digging or by soil compaction from constant foot traffic. All magnolias may be used as lawn trees; try to provide a good-size grass-free area around the trunk, and don’t plant under the tree.
Magnolias appreciate fairly rich, well-drained, neutral to slightly acid soil amended with plenty of organic matter at planting time. They will grow in somewhat alkaline soil but may develop chlorosis. At least in the early years, keep a cooling mulch over the root area.
Irrigate deeply and thoroughly, but don’t waterlog the soil or the tree will drown. Only M. virginiana can take constantly wet soil.
Feed trees if new growth is scanty or weak, or if you see significant dieback despite adequate watering and drainage; use a controlled-release product. Treat chlorosis (lack of iron—common in alkaline soils—that shows up as yellowing between leaf veins) with iron chelates.
Leaf damage can result from excess mineral salts in the soil or salts in irrigation water. The latter is a problem in Southern California and, typically, the factor limiting success of magnolias in desert regions. Frequent heavy waterings will help leach out salts and carry them to lower soil levels—as long as drainage is good.
From central Japan, this slow-growing deciduous magnolia can be a large shrub or a small tree, reaching about 10 ft. tall and up to 20 ft. wide. Use it for borders, entryway gardens, or a tree of the forest edge. Quite hardy, star magnolia’s flowers are often nipped by frost in the colder part of its range. This is a fine-textured plant in both twig and leaf, and it provides fair yellow-and-brown fall leaf color. Flowers are white, to 3 in. across, with 12–18 narrow, strap-shaped segments. Profuse bloom comes very early—late winter to early spring, before leafout. Some varieties are fragrant.
‘Centennial’: Bears white blossoms faintly marked pink, 5 in. across, with 40–50 segments. It’s like an improved ‘Waterlily’.
‘Dawn’: Has white flowers with 25 or more segments, each with a longitudinal pink stripe.
‘Jane Platt’: Grows a little bigger than the species (to 12–15 ft. tall and 10–12 ft. wide) and has rich pink, 4–5-in. blossoms with 40–50 segments.
‘Rosea’: Has pink buds; flowers open pink-flushed white and age to plain white. Various plants are sold under this name.
‘Royal Star’: Grows to 18–20 ft. tall and 15 ft. wide. Produces fragrant white flowers with 25–30 segments each. Blooms appear about two weeks later than the species.
‘Waterlily’: Pink buds open to very fragrant white blossoms to 5 in. across, with 40–50 segments. Blooms later and is faster growing than most star magnolias. Various plants are sold under this name.
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This longtime favorite sports purple-blue flowers with lighter bars.
Native to Texas and New Mexico. Grows to 2–3 ft. tall and 1 1/2 ft. wide. Blooms heavily, bearin...