A magnolia tree really knows how to put on a show – even if it’s not in flower. Magnolias, with their glossy green leaves, look just as impressive in a manicured garden against a backdrop of buxus hedge, as they do as a statement tree. Growing up to 5 metres in height, a magnolia tree’s overarching canopy can shield a front garden from harsh sunlight and provide soft, dappled shade. Deciduous trees shed golden leaves in autumn, to reveal a sculptural winter silhouette.
But then the flowers, the flowers. The large blooms resemble fine, bone-china teacups or a ballet dancer’s tutu, gently swaying, as they unfold into arabesque. The creamy petals of white magnolia flowers look so much like freshly baked meringues it’s almost tempting to pluck one from the tree and serve it on a plate like just a delicious pavlova complete with summer berries. To top it off, magnolia flowers even smell like lemons.
To make a long story short: we think magnolias make a wonderful statement tree in any garden, and given time, can even create a privacy screen. But how exactly do you grow and care for magnolias? What growing conditions do they need? How do you go about planting one in your garden? Which is the best variety to grow? We dug deep to bring you the answers to these questions, and more, in our guide to growing magnolias.
Deciduous vs evergreen magnolias
Broadly speaking, there are two main types of magnolias. Evergreen magnolias and deciduous magnolias. Deciduous magnolias drop their leaves during autumn to bare their branches throughout the colder months. Spring is when everything comes alive again and flowers begin to emerge.
Evergreen magnolias, on the other hand, retain their leaves all year round and often flower in spring and summer, or even several times a year.
Deciduous magnolia varieties
- Magnolia ‘vulcan’ pbr ‘Magnolia vulcan’- a deep pink, almost red flower
- Magnolia soulangeana brozzonnii ‘Saucer magnolia’
- Magnolia soulangeana ‘Tulip magnolia’
- Magnolia soulangeana ‘Black Tulip’
- Magnolia x star wars ‘Magnolia Star Wars’
Evergreen magnolia varieties
- Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’
- Magnolia grandiflora ‘Teddy Bear’
- Magnolia dolsopa x laevifolia ‘Inspiration’
- Magnolia hybrida ‘Magnolia Fairy Cream’
How to plant a magnolia tree
- Nourish the soil: At planting, dig a hole about 1m wide and add compost or rotted manure to the excavated soil before returning it to the hole.
- Dig the hole: To plant the tree, you’ll need to dig a hole that’s double the width of the pot and about the same depth.
- Backfill and water in: Backfill the soil (mixed with compost or manure) and form a raised donut or saucer-shaped depression around the base of the tree to direct water towards the tree’s roots. Water in well and keep the soil damp until the tree is established. This usually takes several weeks.
- Mulch: Apply organic mulch around the base of the tree (keeping it away from the trunk) to prevent soil moisture loss.
The maximum height of a magnolia tree really depends on the variety. Magnolia Vulcan, for example, can reach up to 5 metres in height, while Teddy Bear Magnolia can reach anywhere from 4-6 metres in height.How big do magnolia trees grow?
Where do magnolia trees grow best?
Deciduous magnolias like a chilly, moist winter followed by a warm, moist summer. They thrive along the Great Dividing Range and in south-east Australia – anywhere rainfall is reasonably generous (or adequate irrigation is available) and where winters are cool enough to induce dormancy. They’re not for the tropics or the steamy sub-tropical coast.
Full sun is most suitable, but they’ll grow with a little shade and enjoy the shelter of other large shrubs or small trees. Strong winds will damage the flowers and break the brittle branches, so try to plant in protected areas.
The most important feature of a suitable soil is that it holds moisture but not wetness. Average garden soil will suffice as long as it drains freely. Magnolias grow naturally in soils that are deep and rich in rotted organic matter. Slightly acidic soil is ideal but magnolias will tolerate alkaline soils containing plenty of humus.
Caring for a magnolia tree
Young magnolias need plenty of water, but once established and deeply rooted (their root system can span four times the overhead canopy!) they’ll tolerate short dry spells. If watering is needed, soak slowly so water sinks deeply into the soil. Do this fortnightly until regular rain returns.
If soil is deep, dark and rich in organic matter, feeding isn’t necessary. However, spraying the leaves of young plants with soluble fertiliser helps them establish. Spray fortnightly from the time flowering ends until autumn and repeat the following year. When the plants are established, use a controlled-release fertiliser for trees and shrubs. Apply immediately after flowering finishes, topped with a compost mulch.
In general, pruning isn’t necessary, but you can always remove dead or damaged branches and prune out others to encourage a more desirable shape. Prune deciduous magnolias straight after flowering, cutting back to the raised ‘collar’ found at the base of larger branches. Be careful not to cut past this collar, as this will discourage further flowering and growth.