Magnolia Tree Planting Guide

magnolia grow guide

For us, nothing says Southern charm more than a hardy Magnolia tree. Their creamy white, beautiful  fragrant flowers adore the glossy leaves – Leaves that, at times, stay around all year long with dark green color.

There are some 125 species of magnolia plants, several of which are important ornamentals with many named cultivars. There are shrub-like deciduous magnolias and huge forest evergreen magnolias.  The Asiatic species, star magnolia (M. stellata) and saucer magnolia (Magnolia × soulangeana), bloom in early spring before their deciduous leaves come out. The American species, southern magnolia (M. grandiflora), is evergreen and blooms in early summer. The sweetbay magnolia (M. virginiana) of eastern North America is an evergreen tree in the South and deciduous tree up North. Sweet bay has fragrant white flowers of medium size. 

Some of our favorite magnolias include ‘Bracken Brown Beauty Magnolia’, a relatively cold hardy cultivar of southern magnolia with a dense pyramidal shape, and ‘Little Gem Magnolia’, a smaller, compact version of the same species that grows to about 20 feet tall. Both of these have large flowers that bloom in mid spring to summer.

Among the deciduous magnolia tree varieties that bloom in early spring on bare branches are ‘Alexandrina Magnolia’ and ‘Ann Magnolia’, both hybrids of Asian origin and of considerably smaller stature than the American species with pink flowers that are tulip shaped.

japanese magnolia tree

The conical shape of M. grandiflora and its cultivars extends all the way to the ground and their dense evergreen foliage won’t allow grass or much of anything to grow under them. 

Know that southern magnolia can get very big, up to 60 to 80 feet tall as a mature magnolia! Planting these shade trees will bring privacy and beautiful year round foliage to your landscape. 

The deciduous Asian magnolia flowering trees are smaller trees, sometimes mere large shrubs, and provide brilliant color early in the spring. These small trees provide a display of color to signify the beginning of a new growing season.

Additionally, the deciduous trees’s drop their large leaves year round, and if you want to maintain a pristine landscape, this means frequent policing of spent magnolia tree leaves.


If you are wondering how to grow a magnolia tree use this Magnolia Tree Planting Guide to lead the way for your magnolia tree care expertise. As always, feel free to contact us with any questions you may have. If you are wondering how fast do magnolia trees grow the growth rate listed below 

Here is a quick comparison chart of the magnolia varieties we carry:

Cultivar

Mature Height

Mature Width

Magnolia Flower Color

Evergreen or Deciduous?

Magnolia Tree Bloom Period

Sunlight Requirements

Magnolia Tree Growth Rate

USDA Zone

Special Features

Alexandrina

Magnolia x soulangiana ‘Alexandrina’

20-25 ft.20-25 ft.Purple-PinkDeciduousMid to Late Spring-SummerFull SunModeratezone mapShowy flowers, Fragrant, Low maintenance, Best grown in moist, organically rich, acidic, well-drained soil

 Ann

Magnolia x ‘Ann’

10-15 ft.8-10 ft.Pink-PurpleDeciduousLate Spring-SummerFull Sun/Partial ShadeSlowzone mapShowy flowers, Fragrant, Low maintenance, Best grown in moist, organically rich, acidic, well-drained soil

 Bracken’s Brown Beauty  

Magnolia grandiflora ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’

30-40 ft.15-25 ft.WhiteEvergreenLate Spring-SummerFull Sun/Partial Shade Slowzone mapLarge white flowers, Fragrant, Cold hardy, Tolerates very wet areas

D.D. Blanchard

Magnolia grandiflora ‘D.D. Blanchard’

50 ft.25-30 ft.WhiteEvergreenLate Spring-SummerFull SunSlowzone mapLarge, fragrant blooms, Attractive foliage, Deer resistant, Best grown in moist, organically rich, acidic, well-drained soil

Little Gem

Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’

20-25 ft.10-15 ft.WhiteEvergreenSummerFull Sun/Partial ShadeSlow to medium ratezone mapFragrant, Attractive foliage, Compact size, Generally intolerant to soil extremes

Where to Plant a Magnolia Tree

Most magnolias do best in a neutral to slightly acidic soil that stays relatively moist but is still well drained. When planting a magnolia tree, the soil should be fertile, rich in humus, and loamy. It is not advisable to add any kind of amendment to the planting hole as the tree’s roots will soon spread beyond the hole anyway. Instead, choose a location with good soil.

The spreading magnolia tree root systems will spread several feet beyond the tree canopy and require lots of room to grow to full height and width. They are very wide spreading.

Magnolias prefer full sun to partial shade, so choose a spot in your landscape that receives sunlight for at least six hours a day. Although some are tolerant to shadier growing conditions than other.

magnolia-dd-blanchard tree

Most magnolias should have protection from strong winds because:

  1. The large green leaves of many species are damaged by strong wind;
  2. Magnolia limbs tend to be brittle; and
  3. The flowering buds of those that bloom on naked branches before the leaves unfold are susceptible to wind burn and damage.

Where Do Magnolias Trees Grow?

The Bracken’s Brown is the most cold tolerant we have while the Little Gem is a true Southern Magnolia and prefers the warm weather of the Southeast.  Note the United States Department of Agriculture climate zones for your magnolia and select a planting site that can offer protection from summer heat or winter cold, as necessary. For example, the growing zones for Little Gem magnolia are hardy to zone 7-9, so if you are in magnolia tree zone 6 or 7, position your magnolia where it will be protected from the coldest winds and temperatures, such as near a south facing wall. If you are planting a Little Gem magnolia tree in zone 9 or 10, position it where it will get afternoon shade away from the piercing heat.

How to Plant a Magnolia Tree

You can plant magnolias in fall or spring. If you are wondering when the best time to plant magnolia trees it is spring so they have the whole growing season to establish. Avoid planting in summer or winter.

    • Dig a hole as deep as the magnolia is in the nursery pot and twice as wide.
    • Thoroughly wet the potting soil in the pot before starting. Place the pot on its side and slide the root ball out. If the plant is stuck, you can slip a long-bladed knife around the inside edge to loosen it. Gently loosen some of the roots along the sides and bottom, and pull them outward so they are not encircling the root mass.
    • It might be necessary to prune some of the roots if they are growing in a circle around the inside of the pot.rose guide place plant
    • Build up a rounded mound of soil in the middle of the planting hole. Place the root crown on top of the mounded soil so that the top of the crown will be at ground level.
    • Spread the side roots out over the mounded soil while backfilling the hole. Work the soil in and around the roots. When the hole is half filled, give it and the roots a good soaking of water.
    • When the water has drained, readjust the depth of the stem if necessary and finish filling the hole. Gently tamp the soil down with your hands.
    • Use your hands to build up a 3-6 inch high embankment of soil on the ground over the outside of the root zone. This will help impound water over the roots while it sinks into the soil. Water thoroughly.
    • Spread a 3-6 inch layer of  mulch over the root system and beyond to help hold in soil moisture and protect the shallow roots at the base of the tree. You can use hay, straw, leaves, pine needles, grass clippings or compost. Do not use mushroom compost as this contains lime and will raise the pH.

How to Care for a Magnolia Tree

If planted in the spring, provide at least one inch of water per week for the first six months or so. Establish a regular watering schedule to make sure your tree stays healthy. Fall-planted mags can be watered every two weeks. Once established, most magnolias have moderate drought tolerance. 

magnolia grow guide
    • Use stakes and lines to stabilize a new magnolia against the wind.
    • An organic mulch over the magnolia root zone helps retain soil moisture. Be sure you don’t use a mulch that contains lime, as this could cause yellowing of the leaves. If chlorosis does occur, a foliar application of chelated iron can help.
    • Do not fertilize a newly planted tree until the following the trees growing season. Then for the next two or three years, feed with a balanced fertilizer every other month during the growing season. After the first two or three years, fertilize just once or twice a year.
    • Do any necessary pruning and shaping while the tree is still young because removing large branches can leave scars that are open to infection. Young trees are more susceptible because less magnolia tree roots have formed
    • Magnolias are more trouble-free than many trees, and minor problems such as scale insects or leaf miners can be ignored.

Magnolias are a great addition to any landscape,  even when they’re not in season.  Their attractive mounded shape all year around make it an exceptional choice as an accent tree for your garden. Your landscape will be filled with a fragrant aroma and a southern charm you can’t deny when you grow magnolia trees. No matter what fast growing magnolia type you choose your landscape will thank you!

Happy planting!