Magnolias are deciduous or evergreen flowering trees known for their spring and summer flowers which are the largest of any group of hardy plants. Find facts and information on choosing the best variety for your yard or garden.
Magnolia Facts and Information
Magnolia are the oldest form of woody flowering trees. Most magnolias are native to North America, although some forms are found in Asia. The magnolia family is made up of many species of beautiful magnolias. Some varieties have blooms measuring one foot wide, while some varieties have cone-like fruits that are quite decorative.
Evergreen magnolias are native to warm, temperate, and semitropical regions. They sometimes do well as far north as Zone 6. The flowers resemble water lilies and are quite stunning in appearance. The flowers of the evergreens appear sporadically in summer, and their large, oblong, glossy stiff leaves are almost indestructible.
Magnolia Varieties (Species)
When choosing the best flowering tree variety for your landscape, you need to choose one that will grow in your USDA Zone. Then, you can decide on which variety to choose according to its size, flower type or growth habit. This is an list of the most popular types of magnolia trees. There may be others worth considering for your area not mentioned. It is always a good idea to check with your local tree nursery or local Agriculture Extension Office for specific varieties that do well in your particular area.
This magnolia was made famous from being grown on Southern plantations. This particular variety, reaching up to 80 ft. tall is the bull bay, magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora). It bears huge fragrant flowers and has beautiful 12 inch leaves with cinnamon brown undersides. It is planted in large landscapes in Zone 7 and southward.
If you live further north, search for smaller cultivars that withstand winters in Zones 6 and 7. Slow-growing, compact ‘Little Gem’ grows to 25’, and ‘Saint Mary’, which bears large fragrant flowers, reaches 20 ‘. They are good choices for smaller landscapes.
The Sweetbay, or swamp, magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) reaches 60’ in warm regions. It has creamy white lemon-scented waterlily-like flowers that appear sporadically from late spring on. The 3”-5” inch dark green leaves are silvery on the undersides. The Sweetbay magnolia, can survive as far north as Zone 5 in a protected spot, but there it rarely exceeds 20 feet and may lose its leaves in winter.
Deciduous magnolias do better than the evergreens in cold-winter zones. They have softer, smaller leaves than the evergreens, and their flowers, often with drooping, strap-shaped petals, appear in late winter or early spring, before the leaves emerge.
Deciduous magnolias grow best in a cool location. The buds will often come out in warm microclimates and are often lost to late winter cold snaps. ‘Galaxy’, M. liliflora x M. sprengeri 'Diva', is a U.S. National Arboretum cultivar, escapes most late frosts because it blooms later than most other magnolias. It has saucer-shaped, deep pink-red flowers that open to a paler shade. It grows up to 40 feet tall.
In April, the beautiful 20-25’ , Magnolia x loebneri ‘Merrill’, blankets itself with multi-petaled, slightly fragrant white flowers as far north as Zone 3.
A common sight in Zone 4 in early spring is the 10-20’ star magnolia (Magnolia stellata). It is literally covered with slightly fragrant white flowers with multiple strap-shaped drooping petals.
The Japanese magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana) also known as the saucer magnolia, or Tulip Tree, has flowers that vary in color from light to deep pink, almost purplish on the outside and cream to white on the inside. The 'Saucer' sized flowers are from 5-10" across. It grows to 20-30’ and will grow up to Zone 6.
Some shrubby cultivars are good looking too. Hardy in Zone 5, such varieties bear feminine names, such as pink-flowered ‘Susan’ and reddish purple ‘Betty’.
Magnolias may be transplanted from container in early spring or fall. Most species require rich, well-drained soil, not dry, and a pH range of 5.0-6.5. Most will succeed in full sun but will also tolerate some shade. Magnolia trees look best when they are not pruned.