Quick facts and care essentials
• Evergreen or deciduous
• Zones vary
• Full sun or partial shade
• Regular watering
• Growth rate: slow to moderate
These magnificent flowering trees and shrubs offer remarkable variety in color, leaf shape, and plant form. Below, we give just one example each of deciduous and evergreen kinds; many other species are available at well-stocked nurseries.
Plant magnolias in fairly rich, well-drained, neutral to acid soil. They have shallow, fleshy roots that are easily damaged by digging or soil compaction. Best locations are in a lawn (leave a wide grass-free area around the trunk) or shrub border. Stake single-trunked or very heavy trees to prevent them from being rocked by wind, which will tear the sensitive roots.
Southern magnolia (M. grandiflora). Zones 4-12, 14-24, 26-33. Evergreen. Reaching 80 feet tall and spreading to 40 feet wide, this statuesque tree offers year-round beauty. The thick, leathery, deep green leaves are ovals up to 8 inches long, often with rust-colored down on their undersides. Huge, pure white, powerfully fragrant flowers appear in late spring and summer (trees may not bloom until they are 10 years old or older). Surface roots will lift and crack nearby pavement, and the roots plus the dense shade cast by the canopy will eventually defeat lawn planted under the tree.
Saucer magnolia (M. soulangiana). Zones 2-10, 12-24, 28-41. Deciduous. Often erroneously called tulip tree, this magnolia grows slowly to 25 feet high and wide. The goblet-shaped blossoms are up to 6 inches across and vary in color from white to pink or purplish red, depending on the variety; they open before the green, rather coarse, 4- to 6-inch-long leaves expand. Late frosts can damage buds and blossoms; in cold-winter areas, plant late-flowering selections such as ‘Lennei’ or ‘Alexandrina’.