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Magnolia Grandiflora Guide: How to Grow & Care for “Southern Magnolia”

Our Guide to Magnolia Grandiflora - Everything you will ever need to know! Tips for growing and caring for “Southern Magnolia”
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Nothing is more relaxing than spending a warm day of spring under the protection of a Magnolia tree in bloom! If your lovely garden or house needs a friendly and nice-looking companion, Magnolia grandiflora is surely the missing piece. And once you bring this baby tree home, it will be nothing less than a lifelong charm and mesmerizing companion.

Magnolia grandiflora, otherwise known as the Southern magnolia or Bull Bay, is an evergreen species of flowering trees in the Magnoliaceae family. This appealing plant grows natively in several regions of the southeastern United States. You can find it from central Florida to Virginia, and west to East Texas. It is also endemic to the lowland subtropical forests on the south Atlantic coastal plain and the Gulf.

Gardeners cultivate it widely in the warmer areas worldwide, so Southern magnolias have become pretty popular in the gardening world. What makes these trees truly interesting is their spectacular height and mesmerizing, fragrant blossoms. People will often plant them in parks, universities, campuses, or use them as espaliers against walls where they receive some protection from bad weather.

About Magnolia Grandiflora

  • These flowering trees are most commonly known as the Southern magnolias. But also they have some alternative names like Laurel magnolia, Big Laurel, Large-flower magnolia, or Evergreen Magnolia.
  • You can find magnolia grandiflora plants growing in a wide range of habitats. They appear on the edges of swamps and other bodies of water, on coastal dunes, in hummocks and wooded floodplains, on slopes and sand-hills, or along ravines.
  • The curious specific epithet “Grandiflora” comes from the words “grandis” and “flor-“, which mean “large” and, respectively, “flower” in Latin.
  • Southern magnolias can produce seeds only when they reach 10 years of age. Their seeds represent a nice source of food for squirrels, quail, opossums, and turkey. Half of the seeds can germinate and are spread in the wild with the help of several birds and mammals.
  • The timber collected from Magnolia trees is highly appreciated for its hardiness and heaviness. People use it commercially to make pallets, furniture, and veneer.
  • Specialists have developed over 150 Magnolia grandiflora cultivars, but only 30-40 of them still exist and only a few are propagated and sold at large.
  • The most popular companions for these trees are hostas, ferns, Arum and Calla lilies, camellias, daffodils, and Elephant ears (Colocasia).
  • Southern magnolias don’t have any toxic effects on animals or humans if touched or ingested, so you can grow them safely around your curious loved ones.
Magnolia Grandiflora
Magnolia Grandiflora

Magnolia Grandiflora Features: An Overview

  • Southern magnolias belong to the ancient Magnolia genus that contains about 210 species of flowering plants.
  • Magnolias might have appeared on Planet Earth a while before the bees did. Somehow, these plants managed to evolve to spread without bees, but with the help of beetles. Some examples of common beetles that work tirelessly to pollinate Magnolias include weevils, leaf beetles, sap-feeding beetles, and tumbling flower beetles.
  • Magnolias are medium-sized to large flowering trees that can up to 120 feet (37 m) in height. The average size of cultivated plants is somewhere near 90 feet (27.5 m).
  • In general, Magnolia trees have a single stem (trunk) and their overall growth resembles the shape of a pyramid. The timber is hard, heavy, and has a pleasant light color.
  • Magnolia grandiflora plants come along with eye-catching foliage. The typical dark green leaves can turn into beautiful shades of yellow, brown, and even red underneath.
  • Their leaves are broadly ovate with smooth margins. Their appearance is stiff, leathery, and they measure from 5 to 8 inches (12-20 cm) in length and 2 to 5 inches (5-12 cm) in width. The stems have warm and bright hues.
  • During their blooming period, from spring to summer, Magnolia grandiflora trees put on a spectacular display of large, showy, and extremely fragrant flowers. They have a nice scent that resembles lemon citronella.
  • Their blossoms are composed of 12 white petals with a waxy texture. They emerge from the tips of twigs and are no larger than 12 inches (30 cm) in diameter.
  • Once the flowering season has ended, the bloomings are followed by lovely fruits. They are ovoid poly-follicles, light pink to rose-tinted, and contain many red seeds.

Growing Magnolia Grandiflora

We all appreciate trees for their low-maintenance features and high tolerance to any environmental conditions. Well, Magnolia grandiflora species are no different and will surprise you each day with their easy-going style. But if you want your plants to show spectacular growth and blooming, you must pay a little extra attention to their basic needs.

Light-wise, Southern magnolias can withstand a wide range of conditions from full sunlight to partial or full shade. You can plant these trees in a location and let them to their own devices for years. The great thing about them is that you don’t have to worry about foliage burning or inappropriate blooming. However, if you want to have the most beautiful flowers around, you must grow your babies in bright and direct light all-year-round.

Southern Magnolia Tree in Small Pot, From Amazon

In terms of temperatures, Magnolia grandiflora trees prefer the ones from the warmer zone. Although they are considered tolerant of cooler temperatures, you should grow your plants indoors if you live in a region with harsh winters. If the temperatures tend to drop below 32 °F (0 °C), it is better to grow your trees in pots and bring them inside right away. Severe damage or even mortality can occur when temperatures drop between 20 to -10 °F (-7 to -23 °C).

Very few pests enjoy bothering these trouble-free trees. But you should inspect them every spring for leaf diseases, spider mites, scale insects, and caterpillars. If you notice any suspect presence on your Magnolia grandiflora, remove the intruders and apply suitable insecticides/pesticides in case of severe infestations.

Planting Magnolia Grandiflora

No matter where you want to grow your Magnolia grandiflora plants, the soil must be well-draining and rich in organic matter or nutrients. They grow at their best when planted in loamy and acidic substrates with a pH from 5.0 to 6.0. Moreover, Magnolia trees love the have mulch as it helps their roots grow. It will also make fertilizing and watering easier for you.

Southern magnolias become deficient in iron and nitrogen, so they benefit from annual feedings with a boost fertilizer that contains these nutrients. When the flower buds begin to swell, usually in early spring, you can also apply an all-purpose and slow-release fertilizer to ensure nice and sporadical blooming.

If you want to give your Magnolia grandiflora plants a fresh look, you can prune them in winter to the size and shape wanted. This process is quite simple and consists only of cutting off any damaged or dead leaves to make room for new growth. It is also recommended you remove spent flowers during and after their blooming period to allow others to appear.

Magnolia Grandiflora
Magnolia Grandiflora Tree

Watering Magnolia Grandiflora

Before thinking too much about when and how often you need to provide Southern magnolias with water, remember that they need way less water than you do. In fact, these trees require watering only once every week during their first two growing seasons until their roots become strong and the plant has adjusted to the environment. Once this period has ended, you can begin watering your babies twice a month without any problems. Like they were not very understanding already!

The frequency of watering, however, can vary depending on the environmental conditions and growing medium. Magnolia grandiflora trees that grow in clay soils need deep and infrequent waterings, while those in sandy soils require regular watering in small quantities. Moreover, these plants will demand more water during the hot summer months than winter.

When having an improper watering routine, your Magnolias will show it! If your trees exhibit yellow or brown leaves, it may be an indicator that they don’t get enough water. On the other hand, over-watered trees or soil that does not drain well can result in root rot and a leggy overall appearance.

Propagating Magnolia Grandiflora

Magnolia grandiflora trees are, without a doubt, an excellent addition to every home or garden. Their spectacular sizes and strong-scented flowers are not to be missed. Find your courage to propagate these beauties and gift them to your loved ones. This is the best way to share the joy of having them around!

Although you can easily propagate Southern magnolias through seeds easily, this method is a much slower process than other propagating methods. Magnolia trees respond better to propagation if you are using cuttings or air layering.

Southern Magnolia Flower
Southern Magnolia Flower

Take the cuttings during the summer, after the buds are set. The cuttings should be between 6-8 inches (15-20 cm). Remove all but the upper leaves of each cutting, make a vertical slice at the bottom end, and dip them in rooting hormone for optimal growth. Plant the cuttings in a container filled with moist perlite, cover it with a plastic bag, place it in indirect light, and mist them often. With proper care, they should develop some roots in a few months.

You can also propagate Magnolia Grandiflora by air layering using the current season’s growth. You can do this in late summer or by using one-year-old branches in early spring. This method involves wounding a branch and wrapping it on the mother plant with twine. You must remove the bark from the branches and surround them with moist soil until roots form. Provide with watering regularly to maintain the substrate damp and separate the branches from the mother plant once you notice roots sprouting.

In Conclusion

Southern magnolias are one of a kind and having them around can be a delightful experience! They look fantastic, yes, but their low-maintenance style makes them perfect for any gardener no matter how experienced he or she is. All that’s left to do is choose a spot for these trees somewhere around your house because they are really worth it!

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Miruna is an experienced content writer with a passion for gardening. She is the proud owner of an outdoor rose garden and an indoor collection of tiny succulents. She bought her first succulent 10 years ago - an adorable Echeveria Setosa. Now she owns more than 100 succulents and cacti of different colors, shapes, and sizes. Miruna is a versatile writer and, as you might have guessed, her favorite topic is gardening. Contact miruna@gardenbeast.com

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