Magnolia tree zone 5

Zone 5 Magnolia Trees – Tips On Growing Magnolia Trees In Zone 5

Once you’ve seen a magnolia, you’re not likely to forget its beauty. The tree’s waxy flowers are a delight in any garden and often fill it with an unforgettable fragrance. Can magnolia trees grow in zone 5? While some magnolia species, like southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora), won’t tolerate zone 5 winters, you’ll find attractive specimens that will. If you want to know about the best magnolia trees for zone 5 or have other questions about zone 5 magnolia trees, read on.

Can Magnolia Trees Grow in Zone 5?

Many types of magnolias are available in commerce, including trees with flowers that are pink, purple, white or yellow. Most magnolia blossoms are very lovely and fragrant. They have been called the emblematic flower of the old South.

But if you think of magnolias as only heat-loving southern belles, think again. You can find magnolia trees suited for virtually every growing location and many different hardiness zones. Can magnolia trees grow in zone 5? Yes they can, as long as you pick appropriate zone 5 magnolia trees.

Best Magnolia Trees for Zone 5

One of the best magnolia trees for zone 5 is star magnolia (Magnolia kobus var. stellata). This big-name magnolia is very popular in northern nurseries and gardens. An early bloomer, star magnolia takes its place among the most beautiful of magnolias in zone 5. Its blossoms are huge and very fragrant.

Another of the top magnolia trees in zone 5 gardens is the cucumber tree magnolia (Magnolia acuminata), native to this country. Bearing leaves up to 10 inches long, the cucumber tree magnolia can grow to 50 feet tall with 3-inch blossoms that appear in late spring. The flowers are followed by cucumber-like fruit.

If you like the star species but prefer to plant taller magnolia trees in zone 5, consider the hybrid magnolia called ‘Merrill.’ It results from crosses between Magnolia kobus trees and the shrubby variety stellata. It’s a cold-hardy early bloomer and grows to two stories in height.

A few other species to consider as magnolia trees in zone 5 include ‘Ann’ and ‘Betty’ magnolia cultivars, both of which grow to 10 feet. ‘Yellow Bird’ (Magnolia x brooklynensis ‘Yellow Bird’) and ‘Butterflies’ magnolia top out at between 15 and 20 feet.


Magnolia x loebneri ‘Leonard Messel’ has bright fuchsia-pink flowers. 1

Every garden needs a magnolia. Magnolias provide an incredible show in spring. Their fuzzy buds open to large, fragrant, white, pink or purple flowers. Breeding efforts have produced new shades and colors, such as yellow magnolias, a color that is treasured by gardeners throughout the world. Even though magnolias bring us only a few weeks of remarkable fragrance and color, their uniqueness and beauty are stunning. Their inviting flowers awaken our senses and tell us that spring has finally arrived.

There are a wide variety of magnolias that can be grown in the Upper Midwest. Many of the deciduous magnolias perform well in our climate and range from smaller to larger trees. Besides lovely spring flowers, many magnolias have smooth, silvery gray bark for winter interest. The stems have a strong, lemony smell when scratched and a few magnolias have yellow fall color.

Care of Magnolias

Magnolias grow best in moist, well-drained loam, rich in organic matter with a near neutral to slightly acidic pH (5.5-7.0). They are intolerant to dry, compacted heavy clay or wet soils. Magnolias are difficult to transplant and this is best done only in spring. A full-sun location is best. Magnolias planted in deep shade will either flower poorly or not at all. Since most magnolias bloom in early spring, late spring frosts can damage the flowers. To provide a better chance for the flowers to escape frost damage, plant magnolias in a location with an eastern or northeastern exposure, potentially delaying flowering by up to a week.

Magnolias are seldom bothered by deer but are susceptible to verticillium wilt and scale. If you know a plant has died of verticillium wilt, do not plant a magnolia in its place. Verticillium wilt is a persistent, soil-borne fungus for which there is no treatment. Scale is an insect that occurs on the twigs and stems. Adult scales do not move and they lay eggs underneath their hard shell. Dormant oil sprays or a systemic insecticide are effective for control. Occasionally, powdery mildew can be a problem with some deciduous magnolias, particularly Saucer and Little Girl Series magnolias. Make sure to plant these magnolias in full sun and in a location with good air circulation. Once established, magnolias need little care except for occasional, dormant-season pruning of crossing or rubbing branches. Make sure to add 2-3 inches of organic mulch, such as shredded bark, around the base but not touching the trunk.

Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata)

Star magnolia, one of the smallest specimens, blooms in early spring. This Japanese native grows only to a height of 10-18 feet and 10-15 feet wide, although it can grow larger in the southern and eastern U.S. It produces large, pure white, very fragrant flowers in early spring before the leaves emerge. Light, silvery gray bark adds winter interest to the garden. With all magnolias, the petals and sepals are nearly indistinguishable. Both are commonly called tepals. The tepals are strap-like and reflexed, resembling a star. In late summer and into fall, pinkish red, knobby-looking fruit, resembling small pickles, are produced. Later, they split open to reveal bright reddish orange seeds prized by songbirds, wild turkeys and small mammals.

There are a number of excellent cultivars of star magnolia, including ‘Centennial’, with double white flowers tinged with pink; ‘Jane Platt’, with soft pink flowers and crinkled looking leaves; ‘Kikuzaki’, with prolific white flowers with a slight pink blush; ‘Royal Star’, the most common cultivar, with double white flowers, blooming slightly later than the others. Star magnolia is hardy to USDA Zone 4.


Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’ has early spring, white, fragrant flowers.2

Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’2

Loebner magnolia (Magnolia x loebneri)

This is a medium-sized tree growing 20-30 feet tall and 25-35 feet wide, with an upright to broadly rounded form and low branches. It is a hybrid of kobus magnolia (M. kobus) and M. stellata. This magnolia is generally the first to flower in early spring with very fragrant blooms before the leaves emerge. They can be either pure white (‘Merrill’), white with double flowers (‘Ballerina’), or pink flushed, with a darker fuchsia pink stripe on the backside of each tepal (‘Leonard Messel’, my personal favorite). Like star magnolia, Loebner magnolia and its cultivars have silvery gray bark and pinkish red, knobby-looking fruit, though less numerous than with star magnolia. It is cold hardy to Zone 4b.


Magnolia x loebneri ‘Merrill’ 2

Magnolia x loebneri ‘Merrill’ has very fragrant, pure white flowers. 2

Saucer Magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana)

A small ornamental tree, saucer magnolia gets up to 30 feet tall and wide, with an open to irregular spreading form and low branches. It is a hybrid of the Yulan magnolia (M. denudata) and lily-flowered magnolia (M. liliiflora), and is hardy to Zone 5a. The flowers are stunning, very large, fragrant, cup- to bell-shaped, pinkish purple on the outside and whitish pink on the inside, typically blooming after star and Loebner magnolias. The flowers are usually sterile and rarely produce fruit. Silvery gray bark adds winter interest. Three excellent cultivars of saucer magnolia I particularly like are ‘Alexandrina’, with large flowers, white on the inside and light rose purple on the outside; ‘Lennei’, with very large, balloon-shaped, deep rosy purple flowers; and ‘Rustica Rubra’, with large, rose red flowers on the outside and white on the inside. The flowers on saucer magnolia are so beautiful they look like they were hand painted.


Magnolia x soulangeana ‘Alexandrina’ flowers as it opens in spring. 1

Magnolia x soulangeana has cup-like, pinkish purple and white flowers 1

Little Girl Series

Little Girl series magnolias (Magnolia hybrids) are hybrids of M. liliiflora ‘Nigra’ x M. stellata ‘Rosea’. Many of the cultivars in this group only get about 12 feet tall and wide. All are hardy to Zone 5a with flowers opening before the leaves in spring, but later than star, Loebner and saucer magnolias. Flowers can also form sporadically in summer. The size of the magnolias in this series makes them adaptable to planting in smaller landscapes. ‘Ann’, ‘Betty’ and ‘Jane’ are the most common of the Little Girl series. ‘Ann’ has deep purple red flowers, and ‘Betty’ and ‘Jane’ have purple-red flowers on the outside and whitish on the inside. My favorite is ‘Pinkie’, with pale reddish purple flowers that fade to pink on the outside with white on the tepal tips and inside the flower. At 15 feet wide, ‘Pinkie’ is larger than its plant siblings, and is not as commonly available as the other three.


Betty’ is one of the Little Girl series magnolias. 2

Yellow Magnolias

These magnolia hybrids are more recent introductions. Pure yellow was not previously seen in deciduous magnolias. Many of the yellow magnolias are hybrids of the eastern U.S. native cucumber tree magnolia (Magnolia acuminata) x M. denudata (Yulan magnolia from China). Cucumber tree magnolia, as one of the parents, contributes increased cold hardiness in addition to yellowish flower color. The Yulan magnolia parent contributes a larger-sized, white flower. Most cultivars are hardy to Zone 4, flowering many weeks after Loebner magnolias, either before, or as the leaves emerge.

‘Butterflies’ magnolia is one of my favorites, with deeper yellow flowers and pink stamens. It has an upright, pyramidal form growing 18-20 feet tall. ‘Elizabeth’ was the first yellow magnolia to be introduced in 1978. The slightly fragrant, creamy yellow flowers are followed by coppery colored unfolding leaves that later turn dark green. It grows larger than the other cultivars, reaching nearly 30 feet at maturity. ‘Goldfinch’ has light butter-yellow flowers and is one of the hardiest yellow magnolias available, with a tall, upright form. ‘Yellow Fever’ blooms later than the other cultivars with fragrant, light yellow flowers fading to creamy yellow as they open.

Magnolia ‘Butterflies’ is one of the hybrid yellow magnolias. 1

‘Elizabeth’ is one of the largest yellow magnolia trees.1 ‘Elizabeth’ 1

For those interested in learning more about magnolias, The International Magnolia Society offers membership. For more information, www.magnoliasociety.org.

PHOTO CREDITS:

1. Photo by Laura G. Jull
2. Photo by Ed Hasselkus

From State-by-State Gardening May/June 2014.

Laura Jull is an associate professor and woody ornamental extension specialist in the Department of Horticulture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She writes, speaks and teaches about woody ornamental horticulture and arboriculture, and in her spare time, is an avid gardener growing many species in her yard, including several magnolias.

Saucer Magnolia flowers

Saucer Magnolia flowers

(Photo courtesy of NetPS Plant Finder)

Saucer Magnolia in bloom

Saucer Magnolia in bloom

(Photo courtesy of NetPS Plant Finder)

Height: 30 feet

Spread: 30 feet

Sunlight:

Hardiness Zone: 5a

Description:

This is considered by most to be the penultimate magnolia, featuring spectacular cup-shaped fragrant pink flowers in early spring, large spreading habit of growth; superb accent plant for the average home landscape, very sensitive to late spring frosts

Ornamental Features

Saucer Magnolia is covered in stunning fragrant pink cup-shaped flowers with white overtones held atop the branches in early spring before the leaves. It has dark green foliage throughout the season. The large pointy leaves turn coppery-bronze in fall. The fruit is not ornamentally significant.

Landscape Attributes

Saucer Magnolia is a multi-stemmed deciduous tree with a distinctive and refined pyramidal form. Its relatively coarse texture can be used to stand it apart from other landscape plants with finer foliage.

This is a high maintenance tree that will require regular care and upkeep, and should only be pruned after flowering to avoid removing any of the current season’s flowers. It has no significant negative characteristics.

Saucer Magnolia is recommended for the following landscape applications;

  • Accent

Planting & Growing

Saucer Magnolia will grow to be about 30 feet tall at maturity, with a spread of 30 feet. It has a low canopy with a typical clearance of 5 feet from the ground, and should not be planted underneath power lines. It grows at a medium rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live for 80 years or more.

This tree does best in full sun to partial shade. It requires an evenly moist well-drained soil for optimal growth, but will die in standing water. It is not particular as to soil type, but has a definite preference for acidic soils. It is somewhat tolerant of urban pollution. Consider applying a thick mulch around the root zone in winter to protect it in exposed locations or colder microclimates. This particular variety is an interspecific hybrid.

Sizes Available:

CLUMP: 3′ B&B

Magnolias are wonderful small trees or shrubs, which despite their southern connections, can work as spring-flowering plants for gardens in USDA Zone 4 — about the southern half of Minnesota, as well as areas along Lake Superior. The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum has a fine collection of magnolias and they are blooming right now.

Magnolias for the north include hybrids of Magnolia stellata and Magnolia kobus as well as the native cucumber tree (Magnolia acuminata). Most cultivars are small trees or shrubs, ranging from 10 to 25 feet tall with a vase-shaped form. The cucumber tree, however, grows up to 80 feet tall, and is grown primarily for its qualities as a sturdy landscape tree. (More varieties of hardy magnolias are being developed, too. Northern Gardener covered the work of Green Bay-based breeder Dennis Ledvina in our March/April 2013 issue.)

Magnolias bloom in early spring, generally from late April through mid May in the Twin Cities. The flowers appear before the leaves on the plant, and the plant can be covered with blooms in shade of cream, pink or yellow. Magnolias are natives of forest clearings, so they can handle light or dappled shade but they bloom best in full sun. They need moisture (but not too much) and prefer a slightly acidic soil. Many people plant their magnolias near the house to protect them from the wind. Avoid the south side, however, as you do not want the plant to come into bloom too early. The magnolia root system is fibrous and shallow, so dig a wide hole when planting magnolias and spread them out. A yearly application of a balanced fertilizer or mulching with compost will help feed the plant. Magnolias look stunning surrounded by early spring bulbs, such as squill, and they do well with a shallow-rooted groundcover for a neighbor.

Here are some of the best varieties for Minnesota:

‘Royal Star’ Bright white blooms, fragrant, this plant grows only 15 feet tall at the most and blooms early in the season.

‘Ann’ For a cloud of pretty pink blooms, plant ‘Ann’. This one will grow to 30 feet tall. It can be prone to scale and other pests or diseases.

‘Jane’ With pinkish purple blooms, this later blooming variety should not be planted too close to the house.

‘Leonard Messel’ With narrow star-shaped petals that are white on one side and pink on the other, ‘Leonard Messel’ is a popular magnolia in Minnesota. Some sources rate it as zone 5, so choose a protected location.

‘Merrill’ Another magnolia with cream-colored blooms, ‘Merrill’ is known for its hardiness. A good choice for Minnesota.

Do you have magnolias in your yard?

The best yellow magnolias for gardens of all sizes

Yellow magnolias are less common than their pink magnolia cousins and come in shades from pale apricot to rich butter. Grown for their flower colour, yellow magnolias’ variable habit allows them to be grown in gardens of all sizes. Generally hardy throughout the UK, yellow magnolias are seen flowering in April, although some cultivars flower as early as March and some as late as May. The later yellow magnolias flower with their foliage.

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Here we share some of the best yellow magnolias to grow for gardens of all sizes and tips for buying and growing them, plus some of the history behind the development of this unusual yellow variety.

© Jason Ingram

History of yellow-coloured magnolias

Walking along many suburban streets in March and April you will be wowed by the power of magnolias seen in shades of pink and purple as well as white. Almost certainly, these will be Magnolia x soulangeana the hybrid created at the beginning of the 19th century by the Frenchman Étienne Soulange-Bodin. He crossed the yulan, Magnolia denudata, with the mu-lan, Magnolia liliiflora.

Fast forward to the 1950s. A team of women including Evamaria Sperber, Doris Stone and Lola Koerting were carrying out hybridisation programmes at Brooklyn Botanic Garden using seed of the American Magnolia acuminata with pollen from the two Asiatic species used by Soulange-Bodin. They wanted to use their native species because it has yellow flowers (also green and blue), is exceptionally hardy, tolerant of many soil types and has a variable habit from a large shrub to a tree.

Growing conditions for magnolias

Magnolias of all persuasions like a moisture-retentive soil regardless of whether it’s acid or slightly alkaline. Most can be grown in full sun or part shade and are surprisingly tolerant of exposure. Those early flowering Magnolia x soulangeana so often seen on suburban streets are generally best suited to suburbia, which tends to be a degree or two warmer than the surrounding countryside, but the yellows, which flower a few weeks later, are able to adapt to a wider range of climates making them even more impressive.

The best yellow magnolias

Magnolia ‘Butterflies’

One of the earliest yellow magnolias to flower. Flowers open in March before the foliage and are deep canary yellow. Once fully open, they are up to 13cm across and have prominent red stamens. 5m.

Magnolia ‘Judy Zuk’

A small, fastigiate tree raised by Brooklyn Botanic Garden. This yellow magnolia’s tulip-shaped, apricot-yellow flowers appear with the unfurling foliage at the end of April and last for several weeks. These are flushed pink on the outside of the tepals and have a fruity fragrance. 5m.

Magnolia ‘Yellow Fever’ © Jason Ingram

Magnolia ‘Yellow Fever’

A small tree with an upright habit. Its large, pale-yellow flowers are flushed pink and appear before the foliage during April. The yellow magnolia flowers have a sweet fragrance and over time fade to an ivory-cream colour. A hybrid with Magnolia denudata. 5m. USDA 4a-8b.

Magnolia x brooklynensis ‘Yellow Bird’

A fast-growing, pyramidal, small yellow magnolia with cup-shaped, yellow flowers. These open progressively from late April, for about a month, at the same time as the foliage, and on opening have a slight greenish tinge to the base of the tepals. 7m. USDA 4a-8b.

Magnolia ‘Golden Pond’

Raised in 1997 by David Leach in Ohio, this is a small, upright magnolia tree that is slow to establish but is eventually fast growing. It produces tulip-shaped, yellow flowers over several weeks both before and with the foliage during April. Needs a sunny site for best colour. 5m.

Magnolia x brooklynensis ‘Hattie Carthan’

A large, multi-stemmed shrub with goblet-shaped flowers that have streaks of pink on the outside. These open with the foliage over several weeks from late April. This yellow magnolia was raised by Doris Stone at Brooklyn Botanic Garden. 5m. USDA 4a-8b.

Magnolia ‘Yellow Lantern’

Phil Savage bred this small, fastigiate tree with large, tulip-shaped, lemon-yellow flowers. The yellow magnolia flowers are flushed with pink at the base and appear before foliage in mid April then last for several weeks. Shows great promise as a street tree. 7m. RHS H6, USDA 4a-8b.

Magnolia ‘Lois’

An upright-growing, small yellow magnolia tree with primrose-yellow flowers that open in mid April before the foliage. Flowers continue as the leaves unfurl over a five-week period and don’t fade. It needs space around it to be fully appreciated. 7m
RHS H6, USDA 4a-8b.

Magnolia ’Elizabeth’

A single or multi-stemmed small magnolia tree initially upright but ultimately round headed. Its primrose-yellow flowers, which when fully open are 20cm across, appear from early April before the leaves and flowers and last for about four weeks. 7m. AGM. RHS H6, USDA 5a-8b.

Magnolia ‘Gold Star’

A single or multi-stemmed small magnolia tree, upright to pyramidal in habit with pale-yellow flowers that fade to cream-coloured, star-like flowers with 14 tepals. Flowers open in late March before the burnt-red leaves that eventually fade to green. 5m. RHS H6, USDA 5a-8b.

Tips for buying and growing magnolias

  • Most of the magnolias you’re likely to buy from a nursery or garden centre will have been grown as shrubs in five-to ten-litre pots, although you can find some trees and larger specimens in containers up to 20 litres in size.
  • The most important thing when choosing a magnolia tree is to look for a vigorous specimen that is showing evidence of new growth.
  • A pot-bound tree will take at least a year longer to establish.
  • Magnolias are best grown in a moisture-retentive, but not waterlogged, soil that can be either acidic or mildly alkaline.
  • If you’re planting your yellow magnolia into a heavy clay soil, then add some quarried grit and organic matter to open up the soil structure.
  • The ideal time to plant your yellow magnolia is in autumn while soil temperatures are high, but you can plant at most times of the year except during drought periods of high summer.
  • Always water well during the first year to establish the magnolia tree.
  • If you’re planting a larger specimen or planting in an exposed location, use a low stake to secure the tree.
  • Check the tree tie periodically and loosen if necessary and remove the stake after two to three years.

Where to see and buy

Arboretum Wespelaar, Grote Baan, 63-B 3150, Haacht-Wespelaar, Belgium. Tel +32 (0)1660 8641, arboretumwespelaar.be

Ashwood Nurseries, Ashwood Lower Lane, Ashwood, Kingswinford, West Midlands DY6 0AE. Tel 01384 401996, ashwoodnurseries.com

Borde Hill Garden, Haywards Heath, West Sussex RH16 1XP. Tel 01444 450326, bordehill.co.uk

Burncoose Nurseries, Gwennap, Redruth, Cornwall TR16 6BJ. Tel 01209 860316, burncoose.co.uk

Caerhays Castle, Gorran, St Austell, Cornwall PL26 6LY. Tel 01872 501310, caerhays.co.uk

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RHS Garden, Wisley, Woking, Surrey GU23 6QB. Tel 01483 224234, rhs.org.uk

Magnolia Tree

Magnolia Tree

Magnolias are one of the great heralds of spring. These wonderful trees boast showy blooms—usually before the trees have even sprouted foliage. The sight of whole trees covered in thickly petaled blooms is truly stunning. As an added perk, many are also wonderfully fragrant. Some varieties are grown for lovely evergreen foliage that has fuzzy copper-colored undersides that looks good in holiday wreaths.

genus name
  • Magnolia
light
  • Part Sun,
  • Sun
plant type
  • Tree
height
  • 20 feet or more
width
  • 20 feet or more
flower color
  • Purple,
  • White,
  • Pink,
  • Yellow
foliage color
  • Blue/Green
season features
  • Winter Interest
problem solvers
  • Slope/Erosion Control
special features
  • Fragrance,
  • Good for Containers
zones
  • 5,
  • 6,
  • 7,
  • 8,
  • 9
propagation
  • Seed,
  • Stem Cuttings

Types of Magnolias

There are so many different magnolias to choose from that it’s difficult to pick just one. To narrow your choices, first consider hardiness. In Northern climates, selection is much more limited, especially when it comes to time of bloom. Even if plants are hardy, early-blooming species often lose their flower buds because of late frosts. So bud hardiness becomes a major issue, especially in saucer-type magnolias. Another important factor to consider, especially if you live in a Southern climate, is the type of tree your are looking for: evergreen or deciduous.

See more of our favorite flowering trees and shrubs.

The main type is the saucer magnolia. When Northerners hear the word magnolia, this is what probably comes to mind. Saucer magnolias typically bloom in early spring, with a few in late winter. Flowers open just before the foliage does, so naked stems can be completely covered in showy blooms. These trees also tend to have a pleasant scent. Saucer magnolias can grow to be quite large trees, upwards of 70 feet depending on the variety. They are also deciduous.

Another large group of magnolias are star magnolias. These beauties typically bloom a bit later than the saucer types: late winter or early spring depending on the variety. Star magnolias are also one of the hardiest magnolias. The long and narrow flower petals emerge in white and sometimes light pink and have a pleasant fragrance. They come in a smaller package as well, reaching only 15-20 feet. Star magnolias also grow as multistem shrubs.

Southern magnolias are another popular class of this tree. Popular in Southern climates, they are not as winter hardy as the others. These magnolias are generally evergreen with thick, deep green leaves that have a fuzzy underside. Often, these magnolias are grown more for their foliage than their blooms. Flowers are generally bright white but do not bloom as profusely as the other types of magnolias.

See types of dwarf magnolias.

Magnolia Care Must-Knows

These showy trees are easy to grow and have a fairly short list of demands. Highest on their list is well-drained soils. Don’t let these trees stay too wet for long periods of time; they will not tolerate standing water but like to remain moist throughout their growing season. Once they are established, many varieties can be quite drought tolerant.

For the best flower show, plant your magnolias in full sun. A few types can manage in part shade, but they prefer full sun. In hot Southern climates, some types may perform better with some shelter from the hot afternoon sun, especially while they get established.

Magnolias don’t run into many problems. The biggest issue is bud hardiness. If you select a variety appropriate for your zone, this shouldn’t be a problem. The worst that will happen is you will lose out on some flowers—nothing deadly.

When Is the Best Time to Prune Magnolias?

More Varieties of Magnolia

‘Alexandrina’ saucer magnolia

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Magnolia soulangeana ‘Alexandrina’ is an early-blooming selection with large rosy flowers with white centers. It grows 20 feet tall and wide. Zones 5-9

‘Elizabeth’ magnolia

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Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’ displays primrose-yellow blooms that make it a standout in the landscape. This slow-growing tree reaches 25 feet tall and about 15 feet wide. Zones 4-8

‘Little Gem’ magnolia

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Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’ is a compact Southern magnolia bearing small white flowers. The tree grows 20 feet tall and 10 feet wide. Zones 7-9

‘Dr. Merrill’ magnolia

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Magnolia loebneri ‘Dr. Merrill’ is a fast-growing tree to 30 feet and produces white spring flowers at an early age. Zones 5-9

Saucer magnolia

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Magnolia soulangeana produces large bowl-shape flowers in shades of pink on bare branches in early spring. It grows 20 feet tall and wide. Zones 5-9

Cucumber tree

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Magnolia acuminata is a North American native tree that offers tropical-looking, 10-inch-long leaves and greenish-yellow flowers in early summer. It grows 70 feet tall and 30 feet wide. Zones 4-8

‘Waterlily’ magnolia

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Magnolia stellata ‘Waterlily’ is grown for its lush blooms. As many as 36 sparkling white petals with pink undersides make up each flower of this 10- to 15-foot-tall shrub. Zones 4-9

‘Niemetzi’ saucer magnolia

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Magnolia soulangeana ‘Niemetzi’ has a distinct upright form. It grows 20 feet tall and 10 feet wide. Zones 5-9

Oyama magnolia

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Magnolia sieboldii is a spreading tree that bears large, cup-shape white blooms from late spring until late summer. It grows 25 feet tall and 40 feet wide. Zones 6-9

Southern magnolia

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Magnolia grandiflora is among the most majestic. This evergreen bears huge white, fragrant flowers. Native to North America, it grows 60 feet tall and 40 feet wide. Zones 7-9

‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ magnolia

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Magnolia grandiflora ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ is a compact cultivar that grows about 30 feet tall. It is one of the most cold-hardy Southern magnolias available. Zones 6-9

Elegant, Evergreen Magnolias

December 12, 2016 1:51 pm

Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) is graced with outstanding evergreen foliage and glorious bowl-shaped spring flowers. (image by Pam Beck)

Gardening in eastern North America has many challenges. But it also has many glories. Among the latter are the two evergreen magnolia species that call the region home. Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) and evergreen forms of sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana var. australis) have it all: handsome gray bark; large, sweet-scented, creamy-white flowers in late spring (and sporadically until fall); and evergreen leaves that take center stage in winter.

Southern magnolias add evergreen beauty to dull winter landscapes. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

These native beauties are also more cold-tolerant than most gardeners know. Although they hail from the Southeast United States, they succeed in cultivation into USDA Zone 5b. Centerpieces of many a Mid-Atlantic and Southeast garden, they’re also capable of making a statement in parts of New England, New York, and the Midwest.

Southern magnolia is one of those big, bold, primordial plants that looks like it just dropped in from the Cretaceous. Indeed, its ancestors dominated much of Earth’s vegetation some 70- to 90-million years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the planet. But this magnificent magnolia also works just fine as a visually dominant specimen tree for twenty-first-century landscapes.

In its boldest forms, Magnolia grandiflora takes the primordial look to awe-inspiring lengths (and breadths). The aptly named ‘Goliath’ (and the somewhat similar ‘Gloriosa’) produces enormous cupped flowers of ivory that open to a foot or more across, displayed against large, polished, relatively broad leaves. The flowers of ‘Samuel Sommer’ are even larger (to 14 inches across), and its leaves have striking rust-brown felting on their undersides. Selected for its abundance of bloom, ‘Majestic Beauty’ also features immense deep green leaves and a symmetrical, broadly conical growth habit. Cultivars ‘Angustifolia’ and ‘Lanceolata’ have narrower leaves, felted brown underneath.

The more delicate ‘Edith Bogue’ is best espaliered against a sturdy, protective wall.

Although typically forming a slow-growing, 40- to 60-foot tree, Southern magnolia sometimes assumes more compact forms, as in the narrowly conical, 30-foot-tall ‘Little Gem’. Its 4-inch-wide flowers are relatively precocious (most Southern magnolias varieties take several years to a decade to come to bloom), and as with most varieties, they recur sparingly after the main flush in late spring.

Two other compact Magnolia grandiflora cultivars are of particular interest to Northern gardeners. Both ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ and ‘Edith Bogue’ have a good chance of succeeding into USDA Zone 5b in sites protected from winter sun and harsh northwest winds. For sheer hardiness and sturdiness, ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ can’t be beat, although even this toughest of Southern magnolias will go brownish-tan in cold, Zone-6 winters. The slightly more delicate ‘Edith Bogue’ is notorious for losing limbs to heavy winter snow, and functions best in North gardens as an espalier, with her branches fixed to a stout frame (a shaded east-facing wall is ideal).

Whatever the climatic zone, Southern magnolia does best in relatively fertile soil that’s not too sandy or heavy. A good compost (such as Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost) can help bring marginal soils into line.

The highly fragrant blooms of sweetbay appear in spring and are almost primrose yellow. (Image by Jessie Keith)

Native from Texas to North-Coastal Massachusetts, Magnolia virginiana makes a natural choice for gardens from USDA Zones 5 to 9. Evergreen forms of this elegant small tree – known botanically as variety australis – are confined to the Southeast, and tend to either expire or defoliate in Zone 5 and 6 winters. Exceptions do occur, however, including the cultivars ‘Henry Hicks’ and ‘Moonglow’, both of which are hardy and often evergreen (or semi-evergreen) into Zone 5b.

In all its forms, sweetbay magnolia is one of the finest small trees for American gardens. Typically single-trunked in warmer climes and multi-stemmed in chillier regions, it bears oval, rich green leaves with silvery undersides that shimmer in the breeze. The cupped, creamy (almost primrose yellow) flowers debut in late spring and continue sporadically throughout summer, casting a piquant, questing fragrance reminiscent of roses or lemons. Attractive clusters of red-fleshed fruits follow the blooms. Often found in wetlands in nature, Magnolia virginiana is well suited for moister areas of the landscape (and loathes dry, sandy soil).

Before planting evergreen magnolias, fortify your soil with Fafard Natural & Organic Compost Blend.

Also well worth growing is the hybrid between sweetbay magnolia and umbrella magnolia (Magnolia tripetala), which combines the fragrant, summer-long blooms of the former with the bold, primordial, deciduous foliage of the latter. Its cultivar ‘Cairn Croft’ is sometimes available from specialty nurseries. Crosses between sweetbay and Southern magnolia have been developed and introduced by hybridizers, but offer no notable advantages over the parents. For year-round leafage and beauty, these two exceptional natives can’t be beat.

About Russell Stafford

Hortiholic and plant evangelist, Russell Stafford, transplanted his first perennial at age 7 and thereby began a lifelong plant addiction. He is the founder and custodian of Odyssey Bulbs (and Odyssey Perennials), an online nursery specializing in cool and uncommon plants. Russell also works as a horticultural consultant, freelance writer (Horticulture and The American Gardener magazines), and garden editor. He formerly served as Curator and Head of Horticulture at Fernwood Botanic Garden in Niles, Michigan and as the Horticultural Program Coordinator at the Center for Plant Conservation, then located at the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. His academic degrees include a masters in forest science from Harvard University.

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