Southern magnolia tree in bloom

Southern Magnolia Facts – Tips On Planting A Southern Magnolia Tree

Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) is a magnificent tree cultivated for its glossy green leaves and lovely white blossoms. Remarkably flexible for an outstanding ornamental, southern magnolia thrives not only in the South, but also in the Pacific Northwest. If you are thinking of planting a southern magnolia tree, you’ll want to read up on the trees and their cultural requirements. Read on for all the information you need about southern magnolia care.

Southern Magnolia Facts

Magnoliasare named after French botanist Pierre Magnol. He spotted the trees and liked them so much that he brought some to Europe three centuries ago. Before you start growing southern magnolias, you need to realize that your slender saplings will mature into very large trees. Check the size of your planting site before you proceed.

These trees grow to a height of 80 feet tall with a spread of some 40 feet. Southern magnolia facts suggest that the trees grow quite fast, shooting up some 12 to 24 inches per year.

Is Southern Magnolia Deciduous or Evergreen?

Although many gardeners love the white, fragrant blossoms, the leaves are also beautiful and reason enough to start growing southern magnolias. The leaves are long and leathery, growing up to 10 inches long. Southern magnolia is an evergreen, so you’ll see those glossy, deep green leaves on the canopy all winter long.

But the blossoms are also exceptional. The petals grow in white or ivory and these cup-shaped blooms can grow to over a foot across! Those growing southern magnolia generally rave about the sweet delightful fragrance of the flowers. When the flowers fade, look for brown cones and bright red seeds.

Southern Magnolia Tree Care

Southern magnolia tree care is easiest when you pick a correct site for this ornamental. Before you start planting a southern magnolia tree, read up on its growing requirements.

These magnolias are surprisingly hardy for trees termed “southern.” Southern magnolia facts tell you that they thrive in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 6 through 10. This means that gardeners in half the nation can cultivate them.

On the other hand, you’ll want to find a location with deep, loamy or sandy soil that is acidic or at least pH neutral. The soil must be well draining for the trees to thrive.

If you want a healthy tree with the maximum number of spring flowers, plant your magnolia in full sun. It will also grow in partial shade as long as it gets at least four hours a day of direct, unfiltered sunlight. If you live in the north, provide the tree protection from winter sun.

The root system of the southern magnolia is shallow and wide-spreading. Provide adequate irrigation without leaving the soil wet.

Magnolia grandiflora

  • Attributes: Genus: Magnolia Species: grandiflora Family: Magnoliaceae Uses (Ethnobotany): It was traditionally used medicinally to treat circulatory system disorders. The leaves, fruits, bark and wood yield variety of extracts with potential applications of pharmaceuticals. Life Cycle: Woody Country Or Region Of Origin: Southeastern United States Distribution: Maryland south west to Texas southeast to Florida. Fire Risk Rating: medium flammability Wildlife Value: It provides winter and severe weather cover. Its seeds are eaten by birds and small mammals. Play Value: Attracts Pollinators Edible fruit Fragrance Shade Wildlife Food Source Particularly Resistant To (Insects/Diseases/Other Problems): The Southern magnolia is moderately resistant to deer damage, and is highly salt tolerant. Dimensions: Height: 60 ft. 0 in. – 80 ft. 0 in. Width: 30 ft. 0 in. – 50 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits: Plant Type: Native Plant Tree Leaf Characteristics: Broadleaf Evergreen Habit/Form: Conical Dense Pyramidal Growth Rate: Medium Maintenance: Medium Texture: Coarse
  • Cultural Conditions: Light: Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day) Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours) Soil Texture: High Organic Matter Loam (Silt) Soil Drainage: Good Drainage Moist Available Space To Plant: 24-60 feet more than 60 feet NC Region: Coastal Usda Plant Hardiness Zone: 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b
  • Fruit: Fruit Color: Brown/Copper Red/Burgundy Fruit Value To Gardener: Edible Display/Harvest Time: Fall Fruit Type: Aggregate Follicle Fruit Description: The flowers give way to spherical cone-like fruiting clusters that are an aggregate of follicles (to 3-5” long) and mature in late summer to early fall, releasing individual rose-red coated seeds suspended on slender red threads at maturity. Fruits are rusty-tomentose.
  • Flowers: Flower Color: Cream/Tan White Flower Value To Gardener: Fragrant Good Cut Showy Flower Bloom Time: Spring Summer Flower Petals: 6 petals/rays Flower Size: > 6 inches Flower Description: The Southern Magnolia has fragrant creamy white flowers (to 8-12” diameter) that are usually composed of six petals. The flowers bloom in late spring, with sparse continued flowering throughout the summer. Flowers are solitary, axillary, scattered on the plant, and have a perianth (6″ long) of 9-15 members.
  • Leaves: Leaf Characteristics: Broadleaf Evergreen Leaf Color: Brown/Copper Green Leaf Feel: Glossy Leaf Type: Simple Leaf Arrangement: Alternate Leaf Shape: Elliptical Ovate Leaf Margin: Entire Hairs Present: Yes Leaf Length: > 6 inches Leaf Description: The Southern Magnolia has 5-10 alternate, simple, leathery evergreen ovate to elliptic leaves (5-10” long). They are glossy dark green above and variable pale green to gray-brown beneath. It has felt-like fuzz and rusty-brown tomentose on back of its leaves. Leaves are stiffly coriaceous, acute, cuneate, and entire.
  • Bark: Bark Color: Dark Brown Dark Gray Surface/Attachment: Patchy Smooth Bark Description: The bark is brown to grey and smooth when young. As the tree ages, close plates or scales develop.
  • Stem: Stem Is Aromatic: No Stem Description: Branches are borne to ground level and are spreading.
  • Landscape: Landscape Location: Coastal Recreational Play Area Landscape Theme: Children’s Garden Edible Garden Garden for the Blind Native Garden Pollinator Garden Design Feature: Flowering Tree Shade Tree Specimen Attracts: Pollinators Small Mammals Songbirds Resistance To Challenges: Diseases Insect Pests Salt Urban Conditions Wet Soil

Southern Magnolia

The Southern magnolia tree is a splendid, broad-leaved evergreen, native to the southeastern United States. The magnolia has flamboyant, large flowers and attractive, waxy, tropical-looking leaves, both of which add distinction to the garden landscape. It is a handsome, low-branching tree, reaching heights of 60 to 80 feet. It displays wooly young buds and eight-inch-long, thick, shiny leaves. The huge, solitary blooms are white and exude a lovely fragrance. Its fruit is three to four inches long and conelike, revealing red seeds when opened.

How to grow: Plant container-grown or balled-and-burlapped plants in spring. The soil should be fertile, deep, well-drained, and slightly acidic. This tree tolerates high soil moisture but should be protected from wind. Avoid transplanting once it is situated. It can be pruned after flowering, if needed. Pests are not a particular problem.


Uses: Southern magnolia is used in the South as a specimen tree, but it does have a good deal of leaf litter. It is best used where it has ample room to develop without having to cut off the lower limbs.

Scientific name: Magnolia grandiflora

Want more information? Try these:

  • Fruit Trees. These memorable trees allow sunlight to trickle through to nourish the fruit, and can adorn many a yard.
  • Flowering Trees. Standing along, these trees make a strong visual impact. With strong leaves and vivid flowers, they’re interesting all year long.
  • Shade Trees. Towering overhead, shade trees can complement even the biggest house, and define the amount of sunlight that reaches your yard.

Transplanting a Magnolia Tree

A magnolia tree, depending on the type, is difficult, but not impossible to transplant. For the best results, determine which type of magnolia tree you have and then follow the instructions for transplanting.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Kathy Bosin adds, “The two most important things in transplanting are planting depth and water. Make sure that the new hole for your tree is the same depth as the old one. Remember to water deeply after transplanting.”

When to Transplant

Deciduous magnolias are best transplanted in the fall. Some magnolia tree types, however, such as saucer magnolia, can be transplanted almost any time. Remember, however, that root pruning must be done well in advance of transplanting. For transplanting a magnolia tree in the fall, root pruning must be done the previous spring. Root prune in the fall to transplant the following spring.

Root Pruning a Magnolia Tree

Root pruning is to stimulate growth of new feeder roots close to the tree. These are the magnolia roots that will be dug up with the root ball when the tree is transplanted.

  • Water soil thoroughly around the magnolia tree.
  • Tie up or protect lower tree branches.
  • Measure and mark the area to be pruned. Allow 10 to 12 inches for each 1-inch diameter of magnolia tree trunk.
  • Cut a trench around the tree using a flat spade. Use loppers to cut larger roots.
  • Dig the trench down to about a 2-foot depth. The idea is to reach as many lateral roots as possible.
  • After all the cutting and pruning is complete, replace the soil (subsoil and topsoil) around the tree.
  • Water thoroughly and remove protective covering.
  • Do not dig any more around the tree until time to transplant.

Transplanting a Magnolia Tree

For general planning purposes, anticipate cutting a magnolia root ball 4 to 6 inches out from where the roots were pruned the previous fall or spring. Then proceed as follows:

  • Water the soil thoroughly to soften the soil, reduce stress to the tree, and keep the root ball intact.
  • Dig the new hole 2 to 3 times as wide as the root ball—but keep the depth the same.
  • Thoroughly water the hole before transplanting.
  • Tie off the branches of the magnolia tree or otherwise protect them.
  • Mark the soil 4 to 6 inches beyond where the roots were previously pruned.
  • Dig all around the tree, going outside the mark. Dig deeper and cut out larger roots with loppers.
  • Next, dig underneath the magnolia tree root ball.
  • Place tarp or burlap beside the root ball.
  • Tilt the root ball onto the tarp or burlap. Lift from underneath the plant. Do not tilt by the trunk.
  • If not transplanting immediately, keep the root ball moist by wrapping in burlap or wet newspaper.
  • Move magnolia tree to the new area, position in the hole, and backfill with subsoil and topsoil.
  • Water the newly transplanted magnolia tree deeply.
  • If you do not receive regular rainfall, ensure a consistent and deep watering schedule every 10 to 14 days.
  • Add 2 to 3 inches of organic mulch around the magnolia tree.
  • Stake taller trees.
  • Do not fertilize until after the first year.

Finally, remember that a magnolia tree will take several years to recover from the shock of being transplanted. It may not flower or appear to grow much during this time. Some magnolia tree varieties may recover more quickly.

Growing Southern Magnolia

Circular 974 View PDF picture_as_pdf

Gary L. Wade, Extension Horticulturist
Department of Horticulture

Southern magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora, is an aristocratic tree. It grows well throughout Georgia, is widely adaptable to a variety of soils and has few pest problems. With glossy evergreen foliage and large white fragrant blossoms, it truly is one of the most handsome and durable native trees for our Southern landscapes.

Most cultivars of Southern magnolia are seedling selections that have been vegetatively propagated, which results in a wide variety of tree shapes, leaf sizes and leaf coloration. Some nurseries also sell seedling trees; however, seedling trees may take 10 years or more to flower.

Today, there are several superior cultivars of Southern magnolia on the market (Table 1). Many new cultivars flower at an earlier age and have a tighter, denser canopy or smaller growth habit than the seedling forms. Another popular characteristic is a rusty-bronze appearance of the underside of the leaves.

Where and When to Plant

Southern magnolia is most frequently grown as a single specimen tree in the landscape. Its coarse-textured leaves provide an excellent background for shrubs, particularly needle evergreens. Since the tree sheds old leaves each spring and seed pods in late summer, it can be messy when planted in a lawn area. It?s best to plant it in an ornamental bed along with other plants where the leaf litter can serve as a mulch.

A row of Southern magnolias provides an excellent screen or hedge to block undesirable views or to define property lines. It can also be grown as an espalier against a wall, but be prepared to provide extra care to train and maintain the tree in the desired shape. Southern magnolia can be grown in sun or shade. It prefers moist, well-drained, acidic soils. It is tolerant of high moisture levels and can be planted in areas prone to wet/dry fluctuations in soil moisture.

Container-grown Southern magnolias can be planted successfully any time of year. Balled and burlapped trees are usually transplanted from August to October. Don’t be alarmed if the tree sheds an unusually large number of leaves during the first growing season; transplant shock is common with Southern magnolia.


If possible, dig the planting hole at least two times wider than and as deep as the root ball. Be certain the top of the root ball is level with the soil surface, then backfill with the native soil after breaking apart clods and removing stones or other debris. Water thoroughly to settle the soil. Finally, apply 3 to 5 inches of mulch on the soil surface to conserve moisture and to prevent weeds. Wait until the tree is established and putting forth new growth before fertilizing.

On windy, exposed sites, guy wires may be necessary to hold the tree in place during the first growing season. Place the wire inside a section of old garden hose before wrapping it around the tree to prevent girdling and injury to the trunk.


Once established, growth can be accelerated with light, frequent applications of fertilizer during the first three growing seasons. During the first growing season after establishment, apply ½ pound (1 cup) of 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 fertilizer along the perimeter of the planting hole in March, May and July. The second year, increase the rate of the fertilizer to 2 cups and broadcast it in a donut-shaped area from the tips of the canopy to 3 feet beyond the canopy in March, May and July. By the third year, increase the rate to 4 cups and spread it in a donut-shaped area from the tips of the canopy to 6 feet beyond the canopy in March, May and July. By the fourth year, the tree should have a well-established root system and should be able to forage for nutrients on its own. Magnolia roots have been shown to grow more than three times further than the canopy width of the tree, so they can obtain nutrients applied to nearby plants and turfgrass.

Southern magnolia is most often grown as a single-trunk tree, but it can also be grown in a multi-trunk form. Begin shaping the plant while it is young by selectively thinning side branches as needed to produce and maintain the desired growth form. In formal landscapes, the tree is sometimes sheared once or twice a season to encourage branching and to maintain a tight, compact form. However, the tree looks best when allowed to grow in a more open, natural form with branching all the way to the ground.


Dirr, Michael A. 1998. Manual of Woody Landscape Plants. Stipes Publishing Co.

Table 1. Popular Southern Magnolia Cultivars
‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ One of the most popular cultivars in the trade, prized for lustrous green leaves with a fuzzy, rusty texture on their undersides. The tree reaches 30 to 50 feet tall and 30 feet wide, so it needs room to spread. It tends to be self-branching and forms a dense canopy.
‘Claudia Wannamaker’ This tree flowers at an early age and has dark green foliage with medium rusty-brown undersides. It is one of the most widely grown cultivars, reaching 50 feet tall and 40 feet wide.
‘D.D. Blanchard’ Leathery, lustrous, dark green leaves with rich, orange-brown undersides. In youth, the tree is more open than ‘Claudia Wannamaker.? It reaches 50+ feet tall at maturity.
‘Edith Bogue’ Among the most cold hardy of the magnolias. The tight pyramidal form reaches 30 feet tall and 15 feet wide with narrow, lustrous dark green leaves. The loose and open growth habit becomes more dense with age.
?Greenback? A selection from Bold Springs Nursery in Monroe, Ga., with lustrous, wavy, dark green leaves and a tight, dense form growing 30 feet tall and 12 feet wide. A good choice for screening.
‘Hasse’ Tight columnar form with lustrous, dark green upper leaf surface with dark brown undersides. Ideal for small spaces and screening. Reaches 40 feet tall and 15 feet wide.
‘Little Gem’ One of the smallest of the magnolias, reaching 30 feet tall and 15 feet wide. Small, dark green leaves are bronze-brown beneath. The tree flowers at a young age. Leaves and flowers are smaller than most other magnolias. A 2000 Georgia Gold Medal Winner.
‘Majestic Beauty’ Extravagantly large plant with large leaves and large, profuse flowers up to 12 inches in diameter. Very little lustrous dark green leaves. The tree reaches 50 feet tall with a spread of 20 feet.
‘Samuel Sommer’ Dark green leaves with a brownish-rust underside. An upright, pyramidal tree growing 40 feet tall and 30 feet wide. Flowers are 10 to 14 inches in diameter.
?Teddy Bear? A compact form reaching 20 feet tall and 10 feet wide. Leaves are smaller than most other magnolias, 2 to 4 inches wide and 3 to 6 inches long. They are lustrous green above and fuzzy, rusty brown below. Flowers from May to November.

Status and Revision History
Published on Sep 23, 2009
Published with Full Review on Sep 01, 2012
Published with Full Review on Aug 07, 2017

Soil Preparation For Planting Southern Magnolia – Knowledgebase Question

I personally do not recommend magnolias for the desert, as they are usually stressed in our conditions. Stressed trees are more susceptible to insects and disease and require more maintenance just to keep them alive. However, following are the latest tree planting guidelines. Do not fertilize newly planted trees for about one year and do not amend the backfill.
Trees develop shallow, spreading root systems in the top two to three feet of soil and have few deep or ?tap? roots. Till or loosen an area of soil that is five times as wide and only as deep as the tree?s root ball (or container size). Starting with a wide section of aerated soil provides roots with oxygen and allows them to spread easily.
In the center of this area, dig a planting hole that is twice as wide as the root ball and no deeper. The top of the root ball should be level with the ground?or just slightly above to allow for sinkage.
Do not amend the backfill with organic matter. In over 30 studies on trees, no advantage was found to incorporating amendments into the backfill. Ensure that the tree is securely upright but do not heavily tamp or pack the backfill, which compacts soil and impedes water and oxygen flow.
Form a circular berm, or rim, to make a water well on the outside of the root ball. The goal is to keep water away from the trunk to discourage disease.
Add a three- to five-inch-deep layer of mulch around the tree?s entire planting zone. Mulch conserves water by keeping soil temperatures cooler and reducing evaporation. Keep mulch about six inches away from the trunk to help prevent disease. Fertilizer isn?t needed for a tree?s first year.
Water the extended planting zone slowly and deeply. Soil should remain moist but not too wet during the first year of growth. Always water deeply (two feet) to encourage root growth and to flush salts below the roots? active growing area. Deep, infrequent irrigation is preferable. Frequent, shallow sprinklings do more harm than good. To determine how far water has penetrated, poke a soil probe (any long metal rod or screwdriver) into the soil. It will move easily through moist soil, stopping abruptly where soil is dry. As trees mature, expand the watering zone somewhat beyond the tree?s canopy (or dripline), which is where roots are actively growing.

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