One of the treasures of spring is the magnolia tree in full bloom. There are about eighty different species of magnolias and hundreds of varieties. Many are native to the southeastern United States, but there are selections that can grow from USDA Zones 4 to 9, depending on the variety. Magnolias are either evergreen or deciduous. The large evergreen magnolias trees we think of as dripping with Spanish moss in the Southeast can grow 60 to 80 feet tall. However, there are also shorter selections of evergreen magnolias, as well as many small to medium sized deciduous trees. Magnolia flowers come in white, pink, rose, and yellow colors. They have the classic, sweet fragrance that we all recognize in spring when they bloom. Magnolias flowers can have trouble in colder regions because they bloom so early and may get touched by a late frost. It’s best to select the proper variety for your area and plant magnolias in protected spots to avoid this damage.
Some good varieties to try include ‘Little Gem’ and ‘Greenback’, Southern magnolias that grow less than 40 feet tall and are hardy to Zone 7. ‘Elizabeth’ and ‘Goldfinch’ are medium-sized deciduous trees with yellow flowers. ‘Centennial’ and ‘Royal Star’ are popular dwarf deciduous varieties that grow less than 25 feet tall and are winter hardy.
Plant magnolia trees in early spring in the North and in early spring or fall in the South. Find a location in full sun with well-drained soil. Magnolia roots are ropelike, so the tree doesn’t transplant well once established. Find a location where the tree can grow to its full size in the future, so you won’t have to move it. Magnolias grow best on fertile, slightly acidic soil that has been amended with compost. Once growing, they require little extra care other than adding mulch around their base and watering during dry periods. Only a few pests are problems for magnolias. Watch for aphids feeding on new leaves and the resulting sooty mold (black fungus) on the leaves and stems. Spray with insecticidal soap to kill the aphids. Also, watch for scale insects on the leaves and stems, and spray with horticultural oil to kill the insects.