How to Grow and Care for a Magnolia

When you see those magnificent magnolia blooms, you know that spring is definitely on its way.

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Magnolias are not difficult to grow, especially in southern parts of Australia where temperatures are a little cooler.

Here’s all you need to know about growing and caring for magnolias.

How to plant a magnolia tree

To plant a new magnolia tree, you need to find the perfect spot first.

Ideally, magnolias prefer morning sun but like to be shaded from the scorching midday or afternoon sun.

If you can find the perfect spot in your garden, you’ll be able to enjoy this gorgeous tree for many years to come.

Here are some tips for planting:

  • Choose a spot with an easterly or northerly aspect.
  • Planting can be done at any time of the year but try and avoid times with extreme temperatures like the middle of summer or winter.
  • Young plants will need some frost protection in their early years.
  • Add some compost to the base of the hole before planting to provide additional nutrients.
  • After taking the plant out of the pot and placing it in the hole, make sure you water it in well. This will help to settle the soil around the roots.

How far apart to plant magnolias

If you’re planning to grow a magnolia little gem hedge, you want to space the plants around 1.5 metres apart. This will give them enough room to spread as they grow.

To grow individual specimen trees next to each other, you should space them around 2 to 5 metres apart depending on how much each variety is expected to spread.

What soil is best for magnolia trees?

Magnolias will grow happily in a free-draining soil that has plenty of organic matter added. They prefer a soil pH of around 5 to 6 which is slightly acidic. 

These lovely trees will also grow well in sandy soils as long as you’ve incorporated some organic matter or compost.

In heavy clay soils, it’s best to add some gypsum in order to improve the structure and drainage of the soil first.

How to grow magnolia from seed

If you want to try and grow your own magnolia from seed instead of buying a plant from the nursery or garden centre, the seeds should be planted in spring.

As magnolias are relatively slow-growing, it’s best to start your seeds in pots.

Bear in mind that growing these trees from seed will require some patience. You will also need to collect seeds from true species rather than hybrids or cultivars.

It can take several months for the seeds to germinate and several years for the plants to start flowering.

How to grow magnolia from cuttings

A better option is to grow your magnolia from cuttings. You can do this with any species even hybrids and cultivars. It’s also a much quicker process.

In fact, you could expect the plant to produce flowers in two years after successful propagation.

It’s also important to note that it’s not that easy to get magnolia cuttings to root. A lot will fail. Therefore, you need to take quite a few cuttings if you want some success.

Here are some tips:

  • Take the cuttings in summer after flowering has finished.
  • Always cut the stems down to a set of leaves.
  • Remove all of the bottom leaves of the cutting and leave only top leaves.
  • With a sharp knife or secateurs, slice off a small section of the bark at the base of the stem vertically.
  • Dip the stem ends in some rooting hormone and put them into small pots filled with a seed raising mix.
  • Create some humidity around the plant by placing a cloche or plastic bag over each pot. Or, place your cuttings in a hot house.
  • Make sure that you mist the cuttings on a regular basis to ensure that the soil remains moist but not wet.
  • It might take several months before the cuttings start producing roots, so you’ll have to be patient.

How to care for magnolias 

Magnolias are fairly low-care plants. They don’t experience many problems aside from occasional yellowing or brown leaves and don’t need you to fuss over them too much once they’re established in your garden.

All you need to worry about is that they get adequate water and a little fertiliser.

It’s also a good idea to place a layer of mulch around the base of the plant to keep the soil cooler and stop the moisture from evaporating too quickly.

What’s the best fertiliser for magnolias?

For your magnolia, you want to select a fertiliser that has plenty of nitrogen but also a good proportion of potassium and some phosphorus. Ideal N:P:K ratios to consider are 20:5:10 or 12:4:8.

Of course, the fertiliser that you select will depend on the type of soil that you have and whether it contains a lot of organic matter or not.

When should you fertilise your magnolias?

You can apply a fertiliser such as Dynamic Lifter once or twice a year in autumn and spring.

This should be enough to ensure your plant grows well. 

When and how to prune magnolias

In general, established magnolias don’t need a lot of pruning. In fact, it’s better not to prune them a lot as this encourages upward growth.

Here are some tips:

  • Young plants can be pruned to shape by removing any crossed branches.
  • You can also prune off the lower branches to give your plant a more formal look.
  • Mature magnolias shouldn’t be pruned except to remove dead branches.

FAQ

How fast does a magnolia tree grow?

Magnolias are medium to slow-growers. Depending on the variety, they will only put on around 30 to 60 cm of growth in a year.

How big do magnolia trees grow?

Once again, this depends on the variety. As an example, a magnolia little gem will grow to a height of around 4 metres. On the other hand, port wine magnolias will only reach a height of around 2 to 3 metres, while teddy bear magnolias will also grow to a height of around 4 metres.

When does magnolia flower?

Magnolias bloom from late winter to spring.

What should you plant under a magnolia teddy bear?

Any shade-loving plants can be planted under your magnolia teddy bear. This includes hydrangeas, clivias, and peace lilies.

Photo of author

Annette Hird

Annette Hird has an Associate Diploma of Applied Science in Horticulture. She has worked in a variety of production nurseries, primarily as a propagator. She also had the responsibility of a large homestead garden that included lawn care, fruit trees, roses and many other ornamental plants. More recently, Annette has concentrated on improving the garden landscape of the homes that she has lived in and focused a lot of energy on growing edible plants as well. She now enjoys sharing her experience and knowledge with others by writing articles about all facets of gardening and growing plants.