Magnolia Little Gem vs Teddy Bear: What’s the Difference?

While both plants are easy to grow and beautiful to look at, they have some minor differences that may sway you one way or the other.

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Featured Image: David Stang I Wikimedia I CC BY-SA 4.0

If you’re looking for the right magnolia to plant in your garden, you’ve probably come across two of the most popular varieties: Little Gem and Teddy Bear.

Both the Magnolia Little Gem and the Magnolia Teddy Bear are hardy, evergreen trees that produce glossy deep green leaves and large white flowers.

While both plants are easy to grow and beautiful to look at, they have some minor differences that may sway you one way or the other.

Magnolia Little Gem vs Teddy Bear: Quick Answer

Here are the key differences between these two plants:

  • The Magnolia Little Gem grows taller (6 metres) than the Teddy Bear (4 metres).
  • The Teddy Bear is naturally denser, making it better suited as a screening hedge.
  • There is a significant cost difference. At the time of writing, the Magnolia Teddy Bear costs more than twice as much as the Little Gem for the same sized plant.

Appearance

Magnolia Teddy Bear I S.G.S I Wikimedia I CC0 1.0

Both plants have evergreen foliage that is glossy deep green on top with a furry brown underside.

The leaves are large and leathery and similar in size between the two varieties.

Both plants have white flowers that appear in spring and summer. They also produce clusters of small non-edible red berries in autumn.

However, the Teddy Bear is naturally denser, making it better suited as a screening hedge.

Height and size

The Magnolia Little Gem and the Magnolia Teddy Bear are both evergreen trees that grow to around 3 metres in width but differ in height.

The Magnolia Teddy Bear will grow to about 4 metres tall, whereas the Magnolia Little Gem can reach 6 metres in height.

The Teddy Bear is, therefore, better for smaller yards and gardens.

Commonly used for

Magnolia Teddy Bear I Michael Rivera I Wikimedia I CC BY-SA 4.0

Both types of magnolia trees are popular for their beauty and versatility.

They can be pruned back and used as hedges or left to grow naturally and used as feature trees.

They are also used as ornamental trees in gardens and public spaces.

Both types are also popular for their evergreen foliage and showy flowers that attract birds and insects.

Preferred growing conditions

Both varieties prefer partial shade to full sun.

It is, however, recommended that Magnolias are shaded from the harsh afternoon sun.

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

They can tolerate a range of soil types including loamy, clay, and sandy soil.

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

Drought and frost tolerance

Both Magnolia Little Gem and Magnolia Teddy Bear are hardy plants and fairly drought-tolerant.

They can handle dry conditions well and even light frosts, but both dislike temperatures below zero for extended periods of time.

Caring for a Magnolia Little Gem or Teddy Bear

Magnolia Little Gem I Michael Rivera I Wikimedia I CC BY-SA 4.0

Being hardy plants, both Magnolia varieties are easy to care for.

They require a moderate amount of water and will benefit from fertiliser once or twice a year in autumn and spring.

Select a fertiliser that has plenty of nitrogen but also a good proportion of potassium and some phosphorus.

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.

Both are suitable for growing in full sun or partial shade, so long as the soil is relatively moist and well-drained.

These varieties have similar growing requirements, so this shouldn’t be a factor in deciding which one you choose.

Pests and diseases

Although magnolia grandiflora varieties are generally not susceptible to many pests and diseases, both the Little Gem and Teddy Bear can suffer in summer from caterpillars, aphids, mealybugs, and scale.

If the mealybugs or scale problem is mild, it may be possible to simply rinse off any visible insects during a regular watering.

However, if there is an infestation, your best bet will be to use a pesticide.

Aphids and scale can also be treated with an oil-based spray such as white oil.

Caterpillars can simply be picked off the leaves by hand or, in severe cases, you can spray the plant with an organic insecticide.

Here are other common problems and the likely causes:

  1. Brown leaves are usually caused by sun scorch.
  2. Yellow leaves are usually caused by inadequate nutrition or alkaline soil.
  3. Black spots on leaves are most likely due to a fungal disease.

Price

The price of plants can really add up quickly, especially if you’re purchasing a large number of them to plant along a fence line.

If you’re looking for the cheapest option, you’ll want to go with Magnolia Little Gem.

It’s a much more affordable option and is less than half the cost of a Magnolia Teddy Bear at the time of writing.

FAQ

How big does a Little Gem Magnolia get?

The Magnolia Little Gem will reach 6 metres tall and grows to be about 3 metres wide. The tree’s leaves are dark green and glossy, and it has white flowers that bloom in the spring.

How big do Teddy Bear Magnolias grow?

The Magnolia Teddy Bear grows up to 4 metres tall and 3 metres wide – making it perfect for small gardens where space is limited.

What is the best magnolia for a small garden?

The Magnolia Teddy Bear is a small-growing variety of magnolia that can be grown in a relatively small garden. They will grow to a maximum height of 4m. In contrast, the Greenback and Coolwyn gloss magnolia varieties grow up to 10m in height while the Exmouth can reach 12m.

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.

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Steve Kropp

Based in Melbourne, Steve's passion is vegetable gardening, and he’s been writing about it for almost 5 years. He also loves all things DIY, and is always up for a new project. When not working on his own garden projects or blogging, Steve enjoys spending time with his family, cooking delicious meals from fresh produce picked from his garden, and coaching his son’s footy team.