Growing Magnolias

April 27, 2024

Nothing dainty about Magnolias.

Magnolias are out in full force.  Their bold blooms, primarily in pink and white are impossible to miss.  And this year’s mild spring is keeping Magnolias stronger and longer lasting than ever.

Magnolias pop their flower buds early in spring, a few days after Forsythias.  Flowers are bold and showy, with big petals that litter the ground when they finally fall.  Like Forsythias, Magnolias bloom before their leaves appear, giving an unobstructed show.

Drive around town and you will notice that the most impressive Magnolias are old, big, and mature.  Like a bottle of wine, young Magnolias are delightful, but the aged are finest.

Don’t let the size of Magnolias deter you from planting one in a small yard.  During the past few decades, nursery growers have created several new varieties, each with unique characteristics:  smaller size, improved colour, and longer lasting bloom.

The most common Magnolia is known as Saucer Magnolia, appropriately named because its pink blooms resemble fine China saucers.  Give Saucer Magnolia plenty of room to grow because it can eventually reach 6 metres high and wide.  Its popular smaller cousin, Star Magnolia, with white daisy like flowers, will grow to 3 or 4 metres high.

For a smaller Magnolia that would take up little room in the garden, consider ‘Genie,’ growing 3 to 4 metres high and just over one metre wide.  Bloom colour is striking in deep maroon.  Magnolia ‘Black Tulip’ is similar, eventually reaching 5 metres tall and 2 meters wide.

Most Magnolias retain the shape of a shrub, with multiple limbs originating from the base. ‘Yellow Bird’ grows to become a tree shape with a single tall stem, opening up to a traditional tree shape.  Colour is sulfur yellow.  For a tall and narrow pyramidal shape, look for ‘Judy Zuk’ also with yellow blooms.

Magnolias like to grow in a sunny location with fertile, well-drained soil.  Choose your location carefully, because once planted, Magnolias don’t like to be moved.  Magnolias do not enjoy heavy waterlogged soil.  Once established, Magnolias can be very drought tolerant.

Be patient when planting Magnolias, because they will take a year or two for their roots to be established. It may also take a few years for a young Magnolia to flower.

A bonus for Magnolias is their habit of often producing a second surprising set of blooms.  If lucky, these blooms appear in August, but won’t be as plentiful as the April blooms.