Plant Profile: Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)

Southern grandeur. The classic Southern tree. The epitome of large plantations. Southern Magnolias. They are adored by virtually all those who grow them and they are the envy of many gardeners who don’t. Their gorgeous evergreen leaves are a favorite for Christmas decorations or any other special occasion that comes along.

Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) is native to all of the Deep South states including Texas and its northern range covers parts of Maryland. The ability to grow in such diverse conditions shows that Southern Magnolia is a tough tree. Southern Magnolia needs full sun to do its best, at least in the Mid-Atlantic gardening region. Perhaps in Texas it appreciates a little shade. It isn’t very particular about its soil type, so long as it’s not sitting in standing water. I’ve seen them used in streetscapes with very limited soil and they seem to do fine. In those conditions, they will never be as beautiful as the ones grown in an open area with lots of room to spread their roots, but that’s to be expected.

Southern Magnolia bloom in June and their flowers are simply fantastic. They are the subject of many pictures and paintings, most of which can be found in my Mom’s house…she just loves them. The 6″ to 8″ wide blooms are fragrant but not so much as to be overpowering. They are a vanilla white and persist on the tree for two to three weeks, depending on weather conditions. Here are some pictures of the buds, flowers and the seed pods.

Southern Magnolia
The buds


Southern Magnolia
The blooms


Southern Magnolia
The spent bloom


Southern magnolia
The beginning of the seed pod


southern magnoliaThe main drawback to growing Southern Magnolia is that they shed their leaves…right as the trees are flowering. Their thick, shiny green leaves don’t decompose readily and can’t just be chopped up with your lawnmower. This is one of those chores that require you to break out the rake in June. One way to solve this problem is to leave the full skirt on the tree instead of limbing it up. If you leave the skirt intact to the ground, most of the leaves will fall through the tree and remain as mulch for the tree. If you limb it up, you’ll have Magnolia leaves from one end of your property to the other.

There are many cultivars of Southern Magnolia that are available in the trade. Here are some of the most popular:

  1. Bracken’s Brown Beauty‘ – this variety grows from 30′ to 50′ tall by 15′ to 30′ wide versus 50′ to 80’ tall that the straight species can reach.
  2. Edith Bogue‘ – this selection takes a little longer to flower but it boasts two important characteristics: it’s more cold hardy (to Zone 6) and it has a tight pyramidal form.
  3. Little Gem‘ – if you need to squeeze a Southern Magnolia into a smaller space, ‘Little Gem’ is an option. Topping out at 20′ tall x 10′ wide, this is perfect for those more compact landscapes.


While all of the literature says that Southern Magnolia is only hardy to Zone 7, try pushing it if you have a warm area in your landscape. There are tons of microclimates within an average garden and you should try to utilize them when you can. Have you grown Southern Magnolia in your landscape? Have you pushed it past Zone 7? Leave me a comment below or shoot me an e-mail. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!