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!


Plant Profile: Early Spring Blooming Trees and Shrubs


Today I thought that we would take a look at some of the early spring blooming trees and shrubs. They are everywhere now and they’re such a delightful welcome after winter.

FLOWERING ALMOND (Prunus glandulosa)

 early spring blooming trees


SAUCER MAGNOLIA (Magnolia soulangiana)

Early spring blooming trees and shrubs


STAR MAGNOLIA (Magnolia stellata)

early spring blooming trees and shrubs


FORSYTHIA (Forsythia x intermedia)

early spring blooming trees and shrubs


FLOWERING QUINCE (Chaenomeles ‘Jet Trail’)

early spring blooming trees and shrubs


KWANZAN CHERRY (Prunus serrulata)

early spring flowering trees and shrubs

All of the early spring flowering trees and shrubs that we looked at today are blooming now in the Richmond, VA area. Well, all except the Kwanzan Cherry. I just wanted to add that one because it’s so beautiful when viewed up close. It makes quite a show while driving 45 miles per hour but if you have the opportunity to view the flowers at close range, you’ll be amazed by all of its beauty. The Saucer Magnolia flowers are no more as they were taken out by a freeze. Be sure to check out this post for more information on how to properly site a Magnolia soulangiana. And I know that Forysthia are planted ad nauseum but if they are allowed to grow into their natural form instead of being pruned into little meatballs, they are a beautiful shrub. OK Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers, what’s blooming in your area right now? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at Happy gardening!

Reader Question: Saucer Magnolia


Today’s reader question comes from Anthony in Williamsburg, VA:

I really like Saucer Magnolias but it seems that almost every year their blooms are killed by a spring freeze. I’d like to plant one in my yard but I’m wondering if there’s anything that I can do to prevent the blooms from being killed. Thanks.

Magnolia soulangianaAnthony, this is a timely topic as the Saucer Magnolias (Magnolia x soulangiana) in the Richmond, VA area are in heavy bud now. If the weather continues to be warm, they could be in full bloom in a few weeks. Given that Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow today and we have 6 more weeks of winter to endure, that may not be a good thing. I can sympathize with your concern over having a spring freeze ruin the beautiful blooms…for 8 years I watched a beautiful Saucer Magnolia’s blooms turn to mush until finally in the ninth year, they were able to make it through spring without a freeze.

There are several actions that you can take BEFORE you plant a Saucer Magnolia at your house to ensure that the blooms are enjoyed instead of mourned over.

  1. Plant the tree so that it has a northern orientation. Areas that face north are generally cooler which may sound counterintuitive, but it is the spring warmth that forces the trees to bloom. If you can keep the tree cooler so that it doesn’t realize the temperatures are as warm as they really are, you may be able to postpone blooming for a week or so which may be just enough time to eek past a few freezing nights.
  2. If you have a slope in your yard, plant at the top of the hill to avoid frost pockets. I’m not sure if you are aware, but colder air will flow downhill on a slope and if there is anything at the bottom to trap the air, the colder air will settle there and you end up with a frost pocket. The few degree difference can be just enough to cause your blooms to turn from beauty to beast.
  3. Try planting one of the later blooming cultivars. ‘Speciosa’ is a white flowered variety that blooms later and ‘Verbanica’ is a late blooming pink selection that maxes out at around 10′ tall.


Anthony, I hope that I’ve given you some things to consider when planting your Saucer Magnolia. Please realize that even by taking all of these precautions, there will be some springs where the blooms get zapped. If you know that the freeze is coming, cut some of the blooms and put them in a vase where you can still enjoy them indoors. If any of the other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers have suggestions for Anthony, leave them in the comment section below or e-mail me at Happy gardening!


February 2, 2012Permalink 1 Comment