Magnolias are one of the great heralds of spring. These wonderful trees boast showy blooms—usually before the trees have even sprouted foliage. The sight of whole trees covered in thickly petaled blooms is truly stunning. As an added perk, many are also wonderfully fragrant. Some varieties are grown for lovely evergreen foliage that has fuzzy copper-colored undersides that looks good in holiday wreaths.
Types of Magnolias
There are so many different magnolias to choose from that it's difficult to pick just one. To narrow your choices, first consider hardiness. In Northern climates, selection is much more limited, especially when it comes to time of bloom. Even if plants are hardy, early-blooming species often lose their flower buds because of late frosts. So bud hardiness becomes a major issue, especially in saucer-type magnolias. Another important factor to consider, especially if you live in a Southern climate, is the type of tree your are looking for: evergreen or deciduous.
The main type is the saucer magnolia. When Northerners hear the word magnolia, this is what probably comes to mind. Saucer magnolias typically bloom in early spring, with a few in late winter. Flowers open just before the foliage does, so naked stems can be completely covered in showy blooms. These trees also tend to have a pleasant scent. Saucer magnolias can grow to be quite large trees, upwards of 70 feet depending on the variety. They are also deciduous.
Another large group of magnolias are star magnolias. These beauties typically bloom a bit later than the saucer types: late winter or early spring depending on the variety. Star magnolias are also one of the hardiest magnolias. The long and narrow flower petals emerge in white and sometimes light pink and have a pleasant fragrance. They come in a smaller package as well, reaching only 15-20 feet. Star magnolias also grow as multistem shrubs.
Southern magnolias are another popular class of this tree. Popular in Southern climates, they are not as winter hardy as the others. These magnolias are generally evergreen with thick, deep green leaves that have a fuzzy underside. Often, these magnolias are grown more for their foliage than their blooms. Flowers are generally bright white but do not bloom as profusely as the other types of magnolias.
Magnolia Care Must-Knows
These showy trees are easy to grow and have a fairly short list of demands. Highest on their list is well-drained soils. Don't let these trees stay too wet for long periods of time; they will not tolerate standing water but like to remain moist throughout their growing season. Once they are established, many varieties can be quite drought tolerant.
For the best flower show, plant your magnolias in full sun. A few types can manage in part shade, but they prefer full sun. In hot Southern climates, some types may perform better with some shelter from the hot afternoon sun, especially while they get established.
Magnolias don't run into many problems. The biggest issue is bud hardiness. If you select a variety appropriate for your zone, this shouldn't be a problem. The worst that will happen is you will lose out on some flowers—nothing deadly.
More Varieties of Magnolia
'Alexandrina' saucer magnolia
Magnolia soulangeana 'Alexandrina' is an early-blooming selection with large rosy flowers with white centers. It grows 20 feet tall and wide. Zones 5-9
Magnolia 'Elizabeth' displays primrose-yellow blooms that make it a standout in the landscape. This slow-growing tree reaches 25 feet tall and about 15 feet wide. Zones 4-8
'Little Gem' magnolia
Magnolia grandiflora 'Little Gem' is a compact Southern magnolia bearing small white flowers. The tree grows 20 feet tall and 10 feet wide. Zones 7-9
'Dr. Merrill' magnolia
Magnolia loebneri 'Dr. Merrill' is a fast-growing tree to 30 feet and produces white spring flowers at an early age. Zones 5-9
Magnolia soulangeana produces large bowl-shape flowers in shades of pink on bare branches in early spring. It grows 20 feet tall and wide. Zones 5-9
Magnolia acuminata is a North American native tree that offers tropical-looking, 10-inch-long leaves and greenish-yellow flowers in early summer. It grows 70 feet tall and 30 feet wide. Zones 4-8
Magnolia stellata 'Waterlily' is grown for its lush blooms. As many as 36 sparkling white petals with pink undersides make up each flower of this 10- to 15-foot-tall shrub. Zones 4-9
'Niemetzi' saucer magnolia
Magnolia soulangeana 'Niemetzi' has a distinct upright form. It grows 20 feet tall and 10 feet wide. Zones 5-9
Magnolia sieboldii is a spreading tree that bears large, cup-shape white blooms from late spring until late summer. It grows 25 feet tall and 40 feet wide. Zones 6-9
Magnolia grandiflora is among the most majestic. This evergreen bears huge white, fragrant flowers. Native to North America, it grows 60 feet tall and 40 feet wide. Zones 7-9
'Bracken's Brown Beauty' magnolia
Magnolia grandiflora 'Bracken's Brown Beauty' is a compact cultivar that grows about 30 feet tall. It is one of the most cold-hardy Southern magnolias available. Zones 6-9