I do most of my gardening in containers and would love to have a magnolia in my home landscape.
Magnolia Jane purple-pink flowers on tree
Denny Schrock
| Credit: Denny Schrock

The answer is yes, but only if you have an extremely large container! The smallest varieties of "dwarf" forms grow 8-12 feet tall and 6-8 feet wide at full maturity. Most of the smaller types grow into a multistemmed shrub rather than a single-trunk tree, though you could train them into a tree form.

The good news is that they are slow growing. "Little Gem" (a type of southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora), for example, will take 20 years to reach 20 feet. Others to consider include star magnolia (M. stellata). 'Royal Star' is a superior selection with pink buds that open white. Magnolia X 'Ann' has late-blooming purplish-red blooms. 'Waterlily' has fragrant white flowers. Henry Hicks sweet bay magnolia (M. virginiana 'Henry Hicks') is the hardiest of the sweet bays (to Zone 5). It develops lemon-scented creamy white blooms in late spring to early summer.

To help container-grown magnolias survive, it's important to use a potting mix that contains lots of organic matter (see the potting mix package for a list of ingredients). Also, be sure to feed the tree monthly during the growing season with half-strength liquid fertilizer. Avoid fertilizing after late summer. Because the tree roots cannot search outside the pot for soil moisture, be sure to water regularly, and make sure your pot has sufficient drainage holes to prevent water from accumulating in the pot. Magnolias like cool roots, so keep a layer of mulch on the soil's surface. In cold-winter regions, protect the roots from severe freezing weather by keeping the container in an unheated garage or covering it with a thick layer of mulch.

Comments (1)

Better Homes & Gardens Member
June 18, 2018
Magnolias tend to always want to grow larger and larger no matter what the original descriptions. For instance, my M. 'Little Gem' is now 30'x 12' with M. 'Kay Parris' a newer selection of smaller M. grandifolia now available. But here are a few interesting smaller magnolias: -1) M. soulangiana 'Kiki's Broom growing 3' x 5' -2) M. soulangiana 'Milliken' 5' x 5' -3) M. liliiflora 'Mini Mouse' is an extremely slow growing 'miniature' species selection -4) though M. 'Genie' may grow over 10' tall it is extremely fastigiate growing only 4' or 5' wide 5) on that same line, M. 'Judy Zuk' may grow quite tall, but it also grows nicely in tight spaces with limited width (8'? wide). Check the Magnolia Society International web site for other cultivars. This small group of university researchers, nurserymen, gardeners and directors of private & public gardens meet annually throughout the world (2018 Raleigh, NC, 2019 Chicago, 2020 Korea, 2021 USA?, 2022 Germany, etc.).