Yes, You Can Grow Magnolia Trees in Pots—Here's How to Succeed

You'll need a big planter, a small variety, and a little TLC.

Planting a magnolia in a container allows you to enjoy this tree's beautiful flowers even if you don't have room for it in your garden beds. Or keeping these plants in containers can be a strategy for growing magnolias in places where they aren't winter hardy. But can a magnolia grow in a pot? The answer depends on a few factors, but yes, growing a magnolia in a container can be done successfully. You'll need a large enough container and the right variety to plant in it. Here's how to care for a potted magnolia.

star magnolia tree growing in front of house
Janet Mesic-Mackie

Best Magnolia Varieties to Grow in a Pot

Keep in mind that the smallest varieties of magnolias grow 8-12 feet tall and 6-8 feet wide at full maturity. The good news is that magnolias don't grow very fast. It can take 20 years for them to reach 20 feet tall. Plus, keeping them in a planter with limited root space will also limit their top growth, especially with some judicious pruning. Most of the smaller types grow into a multi-stemmed shrub rather than a single-trunk tree, though you could train them into a tree form.

'Little Gem', a variety of southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) would be a good choice for growing in a big container. It slowly grows to about 15-20 feet tall and produces large white flowers in spring into summer. It's hardy in Zones 6-10, so in colder areas you'll definitely want to give it a protected spot over the winter.

Another smaller option to consider for growing in a container is star magnolia (Magnolia stellata), generally hardy in Zones 4-9. It grows about 15-20 feet tall. 'Royal Star' is an outstanding variety with pink buds that open into white flowers in spring. 'Waterlily' has fragrant white flowers.

'Ann' is a variety of lily magnolia (Magnolia liliflora) that tops out at 8-10 feet tall. It's hardy in Zones 4-7, and produces striking, late-blooming purplish-red blooms in spring. 'Henry Hicks' sweet bay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) is hardy in Zones 6-10, with dense growth that will remain evergreen in Zone 7 and higher. It can get 40 feet tall, but it takes many years. It develops lemon-scented, creamy white flowers in late spring to early summer.

How to Grow a Magnolia in a Pot

To help container-grown magnolias thrive, it's important to use a potting mix that contains lots of organic matter. You can boost the potting mix you have by adding some compost to it before planting your magnolia.

Make sure to feed the tree monthly during the growing season with half-strength liquid fertilizer. Avoid fertilizing after late summer. Because the magnolia's roots cannot search outside the pot for moisture, water regularly until you see moisture draining out the bottom of the pot. And yes, you should always use a pot that has drainage holes to prevent water from accumulating in the pot and rotting the roots.

Add a layer of mulch on the soil's surface in the pot to help keep your potted magnolia's roots cool. In cold-winter regions, protect the roots from severe freezing weather by keeping the container in an unheated garage or covering the entire pot with a thick layer of mulch until spring.

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