Magnolias are highly ornamental trees that bring a touch of show-stopping glamour to the garden. There are deciduous and evergreen varieties, and flower colours range from pure white through pink to deep magenta. Many also have a lovely fragrance. Magnolias can be grown in small and large gardens, or against a sunny wall, and although they have a reputation for being a little tricky, in the right conditions they will reward you with a fantastic display.
More on growing magnolias:
Where to plant magnolias
Magnolias grow best in fertile, well-drained, slightly acidic soil in full sun. Some varieties will cope with drier, more alkaline soil, so it’s worth testing your soil and checking which magnolia will best suit your garden. Choose a sheltered spot away from strong winds. Magnolias look good in mixed borders, or as a stand out specimen in a lawn or front garden.
How to plant magnolias
Dig a generous hole to the same depth of the pot your magnolia comes in. Add well-rotted garden compost or leaf mould and check the level of the plant so that the point where it has been grafted is not below the soil.
Here, Monty Don demonstrates how to plant a magnolia in a border, explaining the best way to prepare the planting hole, what type of soil it needs, and how to ensure it settles in well. He also recommends a compact variety with gorgeous dark pink flowers, ideal for a small garden:
How to care for magnolias
Magnolias are a long-term investment as they can sometimes take a while to flower, so be patient. Prune in summer to remove broken, diseased or crossing branches. They don’t respond well to hard pruning, so if you do have to restrict the size of your magnolia, or renovate it, do this over a couple of years, pruning only a few branches at a time. Mulch in spring with manure and leaf mould.
How to propagate magnolias
Propagate by layering. Deciduous magnolias can also be propagated by taking cuttings in early summer and evergreen varieties by hardwood cuttings in late summer and autumn. Magnolias are not easy to propagate and need shelter and heat for any successful young plants to survive the winter.
Growing magnolias: problem solving
Magnolias rarely suffer from pests, but can be prone to honey fungus, Phytophthora root rot or bracket fungi, so try to spot signs early in order to treat the plant. The most common complaint is lack of flowers, but by providing the right growing conditions, and providing additional feeding during the growing season, you will give your magnolia the best chance to thrive.
Catherine Mansley, BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine, explains why magnolias may not always flower and how to encourage them to do so, in our Quick Tips video:
Magnolia varieties to try
- Magnolia x soulangeana ‘Alexandrina’ – the flowers are pink, darker at the base than at the tips of the petals. This is a medium sized magnolia with an upright habit.
- Magnolia stellata – a great magnolia for a smaller garden. This is a deciduous magnolia, with pure white, star-shaped blooms that appear before the leaves, in early spring. They have a very light fragrance.
- Magnolia x loebneri ‘Leon ard Messel’ – with pale pink flowers appearing on bare stems, this is a stunning variety. The flowers emerge as goblets and open up to become more star-shaped. The Royal Horticultural Society has given it the prestigious Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
- Magnolia sieboldii – the Chinese magnolia is a very hardy, deciduous species. The scented flowers are cup-shaped and large with deep maroon centres. They have a long flowering season from May to September and the foliage is attractive and glossy. It needs a large garden however, as it is a real statement tree.
- Magnolia grandiflora – this large evergreen species, produces large white flowers in mid summer. An impressive stately plant, it can be grown against a sunny wall, where it will appreciate the heat and is one of the magnolias that will tolerate more alkaline and chalky soils.