With their glossy green leaves and fragrant, saucer-sized flowers, magnolias are a beautiful specimen or screening plant that Southern gardeners have grown for decades. Many homeowners pass up magnolias because of the trees' size, however. Magnolias can grow well over 50 feet tall and nearly as wide. Several dwarf magnolia cultivars are available now, with more on the horizon, that allow homeowners with tight spaces to take advantage of these eye-catching trees. Magnolias are generally winter hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture zones 7 through 9.
One of the best-known dwarfs is Magnolia grandiflora "Little Gem." Although this cultivar can grow 20 feet tall, it does so very slowly. Little Gem is an evergreen, hardy in zones 5 through 9. The upright tree produces white flowers with a delicious fragrance. Little Gem can be grown successfully in containers if you prune it back to control size and spread. In the garden, Little Gem can get as wide as 10 feet without pruning. Little Gem tolerates almost any kind of soil and prefers full sun to light shade. This magnolia can produce blooms while still very young.
Like Little Gem, "Teddy Bear" can grow up to 20 feet tall. Teddy Bear is a little larger, growing up to 12 feet wide and grows faster than Little Gem. The tree is evergreen and compact, with white flowers. Magnolias are a traditional part of many southern gardens, usually planted with camellia and other southern specialities. Plant Teddy Bear in full sun in well-drained soil. Teddy Bear is hardy in zones 7 to 9, but is easily cultivated in container in colder climates, where it can spend winter indoors.
Hardy in zones 4 to 8, Magnolia stellata "Royal Star" grows 10 to 20 feet tall and produces large white, star-shaped flowers in early spring. Royal Star prefers rich, well-drained soil. It likes full sun, but will tolerate light shade. Royal Star is a late bloomer that makes a fine specimen planting in the yard. You can also plant several of these small magnolias together for a tall hedge, or use it as a foundation planting.
Classified as a deciduous shrub rather than a tree, Magnolia "Ann" is hardy in zones 4 to 8 and only grows 10 feet tall. Depending upon regional climate, Ann may bloom from mid to late spring, producing a stunning array of purplish-red, chalice-shaped flowers. Ann may be used as a shrub or grown into a tree shape. Plant in acidic, moist soil in full sun. Ann is a late bloomer.
Magnolia grandiflora var. STRgra, or "Baby Grand," was discovered in Australia. An evergreen, this dwarf magnolia has a rounded form and is hardy in zones 7 to 9. Plant in full sun and water weekly. Baby Grand produces large, fragrant white flowers in spring and summer. Use it as a specimen plant in the yard or plant anywhere very moist soil is a problem for other trees.