When to plant & care for a magnolia tree

Updated April 17, 2017

Gardeners throughout the South enjoy planting and caring for magnolia trees. Although there are many varieties, the most popular and well-known is the magnolia grandiflora, better known as the Southern magnolia. With its huge creamy white flowers, dark glossy green leaves and lemony fragrance, the hardy magnolia tree is a year-round favourite in the South. Magnolias can grow as high as 90 feet.

Planting Considerations

Southern magnolias will grow in sun or shade. Plant them in acidic soil that is moist and drains well. When choosing your trees check to see how tall they will grow so you can find a site in your yard with enough room. Magnolias are usually grown as a specimen tree or as a background for shrubs, rather than part of the grassy area of the lawn. They are messy. They drop old leaves in the spring and seed pods in the summer. If you plant your magnolia as part of a bed you can allow these leaves and seed pods to help out as mulch. Otherwise, you'll spend a lot of time raking and bagging the leaf litter. As the magnolia ages, you'll also see surface roots. This is another good reason for not planting the tree in the middle of the grass. Although you can plant magnolias throughout the year, most gardeners agree late summer and early fall are the best times for planting. This is also the time of year when balled-and-burlapped trees appear in the local nursery.

Planting the Tree

It's important to dig a hole that is large enough for your tree. The hole should be two times wider than the magnolia's root ball and as deep as the root ball. Plant the tree with the top of the root ball protruding just a little from the hole. Fill the hole with dirt and water. Rake mulch around the base of the tree. Continue to water for the next few weeks, unless your area is receiving rainfall regularly. Fertilise after the tree's first month in your yard or when you see new growth. You have to give it enough time to establish itself in the ground. Use 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 fertiliser. Continue fertilising during the tree's first three years. Magnolias are durable trees and usually survive with little help from the gardener. You will see the tree lose a large number of leaves during its first season. This is perfectly normal. There is no need to worry about insects attacking the tree. The magnolia has no enemies in the pest world.

Another Choice

The Sweetbay magnolia is a good choice for patio containers or a smaller yard. Unlike the Southern magnolia, the Sweetbay rarely grows past 30 feet. The leaves and flowers are similar to the Southern magnolia, but smaller. It occurs naturally in swamplands in the South. The Sweetbay produces a fruit that is favoured by squirrels, songbirds and rodents.

Christmas Decorations

The leaves of the magnolia tree are popular in Christmas decorations. When brought inside, they will stay glossy green for several weeks. The large leaves are frequently used in wreaths and can easily be spray painted any colour of your choice.

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About the Author

Janey Lewis is a seasoned writer and public relations expert with more than 20 years of writing and PR experience. A graduate of Auburn University with a degree in journalism, she has been a newspaper reporter, project manager for a PR firm and press secretary to a U.S. Congressman on Capitol Hill.