Magnolia – Magnolia – Garden plants – soulangean magnolia – starry magnolia – magnolia grandiflora

The magnolias are a kind of trees and shrubs with a very showy flowering; there are about eighty species of magnolias in the world, and many are hybrids and cultivars. We can distinguish a group formed by tall evergreen trees, with leathery leaves and summer flowering, whose specimens are native to the North American continent; another group, on the contrary, is that of the Asian magnolias, shrubs even of big size, with deciduous leaves and with late winter or spring flowering.

The magnolias are among the most appreciated flowering trees: they are in fact an unforgettable spectacle, with their delicate petals that appear directly from the branches, even before the leaves, indicating the arrival of summer.

Everyone can have the satisfaction of cultivating one, as there are many different sizes and bearing capacities. They can therefore be placed in large parks, in small gardens or even grown in large containers, on balconies or terraces.

The magnolias come from East Asia and the east coast of the United States. They have been known in Europe since ancient times, but their cultivation (in particular of persistent leaf varieties) has spread since XVIII century.


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Evergreen magnolias

magnolia grandiflora Surely among the most cultivated high-stemmed magnolias, first of all the magnolia grandiflora, a big tree, which reaches the 15-20 metres of height, with leathery leaves of a bright green colour and big white flowers in summer, followed by particular woody infructescences, from which protrude the small red fruits. One of the first specimens cultivated in Europe can be admired in the botanical garden of Padua, where it seems to have been a plant in the late eighteenth century.

These trees have been cultivated for centuries in European gardens, especially in the large parks of stately villas and city gardens.

There are other species of this plant of American origin, although they are generally difficult to find in Italy, for example M. acuminata and M. tripetala. These species are widespread in particular in the southern areas of the United States, and generally bear without problems the Italian climate.

Among the evergreen species there is also an Asian one, the Magnolia delavayi, with bright green foliage, and large white flowers, perfumed, fleshy, which bloom in full summer.

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Caducous leaf magnolias

magnoliaThe magnolias that lose their leaves are all of Asian origin and have been cultivated in Europe for centuries; most of them produce their large flowers in late winter or early spring, before producing leaves; the beauty of these plants is in fact in being able to admire the bare trees adorned with beautiful flowers.

The most widespread in cultivation are hybrids of magnolia x soulangeana, originated from the hybridization between m. liliflora and magnolia denudata; they are obtained so small shrubs with slow growth, which over the years can become small trees, deciduous, which in spring produce huge cup-shaped flowers, white inside, rosy outside.

Other highly cultivated magnolias are the starry magnolias, with large star-shaped flowers, white in colour, which also bloom on the completely bare tree.

There are many other species, such as Magnolia kobus, magnolia obovata, magnolia officinalis, which are usually grown only in botanical gardens, or by collectors, and are not easily found in nurseries, despite being delicate and graceful plants.

These plants are also rustic and can be grown in the garden without any problems.


Name, genus, species

 Magnoliaceae, gen magnolia, more than 125 species

Type of plant

 Flowering tree or shrub with deciduous or persistent leaves


 East Asia, United States

Colour of the flowers

 White, pink, crimson, yellow






 Medium and very rustic


 Sun-half shade


 Deep, soft, rich, fresh, generally not calcareous


 Usually acid, but for some species also neutral or subalkaline

Water requirements



 From 2 to 30 m


 Sowing, cutting, layering, grafting

Growing magnolias

magnolia x soulangeana Whether they are evergreen or deciduous, magnolias generally have similar needs; they prefer sunny positions, as in the shade they tend to produce poor flowering. They are planted in fresh and deep soil, very well drained, as they do not like water stagnations; possibly it is good that the soil has a tendency to be acidic, in fact, with the passing of time, the cultivation in excessively calcareous soils can lead to a slight chlorosis, especially with regard to deciduous species.

Every year in autumn the soil at the foot of the plant is enriched with mature organic fertilizer, or granular fertilizer, so as to ensure the presence of mineral salts in the soil for a long period of time.

GEnerally, the magnolias should be satisfied with the water supplied by the bad weather, even if it is advisable to water the youngest shrubs during the summer, and also the adult specimens in case of prolonged drought; watering can be necessary only during the warm periods and should be supplied when the soil is well dry.

Generally, magnolias do not need to be pruned, as their development is quite slow and the plants tend to produce a harmoniously shaped canopy, without the need for human help. After flowering we can remove damaged or poorly developed branches, without pruning the plant too much.

For very early flowering plants, it is advisable to position them in a place where they are not excessively exposed to wind or frost, to avoid that the buds are damaged by sporadic late frosts.

The name of the Magnolias

magnolia grandiflora It was a French botanist who gave the name to the magnolias in the late 1700s. Plumier chose for these majestic plants the name of another botanist, Pierre Magnol, who had introduced the concept of the botanical family into systematics.

In American gardens it seems that magnolia was considered a sign of good omen; today magnolia flowers in bouquets symbolize dignity, perseverance and superb beauty.

Magnolia liliflora

Among the numerous hybrids of magnolia there is also a hybrid called Magnolia liliflora, very close in characteristics to the soulangean magnolia. The flower is in fact very similar and can easily be confused with an inaccurate analysis, but it is not the only similar aspect. The leaves of this plant are in fact deciduous and oval in shape, with a leathery consistency and a light green colour.

The magnolia liliflora It blooms at the end of winter on branches without leaves and has an explosive flowering, with deep pink petals arranged in a cup.

There are several varieties of magnolia liliflora, such as liliflora nigra and liliflora susan, a variety created by crossing magnolia rosea and magnolia nigra. Susan blooms in April and May and is one of the longest-blooming magnolias.

Exposure and climate magnolias

Magnolias are generally rather rustic, but otherwise they are quite demanding in terms of climate. They require a context that is not too hot during the summer, but also not too humid during the bad season. In addition, cold winds and late frosts can permanently ruin the flower buds.

Ultimately we can say that in the North of the peninsula the ideal is a position in full sun or with a little shade in the afternoon. Let’s make sure, however, that the area is well lit and heated even during the coldest months. It may also be useful for there to be a wall in the vicinity, capable of blocking the winds and accumulating heat during the day. In the southern regions and on the coasts, on the other hand, it is important to ensure that the substrate is always slightly moist.

Therefore, let’s choose an area well reached by the sun in the morning, but more sheltered during the afternoon hours.





 From March to September, depending on the variety

Training pruning

 After flowering


 Organic: autumn; synthetic: spring


 From mid-summer

Soil magnolia

The preferred soil should be rich, deep and soft, but at the same time well drained. Most species prefer acid soils with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5.

If in our green space there is instead a clayey and alkaline substratum, it will be better to replace it totally or partially, perhaps mixing in peat or specific soil for acidophilic and a bit of very mature manure.

Alternatively, we choose more tolerant varieties, such as starry and kobus.

How to maintain soil acidity

Unfortunately, the proximity of a clay soil and the irrigation with limestone water over time will inevitably return to raise the pH of that area. To avoid or minimize this problem it is advisable, if possible, to irrigate with rainwater. It may also be useful to spread iron sulphate in autumn and spring, to be incorporated in depth. Mulching with peat, bark and pine needles can also help.

In case of emergency, when chlorosis of leaves and poor blooms appear, we can spread chelated iron in granules all over the area covered by the canopy.

When planting the magnolia

Magnolias do not particularly like to be transplanted and it is therefore good to choose carefully the period in which to operate. For a full success it is absolutely necessary to avoid doing so when there may be frosts.

The advice is to proceed to the North in early autumn (September-October) or late spring. In mild climates it is possible to do this even in the middle of winter, provided that temperatures never fall below 0.

Small plants (max. 1.20 cm) are easier to recover than others and are therefore preferable when buying.

How to plant the magnolia?

We dig a very large hole. At the bottom we prepare a draining layer of gravel. We mix the extracted soil with a good quantity of peat and mature manure. We insert the plant, touching the delicate roots as little as possible, so that the grafting point is slightly higher than ground level.

Let’s compress well and irrigate abundantly and continuously for at least two months.

Crop treatments for magnolia

Magnolias, if grown in the right location, are plants with limited maintenance and very resistant to disease.

You will have to be a little more careful in the Centre-South, during the spring and summer days, especially if hot and dry. The soil must always remain fresh: in this can help us a thick mulch based on vegetable rubble or, even better, pine bark. At very high temperatures, the plant can benefit in the evening from foliar vaporization that allows it to cool down and rehydrate.

Fertilization magnolia

In order to maintain the vital and aerated soil, it is advisable to spread at the base, in autumn, a good quantity of floured manure to be incorporated in the soil in spring, with a slight hoeing. Adding a little peat can help to maintain the pH of the soil.

In March, it is advisable to distribute acidophilic or flowering fertiliser in the area covered by the canopy, possibly with a slow release.

How to prune magnolia

Pruning is not strictly necessary for magnolias. They grow with a naturally open and elegant shape.

If we want to educate them in a particular way, however, it is good to do so in the first 5 years of life, intervening after flowering, towards the end of April.

In case of emergency, to eliminate exhausted branches or damaged by cold or disease, you can also intervene in mid-autumn. The ideal thing to do is to remove only those branches that are dead or that are particularly fragile at birth.

Magnolia pests

These are resistant plants. For flowering, the greatest danger is represented by the slugs, which climb on the branches and feed on the young and tender buds. Let’s keep them away with special products.

There is also the danger of root rot (which should be prevented by good drainage) and foliar dryness (caused by excessive heat).

Propagate the magnolia

M. may be propagated by seed, cutting, layering or grafting. All, except the first one, guarantee the maintenance of the peculiar characteristics of the cultivar, but to put them into practice it is necessary to be rather expert.


È certainly preferable to layering, really hard to achieve. It is made on semi-meaning wood, proceeding in mid-summer. We cut healthy and vigorous jets with clean and sharp shears, under an eye, leaving a small bark tongue. Let’s eliminate the apical bud and leave only a couple of leaves. We dust with a rooting compound and put in boxes with substrate obtained with soil, field soil, sand and perlite, in equal parts. We keep in a warm and humid greenhouse, but shaded.


L Grafting by approximation is the most widely used, particularly on the most difficult cultivars to cut. This technique also gives the possibility to choose a root system more tolerant of limestone and high pH.

The subjects, obtained from seed, most used are the M. kobus (for the deciduous) and the M. Grandiflora (for the evergreen).

Magnolia variety

There are more than 125 species of Magnolia and there are no hybrids or cultivars. Here are the most popular:

Type of product




Flowering period

Other features


Caducous leaf

 Magnolia kobus

 Small, white, scented flowers, pink fruits

 Up to 10 m


 Tolerates calcareous soil. Suitable for this as a rootstock.

Resistant to -15°C and shadow tolerant.

 From Japan

Among the simplest and most tolerant

 Magnolia x loebneri

 Star-shaped flowers, up to 14 petals, from white to soft pink

 From 5 to 10 m


 Hybrid available in different cultivars

 Full sun, tolerates late frosts well

 Magnolia x soulangeana

 Cream flowers with pink, tulip-like streaks.

 Up to 6 m


 Withstands up to -20°C

Many cultivars available

 Very common, expanded habit, flowers before leaves

 Magnolia liliiflora

 Long petals, white or purple. About 7 cm in diameter

 Up to 4 m

 From April to July, the longest. Can repeat in autumn

 Up to -15°C Beautiful pointed and shiny leaves

 Cultivar: nigra (compact), purple (pink flowers).

 Starry Magnolia

 Large star-shaped flowers all along the branch

 Very compact, up to 3 m


 Very rustic and resistant, up to -25°C

 It also grows in calcareous soil.

Suitable for vases

 Magnolia nude

 Cup-shaped, white, of about 15 cm of diameter

 From 5 to 10 m, pyramidal shape


 Up to -15°C

 From China, wide, shiny leaves

 Magnolia sieboldi

 Cup-shaped, semi-pendula, white with red center, very fragrant

 3 meters


 Very rustic

 From Japan and Korea. Thin branches and oblong leaves. Acidic soil.

Suitable for vase

 Magnolia obovata

 Large, cupped, creamy white and/or purple, highly perfumed

 30 m


 Very rustic

 From Japan

Leaves up to 45 cm and 20 cm wide, very beautiful

 Magnolia starry x liliflora “Susan”

 Large, tulip-shaped dark pink, very fragrant

 2-4 meters

 April, May

 Up to -15°C

 Interesting foliage, also suitable for pots

Persistent leaf

 Magnolia grandiflora

 Cup-shaped flowers, large, in white, pink or purple.

Very fragrant

 More than 30 meters

 Very long, generally from June to September-October

 Up to -25°C

 Originally from the United States

Available in many varieties and cultivars with different colors of the flower, but also variegated leaves.

Among the most popular in the North.

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