By Jennifer Poindexter
Do you love looking through books and magazines when they catch perfect images of the “southern” landscape?
One of the main things to appear in these scenarios is a southern magnolia tree. Have you ever wanted to grow one of these trees in your yard?
Southern magnolia trees are larger and provide beautiful blooms. However, there are a few things you should consider prior to planting one.
I’m going to walk you through what you should know to grow this tree and help you decide if this is the right option for you.
Here’s what you should know when growing a southern magnolia tree:
Growing Conditions for the Southern Magnolia Tree
The first thing you must consider when growing a southern magnolia tree is where it will fit into your yard.
These trees will eventually become between sixty and eighty feet tall. It does take them between one and two decades to reach these heights.
However, the growing location needs to be able to hold such a tree when it does reach maturity.
Also, southern magnolia trees are known for their evergreen foliage and large, scented blooms. This tree has a thick canopy but a shallow root system that will eventually spread great distances to seek out proper nutrients.
The shallow root system makes this tree a good option for growing in a container during its earlier years.
Yet, when the tree is transplanted into the ground, the stretching root system can also uproot pipes and other important items beneath the surface. Take this into account when picking the right growing location.
In general, the southern magnolia tree is known for being a messy tree. However, don’t let this deter you from growing it. Instead, plant the tree in a way that its messiness works to your advantage.
How do you do this? You create a decorative growing area with the magnolia tree as a backdrop and surround it with evergreen shrubs.
Then, when the tree drops its old leaves in the spring and seed pods later in the summer, they’ll serve as natural mulch for this growing location.
You may also use the southern magnolia tree as a living fence, if you plant multiple trees along your property line. The trees’ litter could serve as natural mulch for your fence line as well.
Once you have the right growing location picked out, ensure it provides the right conditions. Thankfully, the southern magnolia tree is known for being flexible in this area.
This tree grows well in both sun and shade. It prefers evenly damp, well-draining soil. Yet, it can thrive in times of oversaturation and periods of drought.
As mentioned earlier, this tree can even be grown in a container. Though, be prepared to transplant the tree to larger containers as needed. You may do this any time throughout the year.
If you’d like the tree to bloom prolifically, then plant it in a growing location with more sunlight. Yet, in a natural setting, a southern magnolia is used to growing in the understory, so it tolerates shade well. It just won’t bloom as much.
Finally, the southern magnolia tree is hardy in planting zones six through ten.
If you can supply a growing location with the right amount of lighting, the right soil, with a space large enough to support the tree at its mature size, and the tree’s litter won’t become an eyesore in this location, then you’ve found an ideal growing area for the southern magnolia.
Now, it’s time to discuss how to plant this tree in the location you’ve chosen.
How to Plant a Southern Magnolia Tree
When growing a southern magnolia tree there are three ways to go about it. The first method is to purchase a tree from a local nursery. You should plant a purchased tree in either the spring or fall.
Should you choose this route, be sure to dig a hole that’s two times the width of the tree’s root ball and equally as deep.
Place the tree into the hole and ensure it’s level. Then backfill the hole. Apply water to the base of the tree and press firmly to ensure the soil is compacted around it.
The next option for growing a southern magnolia tree is to propagate via cutting. If you have access to a mature version of this tree, remove a six inch cutting.
If there are any leaves attached to the bottom of the cutting, remove them. From there, apply rooting hormone to the cutting and plant it in a container that drains adequately and is filled with well-draining soil.
Ensure the soil remains evenly damp and cover it with plastic to create a greenhouse effect. In approximately thirty days, begin checking for roots.
Once the plant has an established root system, transplant it to a larger container. Continue caring for the tree in a greenhouse or cold frame until the following spring or fall (depending upon time of propagation).
The final method for growing a southern magnolia tree is propagating from seed. When you’ve purchased or collected seeds, place them in your freezer to go through the cold stratification process.
You should wrap the seeds in a moist paper towel and then place a dry paper towel over the damp one. Seal the seeds (inside the paper towels) in a plastic bag.
Place the bag in your freezer for approximately ninety days. After, remove the seeds from the bag and soak them for twenty-four hours in water.
From there, plant the seeds in a growing tray filled with well-draining soil. Keep the soil evenly damp and place the tray in a warm growing location.
It can take up to eighteen months for the seeds to germinate. Once they’ve sprouted, place the seedlings in an area with bright, indirect light.
A cold frame makes an excellent growing location where you can continue to care for the plants for one year. When the seedlings are six inches tall, you may transplant them outdoors. Be sure to mulch around the trees and protect them over the winter months for the first three years.
It’s important to note, no matter the growing method, it’s normal for a southern magnolia tree to drop quite a few of its leaves during its first growing season.
Don’t be alarmed if this occurs as these trees frequently suffer from shock. Once their roots are established, they tend to bounce back rather quickly.
These are three methods for growing the southern magnolia tree. Consider your gardening skills and budget when deciding which method works best for you.
Caring for a Southern Magnolia Tree
The southern magnolia tree isn’t a high-maintenance option. Yet, it does require a few things from you for the tree to be successful.
When caring for this tree be sure to water it properly. Until it’s well-established outdoors, you should water it deeply as this will help the root system become stronger.
To water a plant deeply, you must apply water to the tree for longer periods of time, fewer days of the week.
This allows the water to saturate the roots during application. However, it also allows water to saturate the ground around the tree.
As the days progress and the tree needs water, it’ll dig deeper into the soil to retrieve the water the ground absorbed during the watering session.
This encourages a deeper root system which typically equates to a healthier plant as well. The next thing you must do is mulch.
You should only mulch the ground around the tree. Don’t apply mulch up the tree trunk as this can lead to rotting issues. However, mulching around the tree will help the plant retain moisture.
Next, you should fertilize your southern magnolia tree for the first three years. Apply a balanced fertilizer during early spring, mid spring, and during the summer months.
Your next task for caring for this tree should be staking. The first growing season, the tree may need some added support to encourage it to grow straight.
Instead of using wire alone to stake the tree, try running it through an old rubber hose or PVC pipe first. Then continue the staking process. This ensures the tree doesn’t experience girding but is still provided the necessary support.
Finally, you should prune your southern magnolia tree to help it keep its shape. It’s best to prune the tree after it’s finished blooming but before winter.
The problem with pruning during winter is the tree has gone dormant. Unfortunately, dormant tree branches don’t heal as quickly as those still in active growth.
These are the tasks a southern magnolia tree needs you to perform to ensure its optimal health. By supplying what the tree needs, you’re doing all you can to encourage it to remain healthy and beautiful.
Common Pests and Diseases Which Could Impact Your Southern Magnolia Tree
Part of growing things is learning what could harm the plants you’re attempting to introduce to your garden or landscape.
There are a few things you should look for when growing a southern magnolia tree. These trees face a few obstacles during their growth journey. Stay alert to the following issues, and you should be able to help your trees return to, or maintain, a healthy state.
The most common pests to disturb a southern magnolia tree are scales, thrips, caterpillars, and aphids. These pests can typically be treated with an insecticide.
The diseases which frequently impact this tree are leaf spot, cankers, and verticillium wilt. Unfortunately, there’s no cure for verticillium wilt.
This disease remains in the soil even after you remove the plant. It’s best to plant things in these infected areas that aren’t susceptible to this disease.
If you see your southern magnolia tree is battling this disease, it’s best to remove troubled areas. This may prolong the life of the tree.
In some cases, small trees die from this disease. In other cases, larger trees tend to lead longer lives by pruning the disease away. There have been some reports of older trees actually beating this disease, but it isn’t common.
The other diseases mentioned are fungal based issues. You may treat leaf spot with a fungicide, but you can prevent it by ensuring you plant in an area of warmth, well-draining soil, and prune to ensure proper airflow around the tree.
Since fungal diseases grow in areas that are cold and wet, if you avoid these conditions, you may be able to avoid these issues.
However, cankers aren’t treatable. The best way to handle this problem once it occurs is to prune away impacted areas.
These are the pests and diseases which commonly impact southern magnolia trees. Stay on top of these problems to ensure your tree leads a long and healthy life.
Southern magnolia trees are a staple in many landscapes. Though they’re messy trees, if planted in the right spot, they can provide beauty to an area while also supplying free mulch for the growing location.
If you’re interested in growing this tree, use this information to get you started. Hopefully, you can create the ideal landscape and grow a tall, healthy southern magnolia tree for your yard.