Saucer Magnolia Growing Tips

This deciduous magnolia makes a great specimen tree and differs from its cousin the Southern magnolia.

By: Dee Nash
From: DK Books - Garden SXS

Magnolia × soulangeana, saucer magnolia

Magnolia × soulangeana, saucer magnolia

Want a small blooming tree that is easy to grow in many different parts of the country? Try Magnolia × soulangeana, commonly known as saucer magnolia or tulip magnolia. This deciduous magnolia shouldn’t be confused with the tall and evergreen M. grandifloras that grace the South. Saucer magnolia, a hybrid of M. denudata and M. liliiflora is a tree of a whole different color. In fact, its blooms are a mix of purple, pink and even sometimes white. 

Saucer magnolia is deciduous, meaning its leaves drop in the fall. You didn’t know some magnolias lose their leaves? Yes, deciduous magnolias make up a large part of the magnolia species and are grown throughout the country. Unlike their Southern cousin, most deciduous magnolias can be grown successfully even where the weather turns cold because they are hardy in Zones 5 to 9, with beautiful gray bark in winter. 

Saucer magnolia is the most popular of the deciduous magnolias, and its botanical name commemorates its hybridizer, agronomist Étienne Soulange-Bodin. 

In mid-spring, saucer magnolia stretches its dark gray branches to the sky, displaying fat buds that open to saucer-shaped, pinkish purple petals covering it in a floral gown. A saucer magnolia in full bloom is quite a spectacle, but one that can be ruined by a late freeze. Although it is susceptible to spring’s variable temperatures, saucer magnolia is still a tree worthy of a special spot in your garden. Even if some blooms are ruined from frost, remove them and wait for a second flush of smaller blooms. 

There are many new cultivars of M. soulangeana on the market, but according to Dirr’s Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs, names can be confused, so select cultivars in flower. Some like ‘Brozzonii’ and ‘Lennei Alba’ are white or nearly white. ‘Brozzonii’ is also late flowering so it may bypass late freezes and frosts. 'Lilliputian' is very slow growing. 

You may see M. ‘Jane’ in nurseries. Although it looks a lot like M. x. soulangeana, it was actually developed at the National Arboretum as part of the Little Girl Series, also sometimes called “The Girls.” ‘Jane’ and the other Little Girl hybrids, ‘Ann’, ‘Betty’, ‘Judy’, ‘Randy’, 'Ricki' and ‘Susan’ bloom later than saucer magnolia and may escape spring frosts in your area. 

Saucer magnolias grow from 20 to 30 ft. high with a spread of 20 to 30 ft. wide depending upon the cultivar. 

Growing Requirements:

  • Although it appears delicate, saucer magnolia is very hardy and easy to grow. Plant in spring or fall. 
  • Consider saucer magnolia’s mature size before planting and place it where it can freely spread its canopy. 
  • Saucer magnolias are often grown as specimen trees because of their beautiful form. 
  • In cooler climates, saucer magnolia can be grown in full sun. However, in hot climates, it should be grown in partial shade and in areas with good protection from late frosts and freezes. 
  • Saucer magnolia is highly adaptable to various soil types, but it requires consistent irrigation. Also, provide good drainage with plenty of compost because magnolias don’t like swampy conditions. 
  • Saucer magnolias can be purchased in containers or bareroot from nurseries. 

To Plant:

  • Dig a hole twice as wide as the root ball and as deep as the top of the root ball. 
  • Remove the saucer magnolia from its container loosening and straightening its roots. If you break smaller roots, don’t worry. The tree will be fine. 
  • Place your tree in the hole and backfill to the top of the root ball without covering up the trunk. Magnolias have shallow surface roots so some may still be showing once the tree is planted. Use your foot to gently firm the soil around tree roots. Berm the soil slightly around the edge of the planting hole. Later, you can flatten this area once the tree is settled in place. 
  • If you live in a windy area, you may need to stake the tree for six months until it’s settled. Use soft attachments to keep from damaging delicate tree bark. 
  • Water your tree slowly looking for air pockets. Check the tree every few days to make sure it’s getting enough water. Young trees are very susceptible to drought. Run a hose on drip with a timer if you’re worried about forgetting. 
  • Mulch your tree with three inches of biodegradable mulch, but don’t place mulch against the tree’s trunk because it can rot the trunk, and also attract mice, voles and moles. 

Saucer magnolia is a long-lived tree that makes spring gardens sing even in colder parts of the country. Try planting in a special place in your garden.

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