Southern Belle: Magnolia

This quintessential Dixie tree boasts sumptuous blossoms and rich, glossy leaves.

By: Ben Ford
Magnolia x soulangiana ~Rustica Rubra~ (02) Bloom

Magnolia x soulangiana ~Rustica Rubra~ (02) Bloom

Magnolia x soulangiana ~Rustica Rubra~ (02)

Magnolia x soulangiana ~Rustica Rubra~ (02)

For spring, summer or even year-round interest, magnolia is a genus that offers real variety for the garden. They can be magnificent or minute in size, bright or light in color and deciduous or evergreen throughout winter. As beautiful as that quintessential Southern belle Scarlett O'Hara, but far more reliable, magnolia do well in full sun, have very few pest problems and are relatively drought-tolerant once established. Some varieties to consider:

Magnolia grandiflora - Southern magnolia
Magnolia grandiflora is what most folks think of when they hear magnolia. This giant Southern native has large glossy-green leaves and fragrant, lemon-smelling white blooms throughout summer.  This tree is evergreen year-round, though it does lose a few leaves throughout the year. Definitely not for the small garden, Southern magnolia grows more than 70 feet tall and 40 feet wide. Avoid planting next to any concrete surface, since the roots of this tree are destined to cause cracks. Southern magnolia are best when planted in full sun to have dense foliage and a summer of fragrant blooms. 

Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’
A smaller cultivar more suited for the home landscape is Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem.’ This cultivar only reaches between 15 and 20 feet tall and 10 feet wide. Despite its diminutive size, 'Little Gem' still has fragrant blooms throughout summer and has dark green foliage year-round. Use this plant at the back of a plant border, as a privacy screen or a wind blocker.  Plant close to a deck or patio where the fragrance can be enjoyed during summer entertaining. 

Magnolia x soulangeana - saucer magnolia 
Still a large tree at 30 feet tall, this tree is not for foundation plantings. Saucer magnolia makes a grand statement in early to mid-spring. It’s a thrill when the early bloomers are not hit by a late-frost that ruins the flowers. One good year is all it takes to make this tree one of your favorites. When the blooms fall from the tree, they cover the nearby landscape with a blanket of pink blooms. Spectacular!

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