Magnolia Trees – Picking, Planting and Care

Magnolia trees are a popular choice for landscaping in Tallahassee due to their beautiful flowers, glossy foliage and ability to tolerate our hot, humid summers in zone 8b. From the classic Southern Magnolia to the compact Teddy Bear, magnolias make a beautiful addition to any landscape. After reading through the varieties, picking just one may prove impossible. If you have enough sunny yard space, consider adding two or more for a truly magnificent magnolia experience!

Magnificent Magnolia Varieties
Southern Magnolia Tree Flower

Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora):
One of the most classic of southern trees, the native Southern Magnolia is big, bold and green. With glossy, leathery evergreen leaves that are deep green on top and brown on the bottom, it provides shade year-round. A slow grower, the initial size of the tree can be deceiving in a five-gallon pot. Considering most Southern Magnolias reach a height of 60 to 80 feet and spread 30 to 50 feet, planning to leave plenty of room for growth is imperative.

While planning the location, be sure you have a spot in full sun to ensure plenty of beautiful white, fragrant blooms. At 8 to 10 inches in size, Southern Magnolia blooms live up to the name “Magnolia grandiflora.” Their heady fragrance in late spring and summer is magnified by the heat and humidity of Tallahassee.

Hardiest in zones 7-9, Southern Magnolias will tolerate a variety of soils including sand and clay. Once established and flowering, it also is a boon for wildlife. The cone in the middle of each flower matures into a pod of seeds that are eaten by birds and other wildlife. If you have a sunny space large enough for a mature Southern Magnolia, consider it for your next tree planting.
Southern Magnolia: 60-80 feet tall, 30-50 feet wide native, best grown in zones 7-9.


Sweetbay Magnolia

Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana): Another native species, Sweetbay Magnolias are smaller, deciduous or semi-evergreen trees with a dense, rounded canopy. The upper surface of each leaf is a dark green with the underside being a pale green or silver. The leaves are often gathered for their citrus scent, and used in potpourri, oils or tea. Also used for herbal remedies and some culinary dishes, the Sweetbay Magnolia leaves have a wide range of uses.

Slightly cupped and about 3 inches wide, Sweetbay Magnolia blooms may be small, but their fragrance is beautifully enhanced. Creamy white flowers bloom in late spring to early summer, emitting a lemony, citrus scent. Small pods with bright red seeds remain on the trees through winter.

The Sweetbay Magnolia is used in gardens, landscapes and naturalized areas. It is hardy in zones 5-9, and tolerant of wet or poorly drained soils. If you have a wetland or rain garden, this is the perfect magnolia. As a moderate grower, give it room to grow in a sunny spot where you can enjoy its fragrant blooms and leaves.

Sweetbay Magnolia: 10-35 feet tall and 10-35 feet wide native, best grown in zones 5-9, near a pond or rain garden.


Little Gem and Teddy Bear magnolia

Little Gem Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’): A Little Gem Magnolia is the “mini-me” of the Southern Magnolia, growing 15-30 feet tall and 8-15 feet wide. The flowers are the same beautiful white with the classic magnolia fragrance, averaging 4 -6 inches in width with possible repeat blooming in the fall and winter.

If you have a sunny spot in your yard that is too small for a Southern Magnolia but you still yearn for its magnificence, then Little Gem is your landscape solution. As a dwarf cultivar, you get all the best of the classic magnolia at a portion of the size. If you have a bit more room, consider the Teddy Bear Magnolia, also a dwarf cultivar with more spread. Though not as prolific a bloomer, the Teddy Bear has deeper green leaves on its average 15-20 feet tall and 10-15 feet wide body.

Little Gem: 15-30 feet tall, 8-15 feet wide, dwarf cultivar of the Southern Magnolia in zones 6-10.
Teddy Bear: 15-20 feet tall, 10-15 feet wide, dwarf cultivar of the Southern Magnolia in zones 7-9.


Star magnolias come in many colors.

Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata):  Similar in shape to the Teddy Bear Magnolia, Star Magnolia averages 15-20 feet wide and 15 feet wide. However, it differs greatly in hardiness, flower shape and available flower colors. Originally from Asia, the Star Magnolia is deciduous, dropping its leaves in fall with fragrant narrow petaled flowers of white, purple, pink, yellow or red appearing in early spring. After blooming, it produces bright pink seed pods, later bearing fruits full of brilliant orange seeds – a beautiful complement to its autumn-colored foliage.

Hardy in zones 4-9, the Star Magnolia tolerates both cold winters and hot, humid summers. Most often grown as multi-stemmed shrubs, blooms emerge on old wood.  Like most magnolias, the Star Magnolia prefers minimal pruning but, if you feel strongly about reducing stems, do your cutting after blooming so next year’s buds have a chance to develop.

Star Magnolia: 15-20 feet tall, 15 feet wide, indigenous to Japan and best grown in zones 4-9.


Jane Magnolias are deciduous

Jane Magnolia (Magnolia x ‘Jane’):

The Jane Magnolia is a small hybrid of the native Southern Magnolia that produces purple-red flowers in early spring. The foliage appears after the flowers bloom, beginning in mid-spring. The tulip-shaped flowers are between 4 to 8 inches when open, white on the inside with the outer purple fading to pink as the long-lasting blooms remain for up to 4 weeks.

Jane Magnolias are hardy from zones 4 through 8, losing their leaves in the fall with blooms appearing mid-spring. As a 10-15-foot-tall tree with a rounded canopy, their narrower width of 8-12 feet wide makes them suitable for smaller gardens or as a focal point in landscapes. Jane Magnolias are also versatile as they can be grown as a tree or shrub.

Jane Magnolia: 10-15 feet tall, 8-12 feet wide, native hybrid grown in zones 4-8.

Planting Pointers for Magnolia Trees

Magnolia trees prefer full sun to partial shade with at least six hours of full sun as a minimum. When looking for the perfect location, consider both the height and the width of the magnolia tree you are planting. It can be difficult to imagine a 3-foot tree growing to 50 feet tall and 30 feet wide, but leaving the room open around your new tree will allow it to reach its full growth potential.

Your magnolia will also prefer to be planted in cooler weather in slightly acidic soil. Amending the soil with compost when digging the hole will help lower the pH. The size of the hole should be slightly shallower than the top of the root ball and twice as wide. Planting the tree too deeply can lead to suffocation of the surface roots. Cut away any intruding roots from nearby shrubs.

As you are backfilling the hole with loosened soil, gently firm it down to eliminate air pockets. Always thoroughly water after planting – it helps settle the soil and give fresh water to the recently exposed roots of the tree. During the establishment phase, water infrequently and deeply to encourage deep root growth.

Caring for Your Magnolia


Mulching your magnolias follows many of the best practices found in our recent blog “Why Mulching Matters for Young Trees.” Organic mulches such as wood chips, bark or pine straw should be spread in an even layer of 2-3” under the tree canopy and 6” from the tree trunk. Never pile mulch up against a tree as that encourages pests and moisture to gather around the base of the tree.

For a mature Southern Magnolia mulching is not as important for retaining moisture in the soil. The broad spread of the evergreen tree canopy shades the ground, discouraging evaporation. However, for the smaller and deciduous varieties of magnolias, mulching helps reduce stress in dry and hot conditions by retaining moisture and keeping any surface roots cooler.


Magnolias are more prone to pruning stress than some of the other popular landscape trees in our Tallahassee area. Generally, magnolias grow in the shape they are meant to be, only requiring pruning of dead or damaged branches. If any shaping is needed, keep it as minimal as possible and plan to perform the pruning during slow growth months in the winter. If there is more extensive damage done from bad weather or a fellow tree falling, consider calling a certified arborist to determine the best plan for maximizing shape and minimizing stress on your magnolia.

Common Pests

Generally considered pest-resistant once established, healthy magnolias seldom require any specialized care. Examining leaves and the overall health of your tree on a regular basis can head off many pests before they become a problem. If you do notice pests or foliage issues beyond what you are comfortable treating, consult an arborist for a tailored treatment plan.

Scale Insects

If you see bees or wasps visiting your magnolia you may have an infestation of Magnolia or Tulip Tree scale. These insects survive by feeding on the water and sugar within the tree. Once they latch on with their elongated mouth into the tissues of the tree, they stay in the same place and begin excreting a sticky substance called honeydew, a food source for bees and wasps. Honeydew also drips down on leaves and causes issues with sooty mold, preventing photosynthesis on leaves and potentially starving the tree leaf by leaf.

If caught early on small trees, the scales can be removed with a small brush. On taller and more mature trees a systemic insecticide brings longer-lasting results. If left untreated and an infestation reaches a threatening level, horticultural oil can be used to smother the scales.


With small, elongated bodies and wings, thrips can spread quickly. They feed on the sap of a magnolia through the leaves. Females will lay their eggs on the ground near the tree with larvae appearing in spring. Keeping the ground around your magnolia free of decaying plant materials is one of your best defenses against thrips.

Because they are flyers, you can use sticky strips to trap them when they reach the adult stage. If you are interested in ladybugs, ordering some in to feed on the larvae will also put a stop to the sap-sucking thrips. If the swarm has already grown to a larger problem than the previously mentioned solutions can handle, spraying the leaves with a solution of horticultural oil is advisable. Please follow directions carefully to ensure proper concentration and application.

Mealy Bugs

Another sap happy pest, mealy bugs are often encountered on houseplants and ornamentals. The small, white and slightly elongated bodies can be found on magnolia leaves that are slightly deformed or yellow. Though they may look soft their backs have a strong shell that acts as protection. Mealy bugs move and reproduce quickly, making the use of horticultural oil a viable solution to preventing eggs from hatching. For a general defense, insecticidal soap or pesticides can be used.

Magnolia trees are some of the most magnificent landscape specimens in any Big Bend landscape. The wide varieties of sizes, bloom color and foliage mean there is a magnolia for any situation. Whether you plant the grand Southern Magnolia or the pretty pink flowered Jane, there is nothing more satisfying than knowing your magnolia will be providing you with a show of strength and beauty for years to come.

At Miller’s Tree Service, we often help our clients with the care of their magnolias. Our certified arborists can answer your questions about the placement of new trees to maximize sun and shade.

Contact us online here or call 850.894.TREE (8733) to schedule an arborist assessment – we are invested in keeping all of our Tallahassee trees looking their best!