Whilst the weather is grey and the winter cold is setting in, now is a great time to plant Magnolia trees. Due to our warmer climate in the South West of England planting at this time of year is ideal. I absolutely adore driving between gardening jobs in the Redland/Clifton areas of Bristol during the spring, gazing in awe at the many stunning varieties of Magnolia. I love the simplicity of white Magnolia stellata, the Star Magnolia, though I am a huge fan of the gorgeous pink Magnolia varieties.
Magnolias can be evergreen or deciduous and are fully hardy, though the buds can suffer from frost damage. Deciduous varieties flower before leaf emergence in the spring. Magnolia grandiflora (Bull bay) is the most common evergreen variety and are particularly good for training up walls. Their flowers have flushes from summer to early autumn, and are best planted in early spring.
Magnolias prefer full sun, on well drained, moist soil that doesn’t dry out. A sheltered aspect is important. Two deciduous varieties that flower later are Magnolia wilsonii and Magnolia sieboldii and both would be quite happy in light, dappled shade.
Magnolias like a slightly acidic soil, though if you have an alkaline soil there are some varieties to choose from that would do well. Magnolia grandiflora and Magnolia delavayi do well on dry alkaline soil in particular. On moist, alkaline soils try Magnolia kobus, Magnolia stellata, Magnolia x loebneri, Magnolia sieboldii. Magnolia grandiflora and Magnolia virginiana will both tolerate wet soils.
Magnolia trees are fairly low maintenance. You don’t need to prune deciduous varieties, just routine pruning to remove dead wood or water shoots, if you really need to. Heavy pruning can lead to lots of water shoots popping out. Any renovation pruning should be done over a course of a few years, as the stress can cause them to take a long time to recover, and growth will be slow. Likewise, evergreen Magnolias don’t need much pruning but they do tolerate renovation pruning better than deciduous varieties. Prune evergreen free standing varieties in the spring time, and wall-trained varieties in the summer.
When planting, ensure to use ericaceous compost if necessary, and add mulch on top of the soil, leaving a slight ‘collar’ around the trunk of the tree to allow air to flow. Young trees don’t like competition from weeds, so the mulch will help suppress them. Make sure that your Magnolia receives enough water so that the soil doesn’t become too dry. Other than that, sit back and enjoy the beautiful blossom!