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Magnolia Grandiflora

The greatest icon of the South may be Magnolia grandiflora, or the Southern Magnolia. The sight of a grand old specimen dotted with fragrant blooms is enough to transport one to a time of Southern belles and stately plantations. This tree in its native form is not for small gardens, as it can grow up to 90 feet tall and 40 feet wide. There are many cultivars, and some may be more suitable to smaller spaces. 'Little Gem' grows only to about 20 feet tall and 14 feet wide and is known for its prolific blooming.

Southern Magnolia's magnificent white flowers have a waxy texture and citronella scent. The flowers, which emerge in late spring to early summer, can be up to 12 inches across when fully open.

Magnolia grandiflora seed pod

The Southern magnolia grows best in full sun and well-draining, slightly acid soil, but it will adapt to a variety of conditions. Add plenty of organic matter to the soil when planting and keep mulch around the tree when it is young. Site it carefully, as this tree produces dense shade and its shallow roots can cause problems with nearby pavement. Don't plan on planting anything under it! It is an evergreen tree, but it loses old leaves throughout the year. If it is planted in the middle of a lawn, clean-up can become a burden.

So where is the best place for a tree like this? My own Magnolia grandiflora  is in the perfect location. It is in a natural area on the other side of our drive. It is not so close to the asphalt to cause problems, and it is far enough away from the house to keep from overwhelming it. However, it is fully visible from our front windows, so we get to enjoy it from inside as well as when we are outdoors. I am fortunate to have room for it to grow and prosper.This magnolia grows at the top edge of my woodland garden. I have always loved its large, glossy leaves.

Magnolia grandiflora has a single trunk and a pyramidal shape. The branches are close and easy for a child to climb. My heart almost stopped one day not long after we moved here when I looked outside and saw one of my sons perched about twenty feet up, happily surveying the world. I also had to occasionally shoo other children in the neighborhood who were tempted to climb. 

Every year at Christmas time I cut magnolia leaves, as well as cedar and other greens from our garden, to fill the large stone planter in front of our house. I just stick them down in the soil and keep them watered through the holiday season. I add sprigs of red berries and thread tiny white lights throughout the planter to complete the look. I also use magnolia leaves in making a wreath to hang on my front door. Spraying the undersides of the leaves with hairspray helps them to hold moisture and to preserve their freshness longer.

I am not surprised that Magnolia grandiflora is a symbol for nobility and dignity, as well as the love of nature, and I am so happy to have a mature specimen in my garden.


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Reader Comments (15)

Such a beautiful tribute to a beautiful tree that we are proud to have in our garden too!! You are lucky indeed to have a mature specimen in your garden :))

December 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMark and Gaz

What a gorgeous tree. Here in the north we can grow a couple varieties that can take the winter, and I have been dreaming for years of adding one. You are inspiring me to find the big open space it needs and put one in!

December 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLaurrie

You are very lucky to have such a beautiful old tree in your garden, I just love the seed head, someone showed me one the other day, previously I had no idea they were so colourful.

December 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

I love Magnolia Grandiflora. The scent of the flowers is wonderful and they absolutely exquisite. II used to have one but I don't have one where I live now. I believe they take quite a long time to flower and here they need a sheltered spot.
I enjoyed your post.

December 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChloris

This tree is unusual but very delicate. I have one pink magnolia tree. I love this beautiful tree.

December 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEla

What an interesting story and a beautiful tree. I hope you will show us the large stone Christmas planter soon.

December 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDenise

Ahhh, magnolia. Your post recalls my long, loving history with this magnificent tree. I've grown that 'Little Gem' for years, both in the mountains of North Georgia and more recently here in Marietta, Georgia – simply because it fits smaller gardens. In Connecticut I grew 'Bracken's Brown Beauty' for more than five years, reliably hardy in New England. Ahhh, magnolia, tree of trees.

December 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLee May

I love the Magnolia tree and you are lucky to have large tree that blooms. Do you grow any of the tulip magnolia trees? I have 3 purple and 1 yellow tulip magnolia trees, they have beautiful blooms as well.

December 9, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermichael

Oh yes, I think of all Magnolias as magical, but M. grandiflora as royalty! It's one of those plants that seems ancient and wise and like the tree of life. I've seen them a lot when visiting friends and family in the south and, along with Camellias, they're my favorite southern plants. Excellent post about them, and isn't that seed pod incredible?!

December 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPlantPostings

not a tree usually thought of as connected to Christmas, but using the leaves as you describe makes perfect sense. (now why didn't I think of that??!!) The photo of that seed pod is amazing.

December 10, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercatmint

Liked the bluish tint of your magnolia flower photo. We have a huge tree that Momma just had to have. I'm not so crazy about it.

December 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLinda Jones

I've always admired these, although never grown one myself. Our first apartment though was the upstairs of an old Georgian house, and a Magnolia grandiflora graced the central courtyard. It must have been a very old tree, as I remember the trunk girth was substantial. I love the branches in bloom, but also remember how slick the fallen petals were on the ground, especially after a rain, and the petals, and seed pods made quite a mess on the brick patio. It was all worth it though, as in bloom, these trees have no rival!

December 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCurbstone Valley Farm

Now there are cultivars of this wonderful magnolia that are hardy up here in zone 6. I have Edith Bogue which does fine. But I love the brown fuzzy undersides of the leaves on equally hardy Bracken's Brown Beauty.

I am one of those weirdos who would rather appreciate a Magnolia grandiflora in someone else's yard. They are often specimen trees out in the wide open here but I think they look best with other trees, given that they have enough room. Yours is gorgeous and you have the perfect place for it!!

December 12, 2013 | Unregistered Commentersweetbay

Deborah this is a flower I want to see in person in its home in the South...what a gorgeous seed pod.

December 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDonna@Gardens Eye View
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