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The Magnolias in the garden

Magnolias are a genus of very showy trees and shrubs; there are about eighty magnolia species in the world, and many are hybrids and cultivars. We can distinguish a group consisting of tall evergreen trees, with leathery leaves and summer flowering, whose specimens originate from the North American continent; another group, on the other hand, is that of Asian magnolias, even large shrubs with deciduous and late-winter or spring blossoms.
The magnolias are among the most appreciated flowering trees: they are in fact an unforgettable show, with their delicate petals coming out directly from the branches, even before the leaves, to indicate the arrival of the warm season.
Everyone can have the satisfaction of cultivating one, since there are many different sizes and portions. They can therefore be placed in large parks, in small gardens or even grown in large containers, on balconies or terraces.
Magnolias come from East Asia and the East coast of the United States. In Europe they were known since ancient times, but their cultivation (especially of the persistent leaf varieties) has spread since the 18th century.

The evergreen magnolias

Certainly among the most cultivated high-trunked magnolias, first of all the magnolia grandiflora, a large tree, which reaches 15-20 meters in height, with leathery leaves of bright green and large white flowers in summer, followed by particular fruit woody, from which the small red fruits protrude. One of the first specimens grown in Europe can be admired in the botanical garden of Padua, where it appears to have been planted in the late eighteenth century. These trees have been grown in European gardens for centuries, especially in the large parks of stately homes and city gardens.
There are other species of this plant of American origin, although in general they are difficult to find in Italy; for example, M. acuminata and M. tripetala. These species are widespread in particular in the southern parts of the United States, and generally bear the Italian climate without problems.
Among the evergreen-leafed species there is also an Asiatic, the Magnolia delavayi, with bright green foliage, and large white, fragrant, fleshy flowers that bloom at the height of summer.

Deciduous leaf magnolias

The magnolias that lose their leaves are all of Asian origin and have been grown in Europe for centuries; most produce its large flowers in late winter or early spring, before producing leaves; the beauty of these plants is in fact being able to admire the bare trees adorned with beautiful flowers.
The most widespread in cultivation are hybrids of magnolia x soulangeana, originating from the hybridization between m. liliflora and magnolia denudata; small shrubs with slow growth have been obtained, which over the years can become small trees, with deciduous leaves, which in spring produce huge cupped flowers, white inside, pink on the outside.
Other magnolias that are very cultivated are the stellar magnolias, with large star-shaped flowers, of a pure white color, which also bloom on the completely bare tree.
There are many other species, such as Magnolia kobus, magnolia obovata, magnolia officinalis, which are generally only cultivated in botanical gardens, or by collectors, and are not easily found in nurseries, although they are delicate and graceful plants.
These plants are also rustic and can be grown in the garden without problems.

Growing magnolias

Whether they are evergreen or deciduous, magnolias generally have similar needs; they prefer sunny positions, since in the shade they tend to produce a poor flowering. They should be planted in a cool and deep, very well drained soil, since they do not like stagnant water; possibly it is good that the soil has a tendency to be acidic, in fact over time the cultivation in excessively calcareous soils can lead to a slight chlorosis, especially as regards deciduous species.
Every year in autumn the soil at the foot of the plant is enriched with mature organic fertilizer, or with granular fertilizer; in order to guarantee the presence of mineral salts in the soil for a long period of time.
Generally the magnolias are satisfied with the water supplied by the weather, even if it is advisable to water the younger shrubs during the summer, and also the adult specimens in case of prolonged drought; watering can only be necessary during hot periods and must be provided when the soil is well dry.
Generally, magnolias do not require pruning, as the development is quite slow and the plants tend to produce a harmonious crown, without the need for human help. After flowering we can remove the damaged or poorly developed branches, without excessively pruning the plant.
With regards to very early flowering plants it is advisable to place them in a place where they are not excessively exposed to wind or frost, to prevent the buds from being ruined by sporadic late frosts.

The name of the Magnolias

It was a French botanist who gave his name to the magnolias, in the late 18th century; this Plumier chose for these majestic plants the name of another botanist Pierre Magnol, the one who had introduced the concept of a botanical family into the systematic.
In American gardens it seems that the magnolia was considered an auspicious sign; today magnolia flowers in bouquets symbolize dignity, perseverance and superb beauty.

Magnolia liliflora

Among the numerous hybrids of magnolia there is also a hybrid called Magnolia liliflora, very close in characteristics to the magnolia soulangeana. The flower is in fact very similar and can easily be confused with a not very careful analysis, but it is not the only similar aspect. The leaves of this plant are in fact deciduous and oval, with a leathery consistency and a light green color.
There magnolia liliflora blooms at the end of winter on the branches still without leaves and has an explosive flowering, with deep pink petals arranged in a cup.
There are different varieties of magnolia liliflora, such as the liliflora nigra and the liliflora susan, a variety made through a cross between magnolia rosea and magnolia nigra. Susan flowers in April and May and is one of the longest-growing magnolias.

Magnolia exposure and climate

Magnolias are generally quite rustic, but otherwise they are quite demanding in terms of climate. In fact, they require a context that is not too hot during the summer, but also not too humid during the bad season. Furthermore, cold winds and late frosts can permanently ruin flower buds.
Ultimately we can say that in the north of the peninsula the ideal is a position in full sun or with a little shade in the afternoon. Let us make sure, however, that the area is well lit and heated even during the most rigid months. In addition to being useful there is a wall nearby, capable of blocking the winds and accumulating heat during the day. In southern regions and on the coasts it is instead important to guarantee a substratum that is always slightly damp. We therefore choose an area well reached by the sun in the morning, but more sheltered during the afternoon hours.


Name, genus, species

Magnoliaceae, gen magnolia, more than 125 species
Type of plant Deciduous or persistent flowering tree or shrub
Origins East Asia, United States
Flower color White, pink, crimson, yellow
Maintenance Simple
Growth slow
Rusticitа Medium and very rustic
Exposure Sun-shade
Ground Deep, soft, rich, fresh, generally not calcareous
pH Usually acid, but for some species also neutral or sub-alkaline
Water needs Average
Height From 2 to 30 m
Propagation Sowing, cutting, layering, grafting

Magnolia soil

The preferable soil must be rich, deep and soft, but at the same time well drained. Most species prefer acid-reaction soils with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5.
If in our green space there was instead a clayey and alkaline substratum, it will be good to replace it totally or partially, perhaps mixing peat or specific soil for acidophilic and some very mature manure.
Alternatively we choose more tolerant varieties, such as stellata and kobus.

How to maintain the acidity of the soil

Unfortunately, the proximity of a clay soil and the irrigation with calcareous water over time will inevitably return to raising the pH of that area. To avoid or minimize this problem it is good, if possible, to irrigate with rainwater. It may also be useful to spread iron sulphate in the fall and spring, to be incorporated in depth. Mulch with peat, bark and pine needles can also be a valuable aid. In an emergency, due to the appearance of leaf chlorosis and scarce blooms, we can spread chelated iron in granules throughout the area covered by the foliage.

When to plant the magnolia

Magnolias do not particularly like to be transplanted and it is therefore good to choose carefully the period in which to operate. For a complete success it is absolutely necessary to avoid doing this when frosts can occur.
The advice is to proceed to the north at the beginning of autumn (September-October) or late spring. In places with a mild climate it is possible to do so even in winter, as long as the temperatures never drop below 0 th.
Small plants (at most 1.20 cm) recover more easily than others and are therefore to be preferred when purchasing.

How to plant magnolia?

Let's dig a very big hole. At the bottom we prepare a drainage layer based on gravel. Mix the extracted soil with a good amount of peat and mature manure. We insert the plant, touching as little as possible the delicate roots, so that the point of grafting is slightly raised above the ground level.
We compress well and irrigate abundantly and continuously for at least two months.

Cultivation by magnolia

Magnolias, if grown in the right place, are plants with limited maintenance and very resistant to disease.
You will have to be a little more careful in the Center-South, during the spring and summer days, especially if hot and dry. The soil must always remain fresh: in this we can help a thick mulch based on vegetal fragments or, better still, pine bark. With very high temperatures the plant can benefit from foliar vaporizations in the evening that allow it to cool down and rehydrate.

Fertilizing magnolia

To keep the soil vital and airy, it is advisable to spread a good amount of flour manure at the base in the autumn to be absorbed into the soil in spring, with a light hoeing. Joining a little peat can be useful for maintaining the pH of the soil.
In March it is good to distribute in the area covered by the foliage of the fertilizer for acidophilic or for flowering plants, possibly slow release.

How to prune the magnolia

Pruning is not strictly necessary for magnolias. They grow with a naturally open and elegant shape.
If we want to educate them, however, in a particular way it is good to do it in the first 5 years of life, intervening after flowering, towards the end of April.
In emergencies, to eliminate branches exhausted or damaged by cold or illness, one can also intervene in mid-autumn. The ideal is to operate only removing those that are dead or that at birth appear to be particularly fragile.

Parasites of magnolia

These are resistant plants. For flowering the greatest danger is represented by the slugs, which climb on the branches and feed on young and tender buds. Let's keep them away with special products.
There is also the danger of root rot (which must be prevented with good drainage) and leaf desiccation (caused by excessive heat).

Propagate the magnolia

M. can be propagated by seed, cutting, layering or grafting. All, except the first, guarantee the maintenance of the peculiar characteristics of the cultivar, but to put them into action, one must be rather experienced.
It is certainly preferable to layering, really difficult to make. It is made on semi-defined wood, proceeding in mid-summer. We cut healthy and vigorous jets with clean and sharp shears, below an eye, leaving a small bark tongue. We eliminate the apical bud and leave only a couple of leaves. Sprinkle with a rooting compound and place in cassettes with substrate obtained with soil, field soil, sand and perlite, in equal parts. We keep in a hot and humid but shaded greenhouse.
The graft by approximation is the most used, in particular on the most difficult cultivars to be cultivated. This technique also gives the possibility to choose a more tolerant root system with respect to limestone and high pH.
The subjects, obtained from seed, are more used the M. kobus (for the deciduous ones) and the M. Grandiflora (for the evergreens).

Variety of magnolia

There are more than 125 species of Magnolia and hybrids and cultivars cannot be counted. Here are the most widespread:



September-October / April
Flowering From March to September, depending on the varieties
Training pruning After flowering
Composting Organic: autumn; synthesis: spring
Talea / graft From mid-summer





Flowering period

Other characteristics


Deciduous leaves
Magnolia kobus Small fragrant white flowers, pink fruits Up to 10 m March April It tolerates the calcareous soil. Suitable for this as a rootstock. Withstands up to -15 ° C and bears the shadow From Japan
Among the most simple and tolerant
Magnolia x loebneri Star-shaped flowers, up to 14 petals, from white to tender pink From 5 to 10 m April Hybrid available in different cultivars Full sun, it tolerates late frosts well
Magnolia x soulangeana Cream flowers with pink streaks, like a tulip. Up to 6 m April May Withstands up to -20 ° C
Many cultivars available
Very widespread, expanded habit, flowers before the leaves
Magnolia liliiflora Long petals, white or purple. About 7 cm in diameter Up to 4 m From April to July, the longest. It can be repeated in autumn Up to -15 ° C Beautiful pointed and glossy leaves Cultivar: nigra (compact), purpurea (rose flowers).
Starry magnolia Large star-shaped flowers all along the branch Very compact, up to 3 m March April Very rustic and resistant, up to -25 ° C It also grows in calcareous soil. Suitable for vases
Magnolia denudata Cup, white, about 15 cm in diam From 5 to 10 m, pyramidal shape March April Up to -15 ° C From China, broad and shiny leaves
Magnolia sieboldi Cup-shaped, semi-detached, white with a red center, very fragrant 10 foot May Very rustic From Japan and Korea. Thin branches and oblong leaves. Acid medium.
Suitable for vase
Magnolia obovata Large, cup-shaped, creamy white and / or purple, very fragrant 30 m May June Very rustic From Japan
Leaves up to 45 cm and 20 wide, very beautiful
Magnolia stellata x liliflora "Susan" Large, dark pink tulip, very fragrant 2-4 meters April May Up to -15 ° C Interesting foliage, also suitable for pots
A persistent leaf Magnolia grandiflora Cup-shaped flowers, large, in white, pink or purple. Highly scented More than 30 meters Very long, generally from June to September-October Up to -25 ° C Originally from the United States
Available in many varieties and cultivars with different flower colors, but also variegated leaves.
Among the most widespread in the North.

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