What Soil Do Magnolias Like? Advice on Growing Magnolias in UK Gardens
Magnolias are a varied group of plants, available in a range of sizes, with some flowering from early spring and others holding off until mid-summer. Whichever type you choose, you’ll enjoy the display of often fragrant flowers magnolia trees and shrubs produce. And the good news is that there is one for every garden, including deciduous and evergreen magnolias.
Choosing the Right Magnolia for Your Garden
Whether you’re looking to add a large tree to your outdoor space or need a small shrub to fill a gap in a border, magnolias are available in many sizes. Some varieties are well-suited to container gardening, while others are best suited to growing as a standalone specimen.
When choosing the right magnolia tree or shrub for your garden there are several things to consider:
- What kind of soil do you have?
- How big will the plant eventually grow?
- Does the chosen spot receive enough sunlight?
- Would you prefer an evergreen or deciduous magnolia?
- What flower color and blooming time do you prefer?
The answers to these questions will help you narrow down the options and pick the perfect new magnolia for your garden.
The Importance of Soil Types
Soil types can significantly affect how well trees and shrubs grow. For example, some prefer heavier soils that retain moisture, while others are happier in lighter, well-drained soil.
Most magnolias prefer neutral to slightly acidic soil. They thrive in fertile, moist but well-draining soil with plenty of organic matter. As a general rule, magnolias don’t grow well in chalky soils, preferring loamy, clay, or sandy soil types. However, the odd variety, such as magnolia stellata, will tolerate more chalky, slightly alkaline soil.
If this doesn’t match your garden soil, consider growing magnolias in pots and containers, where you can choose the right type of soil for your plant.
Where to Plant Magnolias
Magnolias prefer a sheltered spot protected from strong winds. A bright position in full sun or light shade is ideal, but in warmer parts of the country try to choose a spot out of the hot afternoon sun.
Frost damage is a real risk for magnolia flower buds in early spring, so if you live in a colder area prone to frost pockets, choose evergreen magnolias, as these usually flower later in the season.
Magnolias can grow to be large shrubs or trees. Some magnolia species can reach as tall as 20m, so ensure they have left enough space to reach their full potential. Leave around 4-8 meters around the plant to give it plenty of room to grow. If you prefer to keep your magnolia small, consider growing it as a container plant to limit its size.
Growing Magnolias in Containers
Magnolias have shallow roots, so they are well-suited to container gardening. While magnolias grown in the ground generally require less maintenance, growing magnolias in pots and containers has advantages.
Firstly, you can control the soil pH much more easily. As we already mentioned, most magnolias grow best in neutral to slightly acidic soil. If you love the appearance of a magnolia in full bloom but your garden doesn’t have the right type of soil, a container might be the ideal solution.
Secondly, growing magnolias in pots and containers helps maintain a more compact size, ideal for small gardens or patio areas.
Plant magnolias in a light, well-draining potting mix high in ericaceous compost. Choose a large pot with plenty of drainage holes in the bottom. Bear in mind that pot-grown trees and shrubs need to be watered much more regularly than those planted in the ground. Keep an eye on the soil and keep it slightly moist but not water-logged.
The Best Magnolias for Pots
Magnolia Fairy Blush
Reaching around 3m tall over 20 years, Fairy Blush is the perfect magnolia tree for container gardening. As the name would suggest, the lightly scented flowers on these smaller magnolias are flushed with pink. It flowers reliably between March and May and then sporadically until September. Unlike most spring-blooming magnolia trees, fairy blush is semi-evergreen and keeps its leaves year-round in warmer climates.
Blooming from mid to late spring, magnolia Susan is a deciduous species producing a wonderful show of tulip-shaped purple-pink flowers. This small tree has an upright habit, and its slow-growing nature makes it ideal for pots and containers. Grow magnolia Susan in full sun – a sheltered spot against a sunny wall is perfect – and water regularly during the growing season.
How to Care for Magnolias
Magnolias are undemanding garden plants that are easy to care for and don’t need much maintenance.
Many magnolias don’t respond well to hard pruning, so limit cutting to removing dead or damaged branches. Pruning magnolias back too much can inhibit flowering. So, if you wish to maintain a desired shape and size, do so gradually. A little pruning over a few years is much preferable to one heavy prune.
Grown in the ground, magnolias don’t need to be fed and watered as much as those placed in pots. Water well during dry spells and mulch in spring or autumn, being careful to avoid the main stem or trunk.
What Time of Year Should You Plant a Magnolia?
Autumn and spring are the ideal times of year for planting magnolias. However, they are available all year round and can be planted at any time, as long as the ground isn’t frozen.
If planting in autumn, do so a few weeks before the first frost is expected. If planting in spring, wait until the risk of frost has passed before placing the tree in the ground.
Magnolias for Large and Medium-Sized Gardens
One of the more common evergreen varieties, magnolia grandiflora boasts large leathery leaves, glossy on top and hairy underneath. The plant blooms in late summer with generous bowl-shaped creamy-white flowers contrasting beautifully with the dark foliage. The blooms have a fresh lemony scent and attract bees, butterflies, and other pollinators to the garden.
Magnolia Star Wars
A magnolia Star Wars tree in full bloom is a tremendous sight. The huge tulip-shaped pale pink flowers are flushed with dark pink and blossom throughout spring, covering the bare branches with color. The blooms are up to 27cm long and have a satin-like sheen and texture. These deciduous magnolias grow to around 6m tall and 4m wide and have been awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit.
Magnolias for Smaller Gardens
This slow-growing, bushy magnolia grows well in clay soil and reaches an eventual height of up to 3m over 10 years. Also known as star magnolia, magnolia stellata boasts pure white flowers with strap-shaped petals forming star shapes. The lightly scented blooms appear on the branches in March, weeks before the mid-green leaves emerge, and often last through April.
Magnolia Black Lily
These popular deciduous magnolias reach around 3.5m in height and spread. They are slow-growing plants that are ideal as small shrubs for the garden. Goblet-shaped purple-red flowers bloom from early summer to September, decorating the rich green foliage and acting as a magnet for pollinators.