Magnolia bushes, also known as magnolia trees or large shrubs, feature showy, fragrant flowers. These trees add texture, form and beauty to any garden although they grow best in moist soils typical of woodland forests. With 80 species of magnolias, most gardeners usually find one that works well in their garden, especially if they live in USDA hardiness zones 6 to 10.
Fossil records suggest that the magnolia existed between 36 and 58 million years ago. Even today, the flowers of the magnolia remain similar to primitive flowering plants in that they do not produce nectar nor feature true petals. In Asia and North America, ancient cultures used the magnolia, with China cultivating the plant since the seventh century. In 1688, the first magnolia from North America was brought to Europe where it was named after Pierre Magnol, a 17th-century botanist. Since then, a number of hybrids have resulted in making magnolia a superior ornamental tree.
In the spring, the eye-catching blooms of the magnolia tree make it a show-stopping addition to gardens and landscapes. Besides its use as an ornamental tree, some magnolia species are harvested for their wood. Several Asian and North American species are used to make furniture. The buds from some trees have been used as a tonic. Wildlife and birds also eat the magnolia’s seeds and flowers.
Magnolias vary in shape, size and blossom color, but most sport large, glossy green, oval-shaped leaves. A few magnolias grow to 90 feet in height and 40 feet wide. Some magnolias are deciduous–they lose their leaves each fall–while others are evergreen. The trees feature large, eye-catching blooms in shades of pink, purple, red, yellow, cream and white. After the blooms fade, 2- to 6-inch fruits appear in late summer. The fruits eventually split, showing red or orange seeds.
Magnolias feature a variety of sizes and blossom colors including the yellow, mildly fragrant 3-inch blossoms of the cucumber magnolia. This magnolia reaches 80 feet in height. Ashe magnolia, considered a large shrub or small tree, grows up to 30 feet in height and sports 6- to 8-inch flowers in late spring. Some of the more popular magnolias include the southern magnolia, grown in southern states in hardiness zones 7 to 10.
Planting and Pruning
Magnolias thrive in well-drained, slightly acidic soil enhanced with organic material. They also like sunny locations as long as they receive adequate water during dry periods. Pruning for size or shape needs to take place in early spring before new growth appears.