The Magnolia genus belongs to the Magnoliaceae plant family and contains numerous evergreen or deciduous trees. Most magnolia varieties bloom large, white flowers in the spring. These hardy trees have few pest or disease problems. Gardeners wishing to plant magnolia trees should select plants according to appropriate hardiness zone, mature size, bloom time and intended use.
The yulan magnolia (Magnolia denudate) naturally occurs in China and performs well in USDA Zones 6 to 9. This magnolia species ranges from 30 to 40 feet in both height and spread. The dark green leaves have lighter undersides. Fragrant, white flowers bloom in March, followed by red fruits that ripen in late summer. The yulan magnolia prefers rich, loamy soils in partially to fully sunny locations. This smaller magnolia variety makes an excellent lawn tree.
The cucumber tree (Magnolia acuminate) originates in Eastern North America and typically does well in USDA Zones 3 to 8. Cucumber trees mature between 40 and 70 feet in height with spreads ranging from 20 to 35 feet. Lightly scented, yellow-green flowers appear in April and May, but it might take over 12 years for the first flowers to bloom. These blossoms give way to bumpy, green fruits that look like little cucumbers. The yellowish-green leaves turn golden shades in the autumn. This magnolia species needs moist, rich soils in partly sunny to fully sunny locations. The cucumber tree works well as a shade tree in large lawns and parks.
The large-flowered magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) prefers moist, loamy soils that receive plenty of sunshine. Indigenous to the southeastern regions of the United States, this magnolia species generally performs well in USDA Hardiness Zones 7 to 9. Large-flowered magnolias range from 60 to 80 feet in height and from 30 to 50 feet in width. Strongly scented, white flowers appear in May and June. Gardeners often plant the large-flowered magnolia tree in moist woodland areas.
The kobus magnolia (Magnolia kobus) naturally occurs in Japan but generally thrives in USDA Zones 5 to 8. This magnolia variety ranges from 25 to 30 feet in both height and spread. Kobus magnolias prefer moist, well-drained soils in partially to fully sunny positions. Fragrant, white flowers with subtle pink tints appear in March, giving way to seedpods that attract birds. These trees sometimes take as long as 25 years before producing high-quality flowers. The aromatic, deep green leaves turn a non-showy, yellow-brown in the autumn. The kobus magnolia tree works well in foundation plantings and woodland areas.
The star magnolia (Magnolia stellata) features deep green leaves that turn a non-showy, yellow-brown in the autumn. The fragrant, star-shaped, white blossoms appear from late winter to early spring. This early bloomer sometimes suffers from severe frost damage. Star magnolias reach up to 20 feet in height and 15 feet in width. Winter hardy to USDA Zones 4 to 8, this tree prefers organic, rich soils in sunny locations. Gardeners often use star magnolias in woodland margins and foundation plantings.