A mature magnolia tree makes a striking visual impact in the lawn or landscape. Beyond its impressive size, the magnolia offers glossy green foliage and large, lush blooms in season. It has a reputation for low maintenance and being resistant to pests and diseases. Although a magnolia tree requires little attention once established, there are a few strategies to help your tree reach optimum health and beauty.
Planting and Early Care
Both evergreen and deciduous magnolia varieties are available. Evergreens, including the southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) and the sweet bay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana), are best planted in early spring. Deciduous trees may be planted in spring or fall, with the fall being preferred in northern gardens, and spring in the south.
When planting, choose a location that will provide partial shade to the seedling or transplant. Dig a hole several times bigger than the root ball of your tree, and place the root ball in the hole so that it rests at a level that keeps the roots just under the soil surface. Fill in to secure the new tree, and mulch generously to moderate the temperature of the soil and protect the roots. Magnolias perform well when fertilized with organic matter like bone meal, decayed cow manure, cottonseed meal or fish scraps. Water well, and continue providing adequate moisture until the tree is well-established, usually three to five years.
Pruning and Maintenance
You may prune your tree in the first few years to establish a preferred shape. After that time period, pruning is less necessary, except to remove damaged or diseased branches. Since some mature magnolias can reach heights of 80 feet or more, pruning established trees may be best done by professionals for safety reasons.
Pruning often can be avoided by choosing the proper size and shape for your location. Large varieties may work well in larger landscape designs where the tree will have room to grow. But for more compact spaces, there are smaller, shrub-sized trees like the 'Little Gem' variety. Several mid-range sizes also are available, such as the Magnolia acuminata 'Golden Glow' or Magnolia denudata.
Magnolias generally don't need watering once established except in times of severe drought.
Disease and Pest Care
Fortunately, magnolias are very resistant to most diseases and pests. The few bugs that threaten the magnolia family can usually be eliminated with horticultural oils. While it's not uncommon to see a magnolia affected to some extent by leaf spots or black mildew, these seldom need chemical control. Rake up and dispose of affected leaves (do not compost) to reduce the amount of fungus in the following year.