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How to Plant & Care for a Magnolia Tree

By Kimberly Sharpe ; Updated September 21, 2017
Magnolia tree blossoms
magnolia tree image by Liz Van Steenburgh from Fotolia.com

The magnolia grows as a tree or a shrub. There are about 80 magnolia varieties and hundreds of cultivars. The magnolia family can be traced back 36 million to 58 million years ago by fossil dating, according to the University of Florida. The magnolia comes in both evergreen and deciduous varieties. The trees and shrubs are grown for their large, fragrant flowers that appear on the tree in the spring often before the foliage even materializes on some varieties. Magnolias are not picky about soil and grow widely throughout the Eastern United States.

Select magnolia varieties that are grown in your area. Many magnolias are cold tolerant and others prefer tropical weather conditions. Try to purchase 2-year-old trees in a root ball wrapped in burlap or planted in a container. Bare-root trees should be avoided because the magnolia has tender roots that can easily be damaged when planting.

Plant magnolias in a sunny location in the early spring. Magnolias should be planted in well-drained soil. Make sure that the area offers ample space for the magnolia to grow and have air circulation. Consider the magnolia's mature size. Many species are quite large and others are small.

Dig a hole that is at least twice the size of the magnolia's root ball. Mix organic material such as peat moss into the garden soil at a ratio of 50 percent peat moss mixed with 50 percent garden soil. Remove the burlap wrap on the root ball if the tree is wrapped in burlap. If the tree is in a container then carefully lift the tree from the container or cut the container away.

Set the tree into the freshly dug hole carefully. The top of the root ball should be at ground level when planting. Press the soil and peat moss firmly around the magnolia tree's root system. Make sure all air pockets are removed as you tamp down the soil. Water the tree thoroughly.

Place 3 to 4 inches of peat moss around the base of the magnolia tree to prevent weed growth and help the soil stay moist. Peat moss, bark chips, leaf mulch, recycled plastic, sawdust or pine needles are ideal mulches.

Water the magnolia tree once a week. The magnolia should have at least 1 inch of water per week to thrive.

Fertilize using a 10-10-10 fertilizer. Fertilize in the spring when flower buds first appear. Follow the directions on the fertilizer label for application instructions. Water the fertilizer into the soil thoroughly.

Prune the magnolia tree in the spring using loppers or a chainsaw if the tree is large. Simply remove any dead limbs. Most magnolias grow limbs on the trunk that can go all the way to the ground. Remove the limbs to form a singular trunk if this is the look that you desire. The magnolia can also be successfully grown as an espalier.


Things You Will Need

  • Mulch
  • Peat moss
  • Fertilizer 10-10-10
  • Loppers
  • Chainsaw


  • Magnolias have very shallow roots so be careful when hoeing or removing weeds around the base of the tree.
  • The magnolia tree suffers from no real pests or diseases, according to the University of Minnesota.

About the Author


Based in Oregon, Kimberly Sharpe has been a writer since 2006. She writes for numerous online publications. Her writing has a strong focus on home improvement, gardening, parenting, pets and travel. She has traveled extensively to such places as India and Sri Lanka to widen and enhance her writing and knowledge base.