Showy magnolias aren’t fussy about clay soil


At this time of year, Magnolias are putting on a show. If you’re looking for a showy flowering tree that’s not too large but grows fast, consider the Magnolia! There are some gorgeous Magnolia hybrids that work well in clay soil, making Magnolias a better choice for most landscapes than dogwoods, which prefer well-drained soils. Magnolias are known for their immense purple-pink and white tulip-shaped blooms. A few varieties have ivory or pale yellow blooms. They are at their best in the early spring, providing a real show before their leaves form. They do best in full sun or partial shade.

There is a family of compact hybrids with women’s names like Jane, Susan, Betty and Anne (we call them “the girls”) that make ideal lawn trees, big enough to walk under when they grow up. Many of them re-bloom lightly during the summer and fall. At our farm we have a magnolia that has been in our gardens almost 25 years. Her name is “Jane” and she’s a real show-stopper when she’s in bloom!

The Star Magnolia “Royal Star” is also a favorite, with gleaming ivory white waxy petals and a nice compact shape. This variety rarely exceeds ten feet tall and wide, and generally grows like a large shrub rather than a tree form.

Magnolias naturally grow multiple trunks and lots of spreading branches, hanging down to the ground. They are very attractive in a “clump” form with multiple trunks, “limbed up” to show off their attractive silvery bark. Left alone, they grow more like giant shrubs than trees. We prefer to “limb them up”, showing off a few feet of clear trunk with its attractive smooth, silvery bark. It’s important to cut off the long, straight “suckers” that sprout at the base of the trunk, looking like fishing poles.

If planted carefully and fed a steady diet of “Holly Tone”, magnolias can add several feet of growth in a single season. Mixing Holly Tone in the soil when you plant gets them off to a quick start. We like to use pine bark mulch around Magnolias because they are acid-loving. A bit of pruning can really enhance this tree; simply removing sucker growth gives them a simpler and more graceful shape. Pruning off horizontal limbs from the bottom up makes a clump-form tree with room underneath to plant other things.

Magnolias bloom very early in the season, so planting one this fall would be good timing. Magnolias form their flower buds in summer and fall for the following year. Your magnolia could be well established by late winter and give you a beautiful show to kick off your spring garden.

Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer specializing in landscape “makeovers”. “Let’s Grow” is published weekly; column archives are online at For more information call GoodSeed Farm Landscapes at (937) 587-7021.

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