Magnolia trees thrill gardeners with their gorgeous blossoms that light up the yard in springtime. With hundreds of magnolia species, including deciduous and evergreen plants in all shapes and sizes, few absolute rules apply as to bloom time. In general, deciduous magnolias blossom in early spring, while evergreens begin flowering in late spring, continue into summer and may extend the bloom into fall.
Long-Blooming Evergreen Favorites
All magnolia plants are ornamental standouts in a garden, but southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) could be called the the rock-star of the genus. With a straight trunk up to 90 feet tall, this famous evergreen beauty offers shiny, leathery leaves and enormous ivory blossoms up to 8 inches in diameter. The flowers are fragrant and appear in late spring. They continue blooming during summer and sometimes into autumn.
For smaller gardens, sweet bay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) might be the better choice. It only grows to 35 feet tall, but fills with creamy flowers in late spring that last into summer. The blossoms, though less than half the size of southern magnolia flowers, give off a lovely lemony scent. They are followed by showy pink fruiting cones with crimson seed pods. Sweet bays are evergreen in warmer climates, deciduous in cooler areas.
Magnolias usually thrive in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 or 6 to 10, and the zone you live in will impact the bloom time. The farther south you live, the earlier your tree may flower.
Popular Deciduous Magnolias
Most magnolias are deciduous, losing their leaves in winter to grow new ones in spring. These trees tend to flower earlier than evergreens and only bloom for a few weeks in spring. The flower show lasts just a week or two, but it's particularly spectacular, as the blooms often appear before the trees leaf out in spring.
Popular deciduous magnolias include star magnolia (Magnolia stellata), with its star-shaped blossoms, and saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana), sometimes called tulip trees because of the colors and shapes of the flowers. Both bloom in early spring, generally from mid-March through April.
One threat to early magnolia blooms is untimely frosts. These can kill flower buds, eliminating all blossoms for the year, or cut short the already short blooming season. On the other hand, cool spring weather that doesn't dip to close to freezing can slow flower development--and this may extend the bloom duration up to five weeks.
Best Magnolia Care for Longest Blooms
If you provide top care for your magnolia tree, you may lengthen the blooming season. Plant these trees in rich, well-drained soil that is pH neutral or slightly acidic. Work organic compost into the soil when planting the trees, and be sure you irrigate them well. Trees that don't get enough water can drop blossoms early.
When you plant a new magnolia, be sure to set the tree in soil at its original soil level. Stake the trees to prevent wind-movement, but install the stakes before planting to avoid root damage to the magnolia tree.
Protect the root area of the magnolia tree from foot traffic, and keep it clear of weeds. Prune magnolia trees rarely. Pruning is usually unnecessary and only justified to remove dead or damaged branches. Improper or excess pruning can damage the tree and limit flowering.
From Alaska to California, from France's Basque Country to Mexico's Pacific Coast, Teo Spengler has dug the soil, planted seeds and helped trees, flowers and veggies thrive. A professional writer and consummate gardener, Spengler has written about home and garden for Gardening Know How, San Francisco Chronicle, Gardening Guide and Go Banking Rates. She earned a BA from U.C. Santa Cruz, a law degree from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall, and an MA and MFA from San Francisco State. She currently divides her life between San Francisco and southwestern France.