The southern magnolia is native to the American Southeast and among the quintessential plants emblematic of the Deep South. Little Gem is a smaller-sized cultivar, more appropriate for use in home landscapes.
Meet the Little Gem Magnolia
Southern magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora, is a large, aristocratic tree that grows to 90 feet tall. It has shiny evergreen leaves and large, white, fragrant blossoms after about 10 years of growth. It is generally considered one of the most handsome and durable native trees for Southern landscapes.
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Little Gem magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora 'Little Gem') is a magnolia cultivar that works well in smaller yards. It only grows to 20 or 30 feet tall with an 8- to 10-foot spread, but offers the same dark-green foliage and white, fragrant flowers in spring through November. It flowers at a much younger age (at 2 or 3 years) then the traditional Magnolia grandiflora. It is hardy to U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 and 8.
Note that some find that this tree creates a mess in the garden. The leathery leaves — up to 8 inches long — are shed in the spring as new foliage emerges. These huge leaves decompose very slowly and can be a nuisance to clean up. On the other hand, the fabulous scent of the huge, white blossoms perfumes the entire garden.
Grow Little Gem
Plant a Little Gem southern magnolia in full sun or partial shade in well-drained, acidic soil rich in organic matter. Soils rich in humus or amended with compost or well-rotted manure usually provide ample nutrients for a healthy Little Gem tree. Generally, no additional fertilizer is required.
However, if you have reason to believe that your soil nutrients are inadequate for your Little Gem, you can consider soil testing. If this shows that fertilizer is needed, apply a slow-release shrub and tree food. Alternatively, feed the tree with a natural organic plant food.
Mulch Little Gem
Sprinkling granular fertilizer under the Little Gem magnolia tree's branches provides a nutritional boost for growth. But it may be just as helpful to the tree to apply an organic mulch on the soil above the root zone.
An acid-forming mulch, like pine bark, shredded oak leaves, or pine straw decomposes to release nutrients into the soil. Granular fertilizer can still be scattered atop the mulch, but at reduced rates. The mulch adds humus to the soil, deters weeds, shades the soil, and helps retains soil moisture. This is extremely valuable during the heat of summer.