How to Plant a Southern Magnolia Tree

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Southern magnolia sapling
Southern magnolia sapling (Image: Paula Parker)

The Southern magnolia, or magnolia grandiflora, is the royalty of Southern trees. Growing easily in agricultural zones 7 to 10, it towers up to 50 feet tall with glossy evergreen foliage and produces large white blossoms that exude a beautiful fragrance. It adapts to a variety of soils, and once planted, requires little care and has few pest problems.

Things You'll Need

  • Shovel
  • Edging stones (optional)
  • Mulch
  • Southern magnolia sapling
  • Wooden stake
  • Hammer
  • Animal protection tubes (optional)
  • Guy wire
  • Wire cutters
  • Old garden hose
  • 5 gallons water
  • Fertilizer (8-8-8 or 10-10-10)

Select a planting location for the tree. There are several things you need to take into consideration when selecting a location for the Southern magnolia. The tree needs at least 5 hours of sun each day. It prefers moist, well-drained, acidic soils. It is tolerant of high moisture levels and can be planted in areas prone to wet/dry fluctuations in soil moisture. It needs room to grow; a mature Southern magnolia is approximately 50 feet high and 40 feet at its widest point. The tree sheds old leaves each spring and seed pods in late summer; consider planning an ornamental bed at its base rather than planting in an open lawn area.

Dig the planting hole at least two times wider as the root ball and twice as deep as the root ball. Set the soil aside to refill the hole. Turn the soil in the hole to a depth of 6 inches, removing all rocks, roots, and weeds. Add 4 to 6 inches of mulch to the hole. Gently place the root ball of the sapling into the center of the hole, making sure that the top of the root ball is level with the surface soil. Break apart clods and remove rocks or other debris from the saved soil and fill in the hole, tamping it gently around the base of the sapling. Create a ring of soil around the outside edge of the planting area. If you purchased edging stones, place them around the planting area.

Secure the Southern magnolia sapling. Carefully drive the wooden stake into the ground, stake is at a depth that it won’t move easily. If you have purchased animal protection tubes, gently ease it over the sapling, seating the tube 2 inches into the soil. Thread the guy wire through a length of old garden hose to prevent damage to the sapling. Secure the guy wire to the stake.

Mulch the entire planting area with bark, pine straw or leaves to 4 inches deep. Water the entire planting area with 5 gallons of water to settle the soil. Continue to water weekly with 5 gallons of water for the first three months; after that, water only during times of drought.

Apply fertilizer once the Southern magnolia tree is established. Use light frequent applications of fertilizer during the first three growing seasons. Measure an area three times the canopy spread, then broadcast one pound (2 cups) of 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet in March, May, July and September. By the fourth growing season, reduce the application frequency to once or twice a year.

Prune the tree when it is dormant (leafless for at least 30 days). Prune undesirable branches while the tree is young by selectively thinning side branches as in order to produce and maintain a pyramidal shape. Unless maintenance is a problem, leave the lower branches in order to allow the tree to form a canopy that will spread all the way to the ground. This will help retain the natural form of the plant and will hide the old leaves when they shed in spring.

Tips & Warnings

  • Contact the utility company before digging. They will send out a person to mark where underground utility lines are located. Check out the "Call 811" website for more information.
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