The Little Gem magnolia is a small, adaptable, evergreen tree. Like other magnolia trees, it has dark green leaves and white, fragrant flowers. In general, Little Gem magnolias are low-maintenance trees with no serious pest or disease problems. However, they are susceptible to a few forms of pests, like scale or weevil, and a handful of diseases caused by fungus or bacteria. In addition, Little Gems are prone to root girdling and injuries to their relatively thin bark. In most cases, these trees should present few problems to growers. When problems do occur, chemical control is generally not warranted.
Little Gem magnolias may become infected with blight, scab, black mildew and leaf spot, particularly if conditions that favor the formation of these diseases are present. Trees will experience these problems most frequently and severely in areas with high humidity, light frequent rain or irrigation, heavy dew and dense plantings. In general, they usually produce more visual than physical injury to the affected tree. To discourage the spread of disease, redirect sprinklers to avoid direct leaf spray and regularly prune dead branches. Also, consistently rake and dispose of any infected leaves.
A few of the more common forms of pests that are known to attack Little Gem magnolia include magnolia scale, sassafras weevil and the magnolia borer. Scale will infest both twigs and leaves, causing reduced leaf and flower production. Sassafras weevils can cause significant leaf loss from adult and larval feedings. Magnolia borers, which can be hard to detect, will girdle the trunk under the surface of the soil. Overall, young, less vigorous trees in poor health are most prone to insect infestation. Discourage infestation by providing cultural conditions and nutrients that keep trees healthy. Look for clear indications of infestations. Apply insecticide, if necessary, during times of the year when pests are most prevalent.
All types of magnolia trees are prone to girdling, which is a condition that causes the roots of the trees to circle the trunk. Unfavorable conditions that prevent roots from spreading, such as growth in a container or compact soil, are thought to encourage girdling. Before planting a Little Gem magnolia, check the root ball for any circling. It is best to vertically slash the circling roots with a knife in several places before placing it in the ground. This will loosen roots and encourage their development outward away from the tree. Re-inspect trees when trunks are about 6 inches in diameter. If root girdling is not corrected, trees will likely weaken and die over a period of 5 to 20 years.
All types of magnolias are relatively soft-wooded, with thin, easily damaged bark. Consequently, they can be seriously damaged by lawn mowers and weed trimmers. Magnolias are most vulnerable in the early spring and early fall months while the bark is most loose due to cambium growth. Wounds can attract pathogens that will quickly spread to nearby healthy plant tissue. Protect trees by using herbicides to prevent grass and weeds from growing too close to trees, or by using hand tools to carefully remove weed growth near tree trunks.