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Star of the season: the Magnolia

Deciduous magnolias thrill us in winter with cup-shaped blooms on bare grey stems.

Text: Linda Ross



Fact file

Name: Deciduous magnolia

Belongs: Magnoliaceae family

Origins: China, Japan

Flowering: Winter into spring

Care: Deciduous magnolias need a sunny spot with shelter in summer from fierce afternoon sun and hot winds, so a northern or eastern aspect is best. To encourage a fast take-off, work composted cow manure through the soil to a spade’s depth before planting. After planting create a saucer-shaped depression around the tree to funnel water directly into the root zone. A thick layer of mulch will keep the roots cool and moist; just keep it clear of the trunk. Magnolias have shallow roots so they are unlikely to disturb underground services, pipes or pathways. Once established, they are resilient trees but still require regular water.


Sunlight through the incredible white petal of Magnolia denudata, commonly known as Yulan. Photo: Linda Ross

Now:Deciduous magnolias produce their brilliant blooms on naked stems.

Spring: Feed after flowering in spring with our Magic Magnolia Mulch: mix 1 bag cow manure, 50g blood and bone, 50g sulphate of potash and 150g dolomite. Lay it 10cm thick from the trunk to the dripline.

Summer: Ensure adequate water during dry or hot periods.

Autumn: Give another dose of Magic Magnolia Mulch. Protect buds from snacking possums.


Magnolia denudata, stunning yet again. Photo: Ukmooney

We love them with:

Spring bulbs usually flower in unison with magnolias. Pure white snowdrops look especially good with the white or blush-pink magnolia flowers. Hellebores enjoy the winter sunshine through the bare branches. Arum lilies, with lovely spotted foliage and white or green flowers, bloom through summer and love the shade of the magnolia in full leaf. We also like the combination of lemon ‘Elizabeth’ magnolia with lemon clivea.


In all her glory, our beautiful ol' girl. Never fails to steal our hearts. Photo: Luise Brimble.

Warnings:Young plants will need to be protected from frost for the first few winters. Pruning is not recommended as it encourages unattractive vertical growth.

Some favourites:

‘Apollo’ - almost-black buds open to purple flowers with eye-catching purple stamens. To 8m.

‘Atlas’ – spectacular, 20cm wide, pink and white flowers shaped like a brandy balloon.

‘Dolly Horn’ - wide, white, cupped petals with soft pink veining and a blush-pink base.

‘Iolanthe’ - large, fully cupped flowers with pink outer petals and an ivory centre. Magnolia specialist Bob Cherry picks this as the best performer for Sydney’s climate. To 3m.

‘Vulcan’ – deep pink flowers, uniform in tone. Flowers when young.

'Elizabeth' – late-flowering, tulip-shaped, yellow-fading-to-cream flowers with a fresh lemon fragrance.

Where to buy: Now is the best time to seek magnolias from our nursery partners. Specialist growers offer a huge selection too so check online options.

About this article

Author: Linda Ross