Leaf Curl on Magnolia Tree: 9 Common Causes & What To Do

The magnolia tree is widely recognized as an essential element in numerous landscapes, appreciated for its exquisite blossoms and luxuriant, expansive foliage.

Gardeners cherish these trees, not just for their ornamental value but also for the shade they offer.

However, the gardener’s concern often peaks when they discover magnolia leaves curling.

As any arborist would concur, leaf curl can be a symptom of various issues. In the following, we’ll explore both the causes and remedies for this condition to help you understand and address it.

Key Takeaways

  • Leaf curl in magnolia trees can result from a range of causes, from environmental stresses to pests and diseases.
  • Regularly monitor soil conditions, ensuring consistent moisture and avoiding overly saturated conditions.
  • Addressing potential threats early, whether it’s pruning diseased branches or handling pest issues, can prevent more significant problems in the future.
  • Consistent care, understanding the specific needs of magnolias, and reacting proactively to any signs of distress can ensure a healthy and thriving tree in your landscape.

Unfortunately, things can wrong with your magnolia tree, but knowing the signs to look for and how to remedy the situation is easy with my detailed guide, Magnolia Tree Diseases, Pests, and Problems. Be sure to read it today!

1. Drought Stress

Drought stress is one of the prime culprits behind magnolia leaves curling. A tree’s reaction to not receiving enough water can manifest as leaves curling inward, creating a rolled leaves appearance.

The edges might turn brown, especially during the peak summer heat, and if not addressed, brown spots may appear on the leaves.

The magnolia tree, like most plants in the garden, relies on a consistent water supply to maintain its health.


Ensure the tree gets 2-3 inches of water weekly. This is especially crucial during prolonged dry spells.

If you’re unsure about the amount of water, you can use a liquid measure tool or a simple container to monitor rainfall and added water. This rain gauge is ideal.

Spread organic mulch around the base of the magnolia tree. A thick mulch layer, ideally 2 inches, helps maintain soil moisture, keeping the root system cool even amidst the scorching heat.

This not only prevents the soil from drying out quickly but also aids in reducing weed competition, which can further deplete soil moisture.

2. Herbicide Damage to Magnolia Leaves

Herbicides, while beneficial for the lawn or other areas to combat unwanted weeds, can inadvertently cause damage to vulnerable magnolia trees.

When these chemicals drift, they can land on the magnolia leaves or be absorbed through the roots from the soil. 

The aftermath is a magnolia showing symptoms of herbicide damage, ranging from leaf curl and/or discoloration to a wilted appearance. Some leaves may even have brown spots or discolored streaks.


It’s essential to be cautious when using herbicides. Avoid applying them on windy days to minimize the risk of drift. Also, consider the type of herbicide, and read the label in detail before use.

If you need to spray herbicides frequently in your garden or lawn, consider installing a temporary barrier or windbreak to protect the magnolia from any drifting chemicals.

This could be as simple as a tarp or cloth hung strategically during the application.

3. Saturated Soil

Magnolias prefer well-draining soils. However, sometimes due to excessive rain or poor soil conditions, the soil becomes waterlogged.

When this happens, the magnolia’s root system can suffocate and begin to rot.

The first thing you might notice is a magnolia tree with curled or drooping leaves, a typical symptom of watering issues.


When first planting a magnolia tree, ensure that the site doesn’t accumulate standing water. Sites with sandy soils or elevated areas can be ideal.

For magnolias already in waterlogged zones, consider improving drainage. This could be through adding organic material to the soil, creating a slope, or even installing a drainage system.

4. Insect Infestation

While the lush, green magnolia leaves are a sight for our sore eyes, they’re a delicious feed for pests like aphids and scale insects.

These pests feed on the sap, sucking the essential nutrients out of the magnolia leaves. The aftermath? The leaves curl, discolor, and, if the infestation is severe, fall off.

Moreover, as these pests feed, they excrete a sticky substance called honeydew, which can attract further pests and even lead to mold.


Make it a habit to inspect the underside of the magnolia leaves, branches, and even the trunk. Early detection is the key to managing infestations.

There are several organic sprays available that can help manage these pests.

Neem oil, for instance, acts as an effective deterrent for many sucking insects. I use this organic neem oil often and always see great results.

Introducing beneficial insects, like ladybugs, to your garden can help manage aphids naturally. They’re nature’s pest control agents and can significantly reduce pest populations.

5. Nutritional Deficiencies & Leaf Curl

Magnolia trees, like any plant in our gardens, rely on a balanced diet of nutrients. Sometimes, the soil lacks essential elements, causing nutrient deficiencies.

Signs of this can be magnolia leaves turning yellow or showing brown spots, and in more severe cases, leaf curl can be observed.

Every year, soil conditions change, and the needs of the tree might not be met, affecting its health.


Before jumping to conclusions, it’s wise to conduct a soil test. This will reveal which nutrients are lacking.

Many local horticulture departments offer these tests either for free or for a small fee, giving detailed insights.

Based on the soil test, apply a balanced fertilizer like this one. Sometimes, the soil may have an abundance of one nutrient, blocking the uptake of others. A balanced feed ensures the tree gets what it needs.

Regularly adding organic compost or manure can help replenish the soil and improve its structure. This not only provides nutrients but also aids in soil moisture regulation.

6. Disease

Certain diseases can afflict magnolias, causing their leaves to curl. Often, these are fungal diseases that thrive in wet conditions or if the leaves are frequently wet.

Other times, bacterial infections or viruses can be the culprits, affecting the tree’s overall appearance and health.


When planting new magnolias or other plants, ensure they are spaced out. Good airflow reduces the chances of fungal diseases.

Water the base of the tree instead of the leaves. Overhead watering, especially in the evening, can leave leaves wet overnight, which is a prime condition for fungi.

At the first sign of disease, prune off the infected leaves or branches. Disinfect your pruning tools between each cut to prevent the spread of the disease.

7. Extreme Temperatures

Magnolias are resilient, but they have their limits. Extreme cold or sudden frosts in spring can damage the new leaves, causing them to curl or discolor.

Similarly, extreme heat, especially in areas outside the magnolia’s natural Growing Zone, can lead to leaf curl and wilting.


In areas prone to late spring frosts, consider using frost cloths (find them here) or other protective measures for younger trees.

As mentioned before, mulching can protect the tree’s roots from extreme temperatures, helping to regulate the soil’s temperature.

If extreme summer heat is a concern, consider using shade cloth during the hottest parts of the day to protect the tree.

A magnolia branch with a white blossom and yellow and curled leaves.

8. Environmental Stress

Several environmental factors can stress a magnolia. Inconsistent soil moisture, the application of certain fertilizers, high winds, or even pollution can cause the leaves to curl.

Sometimes, it’s a combination of factors rather than a single cause, making it a bit challenging for the gardener to diagnose.


It’s vital to maintain a consistent care routine. This means regular watering, especially when there’s no rain, and monitoring soil conditions.

If your garden is in an area with strong winds, consider planting windbreaks or installing physical barriers to protect the tree.

Always follow the recommended amounts when applying fertilizers. Too much can harm the tree just as much as too little can.

9. Newly Planted Tree

A newly planted magnolia tree is vulnerable. It’s still trying to adapt to its new environment, and its root system isn’t fully established.

This transitional phase can sometimes cause leaf curl, especially if the planting conditions weren’t ideal.


Ensure the tree is getting enough water, but be careful not to overwater. The soil should be moist but not waterlogged.

Young trees are more susceptible to pests, diseases, and environmental stresses. Monitor them closely during the first 2 years, providing necessary protections as needed.

Magnolia Tree Care Tips

Caring for a magnolia tree goes beyond addressing issues; it’s about prevention and fostering an environment where the tree can thrive.

Here’s a brief guide to ensure your magnolia remains a jewel in your garden:

  • Magnolias love consistency. Ensure you’re giving the tree enough water, especially during dry spells. However, overwatering can lead to root rot. Check the soil a few inches down; it should feel moist but not soggy.
  • Mulching provides numerous benefits. It helps regulate soil temperature, retains moisture, and prevents weeds from competing with the tree. Apply a thick layer of organic mulch, but ensure it doesn’t touch the trunk.
  • Prune your magnolia during late winter or early spring, removing any dead or diseased branches. This not only helps the tree’s appearance but also improves airflow, reducing the chances of fungal infections.
  • Keep an eye out for common pests like aphids or scale insects that might feed on the sap. If you spot any, consider using a gentle insecticidal spray or consult with an arborist for more severe infestations.
  • Magnolias are sensitive to certain chemicals. When treating your lawn or garden for weeds, be cautious not to let any herbicide come into contact with the magnolia leaves or roots.
  • While magnolias like moisture, they don’t appreciate waterlogged conditions. If you have sandy soils or areas that retain too much water, consider amending the soil before planting or choosing a raised area.

Final Thoughts About Magnolia Leaves Curling

Caring for a magnolia tree may seem daunting, especially when faced with issues like magnolia leaves curling.

However, understanding the causes and being armed with solutions can ensure your tree remains healthy and vibrant.

Don’t give up hope if you find some curling leaves on your prized tree. Consult the list above, and take the necessary steps to remedy the situation. Before you know it, your tree will be in tip-top shape once again.

The more you know, the better equipped you are to provide proper care for your magnolia tree. Keep learning by exploring these guides next: