Magnolia Trees in Pots or Containers | Guide for Success

Many gardeners have been captivated by the beautiful blossoms and delightful aroma of magnolia trees. Fortunately, for those with restricted space, it is possible to cultivate magnolias in pots.

If you’re new to growing ornamental trees in containers, don’t worry. In the following, you’ll find all you need to know about planting and growing magnolias in pots.

Key Takeaways

  • Magnolias can be grown successfully in pots with the right care.
  • Choosing a suitable container and soil mix is crucial.
  • Regular watering, pruning, and winter care are vital for potted magnolia trees.
  • Always repot when the magnolia outgrows its container.

Caring for a magnolia doesn’t have to be a guessing game. Once you understand the basics, you’ll see how easy it really is. I lay it all out for you in one comprehensive guide, Magnolia Care and Maintenance. Check it out today!

Advantages of Growing Magnolia in Pots

Growing magnolias, particularly magnolia trees in containers, offers a myriad of advantages that can’t be enjoyed when these trees are grown in the ground. 

1. Flexibility in Placement

One of the primary benefits of keeping a magnolia in pots is the flexibility in terms of temperature and placement it provides.

Whether you have a Little Gem magnolia or a Star magnolia, when you grow one in a pot, you can easily move the container to different spots, depending on the sunlight requirements or even for aesthetic reasons.

It’s especially beneficial for those who frequently change the layout of their garden or those who move homes often.

The weight of a small tree or shrub in a container, however, can be considerable, so it might be wise to place your magnolia on a plant dolly for easier mobility.

I recommend a heavy-duty one like this that will stand up for years.

12" Acacia Wood Plant Caddy w/Lockable Wheels (Set of 2)


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2. Optimal Soil Control

Magnolias can be finicky about the soil they thrive in. By opting to grow a magnolia tree in a container, you have direct control over the soil’s composition.

You can create the perfect blend of compost, mulch, and other elements to ensure the magnolia roots get all the nutrients they need without competition from other plants.

3. Prevention of Overgrowth

Some magnolia varieties, such as Southern magnolia trees, can grow quite large when left unbridled.

Growing magnolia trees in containers can help limit their growth, ensuring they don’t outgrow the designated space, particularly in smaller gardens.

4. Easier Pest and Disease Management

When magnolias are grown in pots, it’s simpler to manage pests and diseases. Any issues can be localized to the affected potted magnolia, preventing the spread to other plants in the vicinity.

For example, if a potted magnolia tree starts showing signs of a specific pest, it’s easier to treat that particular tree or even isolate it.

5. Decorative Flexibility

Magnolia trees in pots not only offer beautiful magnolia flowers, but the pot itself can be a decorative element.

You can choose containers that complement the aesthetics of your garden, balcony, or patio. Glazed pots, for example, can add a splash of color and elegance.

6. Greater Frost Protection

For deciduous magnolias or evergreen magnolias, growing them in containers provides an added layer of protection against frost. For instance, wrap a pot in bubble wrap to offer additional insulation during colder months.

Moreover, positioning potted magnolia in a sheltered location, such as close to the house or in a semi-shaded area, can also help safeguard them from harsh winter conditions.

Selecting the Right Potted Magnolia Variety

When deciding to grow magnolias in containers, it’s essential to choose a variety that is suitable for growing in pots. Not all magnolias are equal when it comes to their size and growth patterns.

Selecting a variety that does well in containers ensures that the tree thrives, remains manageable, and adds beauty to your space without outgrowing its container.

When selecting a variety, it’s essential to consider not only the tree’s mature size but also its growth rate, blooming time, and flower color.

It’s recommended to visit a nursery in person to see young trees or those planted in containers to get a feel for what you might prefer.

  • Little Gem Magnolia: One of the most popular potted magnolia varieties, this is a compact cultivar that reaches 15 to 20 feet when grown in the ground but stays smaller in containers. It produces large, fragrant white flowers from a young age, making it a favorite for those looking for immediate gratification.
  • Ann Magnolia: This hybrid variety is known for its striking purple-red flowers. It’s a compact, shrubby magnolia, which means it won’t outgrow its pot quickly. Moreover, Ann magnolias can be grown in a semi-shaded position, providing flexibility in terms of placement.
  • Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata): A favorite among many gardeners, this tree boasts white, star-shaped blooms. it remains small, making it perfect for container gardening. Its intricate blossoms and relatively slow growth make it a delight for many garden enthusiasts.
  • Susan Magnolia: This variety grows in a bushy form and tends to remain small at 8-12 feet but will likely stay under that height when potted. The fuchsia flowers bloom later than other varieties, thus reducing the risk of frost damage.
  • Loebner Magnolia: This type is a hybrid between the Star magnolia and the Kobus magnolia. With its fragrant, pale-pink blossoms, it is a visual treat. Loebner magnolia in a pot stays smaller than when it’s planted in open ground, making it an excellent choice for confined spaces.
Lovely pink magnolia flowers against a blue sky.

Choosing the Right Container

The container is pivotal when you decide to grow a magnolia tree in a pot. The container should be 30 cm larger than the magnolia roots.

Always ensure that the container has drainage holes to prevent waterlogged soil. Glazed pots can be used, but the bottom of the container should allow excess water to flow out.

As the magnolia tree matures and its weight increases, especially for young trees or those planted recently, it’s essential to choose a sturdy pot.

Potting Mix and Soil Preparation

Preparing the right potting mix and ensuring proper soil conditions are crucial for the success of growing magnolia trees in containers.

Magnolias are particular about their soil, which plays a pivotal role in their growth and health.

Here’s a comprehensive guide to help you prepare the perfect environment for your magnolia in a pot:

Potting Mix

Begin with a high-quality potting mix designed for trees and shrubs.

These mixes are specifically formulated to offer excellent drainage, which is paramount for magnolias as they don’t appreciate sitting in waterlogged soil.

The mix should also retain adequate moisture and provide the necessary nutrients for the tree’s initial growth.

Compost Addition

Enrich your potting mix with organic compost. Compost offers a nutrient boost and improves the soil structure, ensuring that the magnolia roots have access to all the vital nutrients.

A ratio of 70% potting mix to 30% compost is generally recommended for magnolias grown in pots.

Mulch

After planting your magnolia in the container, adding a 2 to 3-inch layer of mulch at the base of your tree will help retain moisture, regulate soil temperature, and deter weed growth.

Organic mulch, such as bark or wood chips, is preferable. Ensure that the mulch doesn’t touch the tree trunk as this can lead to rotting.

Check pH

Magnolias prefer slightly acidic soil with a pH level of 5.5 to 6.5. Before planting, it’s advisable to test the soil pH. I like using this simple probe that also measures soil moisture and fertility.

If the pH is too high, meaning the soil is too alkaline, you can lower it by adding sulfur. Conversely, if the pH is too low, making the soil too acidic, add lime to raise it.

Drainage Is Key

Ensure that your chosen container has drainage holes at the bottom. Good drainage prevents the roots from becoming waterlogged and developing rot.

Before adding your potting mix, place a mesh screen or a coffee filter (I use leftover landscaping fabric, and it works beautifully!) at the bottom of the container over the drainage holes.

This prevents the soil from washing out while allowing excess water to drain.

Aerate the Soil

Before planting, lightly fluff or aerate the soil. This process ensures that the roots of the magnolia tree have room to expand and breathe. Compacted soil can hinder root growth and water absorption.

Refresh Regularly

Every year, consider removing the top inch or two of the soil in your container and replacing it with fresh compost or potting mix.

This replenishment offers the tree a consistent supply of nutrients and ensures the soil doesn’t become overly compacted.

Planting Magnolia Trees in Pots

The act of planting magnolias in containers is both an art and a science. A magnolia tree needs to be planted correctly to set the stage for its long-term health and growth.

Here’s a detailed guide on how to plant a magnolia tree in a container:

  1. Choosing the Right Time: The best time to plant magnolias in containers is during their dormant period, typically in late fall or early spring. This timing gives the tree ample opportunity to establish its roots in the container before the growing season begins.
  2. Preparing the Container: Before you place your magnolia in the pot, ensure that your container has drainage holes. These holes allow excess water to escape, ensuring that the magnolia roots don’t become waterlogged.
  3. Positioning the Tree: Examine the root ball. If the roots are circling around, gently tease them apart so they can grow outward in the new soil. Position the tree in the center of the pot. The top of the root ball should be level with the soil surface, ensuring that the tree isn’t planted too deep or too shallow.
  4. Filling the Container: Fill your pot with the prepared potting mix, ensuring the tree is held straight. Pat down the soil gently as you go to eliminate air pockets. Remember to leave about an inch or two at the top of the container for easy watering.
  5. Watering After Planting: Immediately after planting your magnolia in a pot, give it a thorough watering. Ensure that water seeps through the soil, reaching the bottom of the container. If water collects on the surface, it means the soil is already saturated.
  6. Mulching: Apply a 2 to 3-inch layer of mulch around the tree in the pot, ensuring it doesn’t touch the tree trunk. Mulch helps retain soil moisture, which is essential, especially for young trees or those recently planted.
  7. Initial Care: For the first few weeks, keep an eye on the soil moisture. While it’s essential to prevent the soil from drying out completely, overwatering can be just as harmful. Use the finger test: if the top 1-2 inches of the soil is dry, it’s time to water.
  8. Location: Some magnolias thrive in full sun, but others prefer partial shade. Research your specific magnolia variety to ensure you place your magnolia in an optimal location.
  9. Staking: If you have a taller or top-heavy magnolia variety, it might require staking for support in the initial stages. Secure the tree with a stake, ensuring the tie doesn’t constrict the tree trunk as it grows.

Caring for Potted Magnolia Trees

Properly caring for your potted magnolia tree is essential for its growth, health, and longevity.

A potted environment can sometimes be challenging for trees, but with the right magnolia care tips, you can help it thrive. Let’s explore each aspect of care:

Tree Placement

Positioning potted magnolia trees correctly is essential for their health and bloom. While many magnolia varieties love the sun, it’s crucial to place your magnolia in a location that suits its specific sunlight needs.

Some magnolias might prefer full sun, absorbing 6-8 hours daily, while others will grow best in a semi-shaded area.

Research the specific sunlight requirements for your magnolia variety, and observe the sunlight patterns in your space.

It might be necessary to move your tree occasionally, especially if you notice leaf scorching or inadequate growth.

Watering

Magnolia watering is pivotal for the tree’s health, especially when grown in containers. The soil in pots tends to dry out faster than the magnolia trees in the ground.

Regularly check the moisture level of the soil. The finger test is a simple method: insert your finger up to an inch into the soil, and if the soil feels dry, it’s time to water.

However, be cautious not to overwater. Magnolias don’t like waterlogged soil, which can lead to root rot. Using a container with drainage holes ensures that excess water can escape, helping you avoid this problem.

Fertilization

While the initial potting mix and compost provide essential nutrients, over time, the potted magnolia will deplete these nutrients.

Hence, it’s crucial to supplement with a balanced, slow-release fertilizer designed for trees and shrubs, like this one.

Scotts Evergreen Flowering Tree Food (3lbs)


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Depending on the fertilizer type, you might need to apply it once at the start of the growing season or several times throughout the year. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the best results.

Additionally, once a year, consider refreshing the topsoil with nutrient-rich compost to give the tree a nutrient boost.

Pruning

Pruning helps in shaping your potted magnolia tree and promoting robust growth. For young trees, minimal pruning is needed. Only remove dead or damaged branches.

As the tree matures, you can prune to shape it and maintain a compact size suitable for its container environment.

Always prune after the blooming season to avoid cutting off next year’s buds. Using sharp and clean pruning tools will ensure clean cuts and reduce the risk of disease.

Winter Care for Magnolia Grown in Pots

While many magnolias are quite hardy, the roots of a potted magnolia are more exposed to cold temperatures than those grown in the ground. As winter approaches, it’s vital to provide some winter care.

If you have deciduous magnolias, like the Star magnolia, they’ll shed their leaves in winter. Evergreen magnolias, like the Little Gem magnolia, will retain their leaves.

For both types, consider moving the pot to a more sheltered location away from harsh winds as winter approaches.

Wrapping the pot in bubble wrap can also provide insulation. However, avoid covering the top of the soil or the tree itself, as this can lead to moisture retention and potential diseases.

Common Challenges and Solutions

Growing magnolia in pots can present its own set of challenges. However, armed with the right knowledge, these challenges are surmountable. Let’s address some common issues that might arise:

  • Leaf Yellowing: This can be a result of waterlogged soil or a deficiency in essential nutrients. Ensure your container has proper drainage, and consider a nutrient-rich fertilizer to address potential deficiencies.
  • Pest Infestations: Magnolias can be susceptible to pests such as scale insects and aphids. Regularly inspect your tree for signs of these pests. If you notice an infestation, consider using insecticidal soap or neem oil as a treatment.
  • Stunted Growth: If your magnolia in a pot isn’t growing as expected, it might be rootbound, indicating it’s time for repotting. Alternatively, it might not be receiving the optimal amount of sunlight.
  • Bud Drop: Magnolias sometimes drop their buds before they open. This can be due to sudden temperature changes or overwatering. Ensure that the tree is sheltered from temperature extremes, and maintain a consistent watering schedule, adjusting based on the soil’s dryness.

Repotting Potted Magnolia Trees

As your potted magnolia tree grows, there will come a time when its current container won’t suffice.

Repotting ensures that the tree has more space to grow and better access to fresh, nutrient-rich soil. Here’s how to successfully repot your potted magnolia:

  1. Choose a container that is 2-3 inches larger in diameter than the current one. Make sure the new container has drainage holes.
  2. At the bottom of the container, place a layer of fresh potting mix mixed with compost. This will provide a nutritious base for the tree.
  3. Gently tilt the old container while holding the base of your tree, easing the magnolia out. If the tree is stuck, you might need to tap the sides of the pot or use a knife to loosen the soil from the edges.
  4. Before placing the magnolia in the new pot, inspect the roots. If they’re densely packed and circling the root ball, gently tease them apart to encourage outward growth.
  5. Position the tree in the center of the new container, ensuring it’s at the same depth as before. Then, fill around the tree with your potting mix and compost blend, pressing down gently to remove air pockets.
  6. After repotting, water the tree thoroughly. This will help settle the soil and provide the roots with immediate hydration.
  7. In the weeks following repotting, monitor the tree closely. It might experience some stress, so ensure it has optimal light and water conditions to aid its adjustment.

Wrapping It Up

Magnolias are stunning trees that can beautify any space. With careful attention to their needs, magnolias in containers can flourish just as well as those planted in open gardens.

The journey of planting and caring for potted magnolias is very rewarding, and if you ever have to move, you’ll be able to take your beautiful tree with you!

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