Royal Star Magnolia Tree: An Elegant Variety (Full Guide)

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The majestic Royal Star magnolia helps dispel the gloom of the end of winter with its stunning display of fragrant white flowers, resembling a welcoming star, blooming early.

This ornamental tree can be featured as a low bushy plant or a full-sized beautiful specimen tree depending on how you train it, so what is its maximum size?

How big does a Royal Star magnolia get? The Royal Star variety is relatively small compared to most deciduous magnolia trees, averaging a maximum of 20 feet tall and 15 feet wide. Pruning the naturally shrubby growth will encourage a taller tree-like form with a spreading open canopy.

Whether grown as a dense, compact shrub or a tall tree, the blossoms are the real “star” attraction of this variety!

Let’s look at how to bring out the best in your Royal Star magnolia with our guide to planting, pruning, propagating, and everything in between.

Considering adding a magnolia tree to your landscape? Royal Star is an excellent choice, but be sure you’ve carefully considered all your options before deciding. Explore the best flowering magnolia trees in my guide Magnolia Types and Varieties – you’ll be amazed!

Royal Star Magnolia

Nicknamed “magnolia bush” and “Starry magnolia,” The Royal Star magnolia is native to the Japanese island of Honshu in its highland region and was introduced to the US in the late 1800s along with other magnolia varieties.

Today, this stunning tree is prized for its dense display of beaming-white star-shaped flowers and relatively easy care.

Keep scrolling to find out more about its show-stopping blooms, growing conditions, and more.

Botanical nameMagnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’
Mature height15-20 ft.
Mature width10-15 ft.
Growth rateSlow-medium
Light preferencesFull-partial sun, at least 4 hours direct sun
Ideal soilLoamy/sandy, slightly acidic & organically rich
Watering needsDeep weekly watering first year, twice monthly afterward during drought periods
FertilizationHigh-phosphorus food in spring for general root/bloom encouragement
Bloom timeFeb./March to May
Bloom color & fragranceSnowy white, subtle sweet citrus scent
Fall foliageGolden-yellow

Magnolia Stellata ‘Royal Star’ General Appearance

Royal Star magnolia is a deciduous tree with a naturally rounded and bushy habit.

It produces masses of slender white star-shaped flowers among dark green leaves and sends out colorful fruit pods containing orange seeds.

Seasonal Beauty

Between late winter and early spring, silky flower buds open gradually on leafless limbs to reveal welcoming bright white star-shaped blossoms.

As these fade, large pinecone-like fruits appear with rounded growths containing large bright-orange seeds.

Throughout summer, oblong medium to dark green leaves appear before changing in the fall.

In winter, the tree’s smooth and light gray bark is revealed, attaining a mottled texture as it ages. The winter months allow you to appreciate the multiple elegant spreading branches too.

Growth Rate & Mature Size

Royal Star has a slow to medium growth rate, taking roughly 30 years to reach its maximum height, which tops at out 15-20 feet tall and 10-15 feet wide.

Can You Grow Royal Star Magnolias in Pots?

Royal Star magnolia can quite happily grow in a pot for the first 10 years or so.

It will need to be transplanted into your garden soon afterward though as it benefits from moisture retention and good-draining soil that patio containers can’t provide for growing roots.

Snowy White Flowers

Royal Star magnolias bloom from March through May (even as early as February depending on your Grow Zone!).

True to their name, they send out star-shaped flowers in gleaming snow-white colors with elongated strap-like petals that emit a delicate, sweet citrusy fragrance.

Leaves and Fall Foliage

This tree’s medium to dark green leaves first emerge as bronze before revealing their rich green color with lighter green furry undersides.

Before leaf drop, the fall foliage is a wonderful golden-yellow color.

Life Expectancy

With excellent care, your Royal Star magnolia may live between 80 and 120 years! Neglect and issues such as untreated disease can, of course, shorten the life span.

Royal Star Magnolia Tree Growing Zones & Conditions

For the best chance of enjoying these marvelous starry blooms for years to come, find out what they need in terms of climate, sun, and ideal soil types.

Grow Zones and Hardiness

Royal Star grows best in Zones 4-9 and is more adaptable and cold hardy than most magnolia varieties, withstanding temperatures as low as -30°F.

Despite this robust side, the early-blooming flowers mean blossom numbers can be cut short by frost damage.

To prevent this, try to consider a wind-breaker location before planting, such as near a wall or fence, or provide your young tree with horticultural fleece in anticipation of frost dates.

Sun Requirements

This Magnolia variety will thrive in full sun to part shade, so try to choose a planting location that offers at least 4 hours of direct sunlight each day.

Soil Preferences

Royal Star holds up well to some flooding, so moisture-retaining clay soils will be fine, but avoid soil extremes.

Ideally, opt for a moist but well-drained medium like a slightly acidic loam or sandy soil rich in organic material (compost, lawn clippings, etc.)

How To Plant a Deciduous Royal Star Magnolia Shrub or Tree

Whether it is spring or fall, to plant your Royal Star, follow these simple step-by-step instructions:

  1. Prepare a planting hole at least 3 times the width of the tree’s container size and roughly the same depth.
  2. Water your nursery-bought tree lightly to help loosen it from its pot and soil base. Carefully remove the existing soil from the root ball by hand.
  3. Place the tree straight into the center of the hole, and backfill with about half the soil. Water the hole deeply until it drains away, and refill with the rest of the soil.
  4. Pat down the soil, and water a second time, ensuring the water drains well.
  5. Add a layer of mulch extending from 2-3 inches from the tree trunk out to the drip line to aid in moisture control and suppressing weeds.

Growing Fragrant Royal Star Magnolia Trees – Care Guide

With the growing essentials covered for your low-maintenance Royal Star magnolia, let’s get into long-term care from the right watering amount to pruning information.

Watering

Hardy Royal Stars are fairly tolerant of drought once established. For young trees, water deeply once a week in the first year.

After they are fully established, trees can be watered twice monthly in periods of little to no rainfall.

Fertilization

These flowering trees aren’t big feeders, but if you want to encourage robust roots and more flowers, fertilize with a slow-release fertilizer that is rich in phosphorus (this one is ideal) in early spring.

Pruning

If you want to train this magnolia into a tree-like form, prune back some of the suckers and lower branches to create a more slender central trunk.

Otherwise, simply trim out wonky, dead, or diseased branches with sterile, sharp pruning shears to maintain a well-lit and airy canopy for a multi-trunk shrub.

A close look at the flower of the Royal Star magnolia tree.

Pests, Diseases & Common Problems 

With improper sunlight and airflow, your Royal Star can be susceptible to fungal white mold infections on the leaves such as powdery mildew.

Treat large infected areas with copper fungicide (find it here), and prune out badly affected growth.

Branch dieback and rust-colored spots on the leaves are other problems your magnolia can run into when conditions aren’t met.

Remove diseased branches and leaves, and prevent infections from taking hold by clearing up leaf and flower debris beneath to prevent fungal spores from traveling on the rain and wind.

A stressed and diseased tree can also attract pesky bugs from time to time – look out for scales (small ovular sap-sucking insects).

Repeat applications of organic insecticidal soap can deal with infestations.

Propagating Royal Star Magnolia

A simple way to clone your beautiful Royal Star magnolias is by taking softwood cuttings:

  • Fill a clean 10-12 inch nursery pot with perlite potting mix for good drainage, and create a planting hole with a pencil.
  • Next, take a 6-8 inch stem cutting using sharp, clean pruning shears, and dip the cutting end in root-stimulating hormone (I use this one).
  • Remove any lower leaves on the cutting, and plant it into the potting mix. Water well.
  • Finally, cover the pot in a plastic bag to trap in moisture, and place the pot in a room with bright but filtered sunlight. Keep the soil surface moist, and check back for roots in a few weeks.

Landscape Ideas

Due to their versatile shrub or tree-like form, you can grow your Royal Star as a tall focal specimen in your cottage garden or backyard, or plant multiple shrub-trained magnolias to create a nice border or a privacy hedge.

A solar spotlight beneath the tree directed up into the canopy will highlight its striking white blooms in springtime.

Companion Plants

Pair the starry white flowers of this magnolia variety with pretty spring shrubs and shade-loving plants that will have your tree’s back when it comes to pollination and soil improvement!

Some of the best picks are:

  • Bulbs
  • Hostas
  • Daffodils
  • Azaleas
  • Rhododendrons
  • Ferns
  • Cala lilies
  • Dwarf iris
  • Elephant ears

Where To Buy

This is a highly desirable magnolia variety, so be sure to act quickly!

The following reputable online tree nurseries stock Royal Star in various sizes and provide expert assistance to help you with any growing queries.

Related Questions:

Is There a Difference Between Star Magnolia and Royal Star Magnolia?

Royal Star is one of three Star magnolia varieties, including ‘Jane Platt’ and ‘Centennial’. To add to the confusion, ‘Star’ magnolia is often the common, abbreviated name for the ‘Royal Star’.

Other varieties of Star magnolia differ slightly in flower size and height, though ‘Jane Platt’ features pink double blooms.

Is Royal Star Magnolia a Tree or Shrub?

Royal Star magnolia can be considered a large shrub or small tree. Royal Star is often grafted onto the trunk of a larger rootstock to create a small tree.

Their bushy multi-stemmed growth means Royal Star magnolias tend to grow shrub-like, but this can be changed by pruning lower growth.

Is Royal Star Magnolia Messy?

Magnolias tend to be messy as they drop large, wide blossoms.

Royal Star magnolias, however, create less of a mess when they shed due to their slightly more petite petal structure of individual long sepals compared with wide saucer-shaped blooms, helping them dry up and degrade more easily.

Closing Thoughts

Go for the garden you’ve always dreamed of! The Royal Star magnolia delights with its distinctive star-shaped blooms with long ribbon petals in the most dazzling snow-white color! 

This bold and beautiful tree/shrub is super tolerant of wet soil conditions and even harsh cold temperatures, but beware that this exceptionally early bloomer may suffer frost damage, so keep it well protected if you live in the colder regions of its Grow Zone range.

Give it plenty of TLC, and this forgiving magnolia will glow — whatever the climate!

Eager to explore more magnolia trees? Be prepared to be wowed by these stunning magnolias: