Compact magnolias

These varieties will perform wherever space is a challenge.

Magnolias - shutterstock_435602335.jpg

Nothing celebrates the unveiling of spring quite like a magnolia. The goblet-shaped or starry blossoms of these majestic trees and shrubs are a sight to behold and cherished by many, but the ever-popular Magnolia soulangeana is ultimately a large, spreading shrub or tree, often swamping smaller gardens.

For such spaces, varieties that are smaller in stature or slower-growing are especially welcome and thankfully there’s a range of types to choose from, not only spanning the normal purple, pink and white colour range, but also the coveted yellow-flowered forms. Familiar shrubby species such as M. stellata with its star-like blossoms spawned a number of lovely forms such as pink flowered ‘Jane Platt’. M. stellata was crossed with goblet-flowered M. liliflora and its dark pink flowered form ‘Nigra’ at the US National Arboretum in the mid-1950’s to create a range of eight hybrids known as the ‘Little Girl’ series, including compact variety ‘Susan’. Later flowering, they often escape the ravages of late frosts. Yellow-flowered varieties have been formed by crossing a shrubby form of the late-flowering American cucumber tree M. acuminata with the scented white-flowered Chinese species M. denudata to produce varieties such as ‘Lois’ among others.

Being woodland plants, magnolias do best in acid to neutral soil (pH 6.5), preferably rich in organic matter, but which is not waterlogged or prone to drying out in summer.  They love sun, but do best in dappled light, especially when plants are young. They also hate exposure to cold winds, especially as they break bud and the flowers unfurl. Late frost can also damage the flowers so find the most sheltered spot you have.

When planting them, ensure the fleshy roots are level with the soil surface and not buried, watering them in, irrigating further if the weather turns dry. Once planted they don’t like being moved. Varieties such as ‘Leonard Messel’ will tolerate chalky soil, as long as it does not dry out, or the depth of soil is too thin, but the leaves may become yellowed if it is not to its liking.