With over 200 species of magnolias, the tree is as varied as it is beautiful. Magnolias have large white, pink, red, purple or yellow flowers, depending upon the type. They are a subtropical native, thriving in southeastern Asia, eastern North America, Central America, the Caribbean and parts of South America. Many varieties are evergreen, with waxy leaves covered with brown felt-like hairs underneath.
Magnolia trees prefer full sun to light shade, though hot afternoon sun can burn the leaves. They grow best in slightly acidic soils that are moist and well-drained. Magnolias can be purchased year round. The best times for planting are in late winter and early spring.
The classic Southern magnolia is the state flower of Mississippi and Louisiana. It is an evergreen species that can take up to 10 years to grow from seedlings. The thick shade and shallow root system of the Southern magnolia make it difficult to grow grass underneath the canopy. Nearby sidewalks and pavement often suffer damage from the invasive root system. The Southern magnolia can grow up to 40 feet wide. The Sweet Bay magnolia is a smart choice for a smaller garden, taking up much less space than the Southern magnolia, but still retaining its beauty and charm.