Landscaping Around a Magnolia Tree: A Complete Guide

Magnolias have a large canopy that dominates the landscape. Their huge spread of shiny green leaves, sweet-smelling white flowers, and strange cones that sometimes fill with bright red berries draws your attention. If you’re wondering what you can plant with these beautiful trees, we’re here to help.

Selecting magnolia companion plants can be a challenge. If you have an evergreen variety, anything you plant under the tree must tolerate the deepest shade. With deciduous types, you also have to deal with the big, leathery, and sometimes crispy leaves that fall off the tree.

If you’re up to the task, you can plant early spring-flowering plants that like some or all of the sun under the branches of deciduous types.

Magnolia trees are truly stunning. Their large fragrant blooms announce the arrival of spring like nothing else.

If you’re lucky enough to have a mature magnolia tree in your yard you may be wondering how best to landscape around it. Magnolias have spreading roots and can drop leaves seedpods, and flowers. With some planning, you can design a landscape that highlights the beauty of your magnolia while dealing with its potential drawbacks.

In this complete guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about landscaping around a magnolia tree, including:

  • Benefits of magnolia trees
  • Challenges of landscaping near magnolia trees
  • Best groundcover plants and materials
  • Ideas for yard landscaping design
  • Tips for planting under magnolia trees
  • Caring for your magnolia tree

Why Landscape with Magnolia Trees?

Magnolia trees provide wonderful benefits that make them worth landscaping around:

  • Beauty: Magnolia flowers come in white, pink, purple, and yellow. Their large, fragrant blooms are gorgeous.

  • Shade: Mature magnolias have dense foliage that provides cooling shade.

  • Privacy: Magnolias keep their leaves year-round in warmer climates. Their density blocks views and noise.

  • Hardiness: Magnolias tolerate pollution, salt, and alkaline soil. They’re low-maintenance once established.

  • Long lifespan: Magnolias can live for over 100 years if properly cared for.

Challenges of Landscaping Around Magnolia Trees

While gorgeous, magnolias do present some landscaping challenges:

  • Roots: Magnolia roots spread wide but stay near the surface. They compete with other plants.

  • Fallen leaves: Magnolias drop large leaves that can cover up ground plantings. Fallen leaves release tannins.

  • Seedpods: Magnolia seedpods are 4-6 inches long. They drop constantly and can clutter lawn areas.

  • Dropped flowers: Magnolia blooms are gorgeous on the tree but messy when they fall.

  • Dense shade: Not many plants thrive in the deep shade cast by a mature magnolia’s canopy.

By planning your landscape carefully, you can overcome these challenges and highlight your magnolia as the focal point it deserves to be.

Best Groundcovers Under Magnolia Trees

Certain plants are well-suited to grow under magnolias’ surface roots and dense shade:

  • Liriope: This grassy, spreading perennial tolerates drought and shade. Its purple flowers add color.

  • Epimedium: Also called barrenwort, this groundcover has heart-shaped leaves and tiny flowers.

  • English ivy: Hardy ivy thrives in shade and covers ground densely to block weeds. Choose sterile cultivars.

  • Dead nettle: This perennial has pretty purple blooms. It does well in dry shade.

  • Japanese spurge: An evergreen perennial with yellow and green variegated leaves that spread.

  • Ferns: Varieties like Christmas fern and holly fern grow well under magnolias.

  • Hostas: These shade-loving perennials combine well with magnolias. Go for smaller varieties.

  • Hellebores: Also called Lenten roses, these early bloomers excel in magnolia shade gardens.

Best Materials for Magnolia Tree Landscaping

Certain landscaping materials work better than turfgrass under magnolia trees:

  • Pine straw or bark mulch: These natural mulches suppress weeds and reduce leaf cleanup.

  • Pebbles or gravel: Inorganic materials won’t decompose and deplete soil nutrients like bark.

  • Landscape fabric: Covered with mulch or rocks, fabric blocks weeds and magnolia debris.

  • Hardscapes: Patios, pathways, benches, and gardens keep areas open and usable.

  • Rain gardens: Depressed areas planted with native plants soak up rainfall and fallen magnolia debris.

  • Water features: Ponds, fountains, and birdbaths fit well in magnolia shade gardens.

Think about your own needs and yard setup when choosing materials. Gravel works better for play areas, while mulch is fine for low-traffic zones.

Magnolia Tree Landscape Design Ideas

Here are some landscape designs that look beautiful paired with magnolia trees:

  • Japanese garden: Magnolias originated in Asia. Japanese maples, flowering cherries, ferns, and gravel evoke an Asian aesthetic.

  • Cottage garden: Hostas, hellebores, and other shade perennials provide seasonal color and interest. Add benches or trellises.

  • Meditation space: Use hardscape materials to create a serene sanctuary nestled under your magnolia.

  • Secluded reading nook: Surround a comfy chair with magnolia shade plants to create a hideaway.

  • Interactive area: Install a playground set, fire pit, or dining area under your tree’s canopy.

  • Magnolia meadow: Allow space around your tree to naturalize with wildflowers and native grasses.

Visit public gardens, nurseries, books, and websites for more inspiration on magnolia landscape designs. Let your tree’s natural beauty shine.

Planting Under Magnolia Trees

When planting around magnolias, follow these tips:

  • Stick with compact, shade-tolerant plants suited to magnolia root competition.

  • Avoid turfgrass. Grass struggles under magnolias and is high-maintenance.

  • Test soil pH. Magnolias prefer slightly acidic soil. Adjust as needed.

  • Add 2-4 inches of mulch around plantings to suppress weeds and retain moisture.

  • Water new plantings regularly until their root systems establish.

  • Remove fallen magnolia leaves and other debris promptly to prevent smothering.

  • Plan sightlines so magnolia flowers, interesting trunks, and branching structures shine.

With smart plant and material choices, you can create a lush, beautiful magnolia landscape.

Caring for Your Magnolia Tree

To keep your magnolia healthy and support your landscape design:

  • Water young trees weekly and mature magnolias during droughts. Soak the entire root zone.

  • Prune only for structure and safety. Never top or heavily prune magnolias.

  • Fertilize each spring with a natural or slow-release product formulated for trees.

  • Protect magnolias from lawn mower and string trimmer damage. Mulch around the trunk.

  • Monitor for pests like scale insects, borers, and magnolia beetles. Treat promptly if found.

  • Remove sprouts around the base and suckers growing from the roots to keep growth focused upwards.

With proper siting, care, and design, magnolia trees make an elegant focal point in any landscape. Their sweeping branches, fragrant blooms, and lush foliage ensure they give ample beauty in return for planting consideration. Turn your magnolia challenges into creative landscaping opportunities.

What Grows Good with Magnolias?

There are companions for magnolia trees regardless of the type. Let’s take a look at some options.

Camelias are pretty shrubs with flowers that look and feel like magnolia flowers, but they come in a smaller size and more colors. Depending on the type, the flowers show up in late fall or early spring. They are white, pink, or red. They need light shade. When they get too much sun, the leaves burn, and when they get too little shade, the flowers don’t do well. Plant camellias near but not directly under a magnolia.

Bulbs make ideal magnolia tree companions. Plant them near the edge of the canopy, or a little further in if your magnolia gives off leaves in the fall. Bulbs look their best in groupings. Choose a mixture of spring, summer, and fall bulbs so that you always have something in bloom.

Daisy and dwarf iris are some of the first flowers to bloom. A mix of bright yellow daisies and purple dwarf iris always makes me think of little girls in their Easter dresses. You can find daffodils in pink and white as well as the traditional yellow. Most summer and fall-blooming bulbs are going to need a lot of sunlight. A lot of them do well in pots, so you can move them around as the seasons change to make sure they get the right amount of light.

How to Care for Magnolias | Garden | Great Home Ideas

How do you choose a magnolia tree?

Magnolias come in so many sizes that they can be used for every landscape situation, from huge shade trees to flowering specimens, privacy hedges and borders, screening plantings, and even in beds and containers. When shopping, choose magnolias based on flowering time, hardiness zone, color, and mature size.

How do you care for a magnolia tree?

Here are some additional tips for landscaping around a magnolia tree: Choose plants that will complement the magnolia tree’s size and shape. Plant the magnolia tree in a location where it will receive full sun or partial shade. Mulch around the tree to help retain moisture and prevent weeds. Water the tree regularly, especially during dry spells.

How do you grow a magnolia tree?

Magnolia trees need full sun to partial shade, so make sure to choose a spot in your yard that gets plenty of sunlight. Magnolia trees also need well-drained soil. If your soil is heavy clay, you may need to add some sand or compost to improve drainage. Avoid planting your magnolia tree in an area where it will be exposed to strong winds.

How do I create a garden around a magnolia tree?

When creating a garden around a magnolia tree, there are several important tips to keep in mind. First, it is important to choose plants that will thrive in the shade provided by the magnolia tree. Shade-loving plants such as hostas, ferns, astilbes, and heucheras are ideal for this purpose.

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