Magnolia Tree Landscape Design
As one of the ultimate signs of spring, Magnolias are attractive, reliable, hardy and one of the most recognizable ornamental trees we lay our eyes on in the northeast. Equipped with year-round appeal, magnolias are as fragrant as they are beautiful, but you should talk to your landscape designer or neighborhood nursery before planting just any magnolia on your property. Not all magnolias as suitable for the northeast, but the following varieties are perfect for our neck of the woods!
Sweetbay Magnolia, ‘Magnolia virginiana’
Depending on climate, this tree can either be deciduous or evergreen. In the northeast, the Sweetbay is deciduous and is reported to be hardy in zones 5-9. This wide columnar tree is perfectly suited for patio placement or as a focal point in the landscape; it’s creamy-white flowers emit a lovely lemony-vanilla scent ready to intoxicate. Providing a graceful color show between its flowers and its leaves, this tree will provide landscape interest for months. Rich green leaves compliment the white flowers during the summer and lasting into the winter. Although the Sweetbay is never really smothered with flowers, this variety is notably not as untidy as the other “messy” saucer magnolias. What it may lack in bloom quantity, it will make up for it with a longer blooming window, coming into full flower in late May through June. You can count on sporadic blooms until the frost comes back around for the season. The flowers are followed by reddish-orange fruit that are ravaged by squirrels, turkeys, quail, mice birds…etc. Perfect for those who love nature and wildlife.
Star Magnolia, ‘Magnolia stellata’
The Star Magnolia is a small to mid-sized ornamental magnolia tree which is grown for its interestingly unique spring flowers and sweet scent. The upward-facing, star-shaped blossoms are pure white, and on occasion can have a ting of pink that adds to its splendor. On average, each flower is about 5” across and is comprised of up to 15 individual petals! Prematurely blooming before the foliage, the flowers are the star of the show in early spring. However, because of their early bloom cycle, the flowers run the risk of being damaged by arbitrary frost. This magnolia is happiest in full-sun and rich, well-drained soil, but will not do so well in an area accustomed to wind. This tree is considered soft-wooded, which would make it weak on a property that is susceptible to high winds. It is best planted in a place that offers added protection, for example, shielded by the home or surrounded by taller and hardier plantings. Before losing its leaves in the winter, however, you will experience awesome fall foliage colors emerge transitioning from vibrant summer green to a luscious autumn yellow. The star magnolia is a sure show stopper throughout the year.
Southern Magnolia, ‘Magnolia grandiflora’
The Southern Magnolia is a wonderful addition to any landscape with its unique appearance and fragrant and attractive flowers. With gorgeous blooms the size of your hand and the wafting sweet scent, you may certainly smell them before you see them! Context clues will tell you that the Southern Magnolia, is indeed, a southern species. Native to Virginia on south, this tree has a northern limit, but has been known to flourish and remain evergreen as north as Philadelphia. With cultivators such as “Edith Bogue” and “Bracken’s Brown Beauty”, it has become easier for this magnolia to remain evergreen and the species to gain tolerance to the winter season. Blooming from late spring to early summer, the flowers are followed by large vertical cones of clustered seeds which will ripen in the autumn months. Essentially disease and insect-free, the biggest concern would be winter injury. While this magnolia can thrive in the cold weather, it is important to pay attention to the snow load on the branches, which could cause them to snap. Plant this beauty on the south side of your property to ensure sun exposure, and just like the Star Magnolia, plant where it will be well-protected to guarantee a successful ornamental installation. Over time, you will see this beauty flourish into a stately tree and easily become the focal point of your landscape.