How to Grow Lily Magnolia

lily magnolias

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

The lily magnolia is a large deciduous shrub (or small tree) that sports blossoms in April and early May, just before its leaves appear. As one of the smaller magnolias, it has found popularity as both a hedge and a specimen plant. It grows slowly, often taking between 10 and 15 years to reach full maturity (but looking beautiful along the way).

Native to Asia, lily magnolia has a compact, rounded form and produces a massive display of lily-shaped pinkish-purple flowers with six or seven petals. The flowers are sometimes followed by cone-shaped purple or brown fruit, called follicles, as well as dark green, elliptical-shaped leaves. As with other magnolia species, pollination is facilitated by beetles.

Botanical Name Magnolia liliflora
Common Name Lily magnolia, Mulan magnolia
Plant Type Deciduous shrub
Mature Size 8–12 ft. tall, 8–12 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full sun, partial shade
Soil Type Moist but well-drained
Soil pH Acidic
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color Pink, purple
Hardiness Zones 5–8 (USDA)
Native Area Asia
lily magnolia pre-blossom

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

lily magnolia branch

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Magnolia lililflora

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Lily Magnolia Care

Plant lily magnolia shrubs in a sunny location with rich soil—this is not a plant that tolerates poor soil conditions, especially mixtures that lack nutritional value. Try to position your lily magnolia where it will be protected from strong wind and the coldest winter temperatures, but don't plant it next to your home, where the radiant artificial warmth may cause the buds to open too early in the spring.


For the most blooms and the best display of flowers, plant your lily magnolia in a spot that boasts full sunlight. That said, the plant can also grow adequately in partial shade (especially in hotter locations), but it may experience a slight reduction in flowering. Ultimately, aim for at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight a day.


Lily magnolia plants do best when planted in moist, rich soils that are slightly acidic and well-draining. Heavy soils, or those that are nutrient deficient, should be amended with peat moss or compost before planting. You can also top the soil with a bit of mulch to help moderate soil temperatures and lock in moisture.


Water your lily magnolia regularly throughout the year for its first few years. Once established, the shrub is moderately tolerant of temporary dry conditions, but you should pay close attention to it during prolonged droughts, which can end up killing the plant.

Temperature and Humidity

Lily magnolia is best planted in a semi-sheltered area that is protected from strong winds and aggressively cold temperatures. It's also a good idea to avoid southern exposures, which may cause the buds to open too early in spring. Don't attempt to plan lily magnolia outside is USDA hardiness zone recommendation—even the northern part of zone five can sometimes be borderline for this plant, with spring flowers easily killed off by early cold spells.


Lily magnolias do not need fertilizer when they are planted. Afterward, they benefit from a yearly spring feeding of slow-release fertilizer, applied just as the flower buds begin to develop.

Lily Magnolia Varieties

There are several different varieties of lily magnolia, which are often crossed with other magnolia species to produce new hybrids. Some of the most common include:

  • Magnolia lilliflora 'Nigra': This variety has darker purple flowers than the species form and is suitable for USDA hardiness zones 5 through 9.
  • M. lilliflora ‘O'Neil’: Growing up to 15 feet tall, with dark purple flowers, this variety is well-suited to zones 6 to 9.
  • M. lilliflora 'Gracilis': This variety has a narrower growth habit and narrower leaves than other varieties; it is suitable for zones 5 through 9.
Magnolia liliiflora nigra
Magnolia liliiflora nigra Ian_Redding / Getty Images  

Pruning Lily Magnolia

As a general rule of thumb, magnolias do not respond well to severe pruning. However, when the shrub becomes overgrown or there are dead or damaged branches, you should prune it immediately after it flowers. If pruned too late, you may reduce the plant's flowering the following spring, as it sets buds on old wood immediately after the year's blooms die off.

Propagating Lily Magnolia

You can propagate lily magnolia by taking cuttings from an established plant or planting the seeds from it. If you've planted a hybrid variety, keep in mind that the plants resulting from the seeds may be different from the parent plant.

To propagate from cuttings, use a sterilized pruner to take 6- to 8-inch cuttings in early summer after the next year's buds have set. Take the cuttings from growing tips of the branches, then remove all but the upper leaves. Make a 2-inch vertical slice into the end of the stem, then dip the cut end in a rooting hormone. Plant the cutting in a small container filled with moist perlite.

Place the container in a loose plastic bag and set it in a bright location out of direct sunlight. Keep the cuttings moist and grow them in the containers for several months until a good root network has developed. At that point, they can then be transplanted into the garden come fall.

Common Pests & Diseases

Lily magnolia is a relatively problem-free shrub, and those problems that do occur are rarely life-threatening. Generally, you're most likely to see pests like magnolia scale insects, which suck out sap from the stems. To rid your plant of them, encourage ladybugs to visit your garden, as they will snack on the scales and help remedy the problem to some degree. Horticultural oil can also be used at different stages in the life cycle, though it will not be so effective against adults that have formed a wax barrier on their bodies.

Powdery mildew can be another issue for the shrub, especially in humid conditions. To reduce powdery mildew, prune your lily magnolia to improve air circulation and keep the area around the plant free of debris. Spraying the shrub with water early on in the day may also help dislodge mold spores, and fungicides applied early in the season can prevent mildew.