Jane Magnolia: Tree or Shrub to Brighten the Spring Yard

Later Blooming Period Often Saves Buds From Frost

Jane magnolia (image) is relatively small. It is considered a tree or shrub.
Picture: 'Jane' is a popular magnolia cultivar. David Beaulieu

Taxonomy and Botany of Jane Magnolia

Magnolia x 'Jane' is the name assigned to this specimen by plant taxonomy. An "x" in botanical nomenclature indicates hybrid status. 'Jane' is the cultivar name.

Although some members of this genus are evergreen, Jane magnolias fall into the deciduous botanical grouping. You will hear them referred to variously as Jane magnolia "trees" and "shrubs." I would describe the plant that I grow in my own landscaping as a large, multi-branched shrub, but this is due, in part, to special circumstances (see below).

Plant Characteristics

The flowers are good-sized (with some reportedly reaching 8 inches across when fully open) relative to the overall size of the plant. In describing the flower color of Jane magnolia shrubs, we must distinguish between two different time periods, one when the flower is still closed and the other after the flower has fully opened:

  1. Before the plants are fully in bloom, they bear burgundy-purple flowers; they are shaped somewhat like tulips.
  2. After the flower has been fully open for a while (see picture), the color of the outer side of the petals fades to pink; the petals are white on the inside.

The bushes usually come into bloom in my zone-5 garden in the second half of April and finish blooming the second half of May. Some re-blooming tends to occur, but on my own bush it has never amounted to anything substantial. Blooming later in spring than star magnolia trees, Jane is thereby at less of a risk of losing its flower buds to frost damage.

Flowers precede foliage, as on other spring standouts such as witch hazel, forsythia, etc. The flowers, themselves are preceded by somewhat attractive buds that resemble pussy willows. The new leaves sport an element of copper, which gives way entirely to green in summer, only to return in fall prior to the leaves' eventual yellowing.

This shrub typically becomes 10-15 feet tall when mature, with a spread of about 8-12 feet. But it is a slow grower.

USDA Plant Hardiness Zones, Sun and Soil Requirements

Grow this shrub in planting zones 4-8. At the colder extreme of its range, you might want to consider spreading mulch around the base for winter insulation.

Plant Jane magnolia shrubs in a location where the soil drains well. An acidic, loamy soil enriched with humus is best. Water requirements are average for this bush.

Sunlight requirements are trickier to specify. I grow mine in full sun, but, then again, I live in the North. If you live in a warmer climate, an optimal setting may be morning sunlight with some relief from the pounding sun in afternoon.

When and How to Prune

Jane magnolias are shrubs that bloom on old wood, so prune (if you need to) just after flowering. As a general rule of thumb, the earliest-flowering trees and shrubs set flower buds the previous year, so it is easy for the newbie to prune at the wrong time and end up losing potential flowers.

Likewise, the later-flowering plants (for example, beautyberry shrubs) tend to set bud on new wood, so pruning them is less riddled with paranoia for the beginner: they offer more leeway in pruning.

Having said that, there is no rule stating that you have to prune Jane magnolias at all, although I would prune away any suckers that might develop to keep my shrub looking neat. Some growers prune their bushes lightly, simply to nudge them into assuming a slightly different shape than they would on their own. But that is entirely optional, and many folks give their Jane magnolias a green light and allow them to assume their natural shape, without any pruning.

My own shrub received what you might call an "accidental pruning" that shaped it for life. It was damaged when pine branches snapped off and fell on it after the freak snowstorm we had here in New England (U.S.) around Halloween in 2011. It always had two main stems rather than a single, tall leader, but after the damage that resulted from this accident, it has shown even less potential to put on substantial height. The two main stems were "pruned back" severely, and many new branches have sprouted off from them. I rather like this shrubby form, so I now prune accordingly, preventing any of the branches from getting too high. The result is a plant that stands about 5 feet tall, with a spread of about 6 feet.

Uses in Landscaping

Use it as a seasonal specimen as you would other flowering trees and flowering bushes for spring, for example:

What's in a Name?

Why is this shrub named 'Jane' magnolia? Well, plant developers have often been hard-pressed to come up with names for new plants. In this case, they got lucky. Jane magnolia is part of a series (affectionately dubbed "Little Girl"), consisting of eight sisters. So all the plant namers had to do was come up with eight girls' names. Easy, right? The other seven are:

  1. Ann
  2. Betty
  3. Judy
  4. Pinkie
  5. Randy
  6. Ricki
  7. Susan

Outstanding Characteristic

I feel that Jane magnolia is at its prettiest when the flowers are still unopened, at which point they are at their darkest (purple). Once the flowers open fully, the color of the petals on the outside can fade to more of a pink; combined with the white color on the inside, the overall effect is one of brightness (which I find less attractive than the initial, darker look).

Jane magnolia is not necessarily an anomaly in this regard. It is not unusual for flowers to be at their showiest when not fully opened. I have the same opinion regarding tulips and several other flowers, including:

Speaking of tulips, another tree in the Magnoliaceae family that displays tulip-like flowers is the aptly named "tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera).

When to Plant Jane Magnolia and How to Care for It

While many of us would typically plant Jane magnolia in early spring, some people who landscape in areas with particularly hot summers select a fall planting instead. This gives the bush a chance to "get comfortable" for several months before having to face the blazing temperatures of summer. Learn how to transplant trees and shrubs properly before you begin your project.

To fertilize, I spread compost around mine in spring and water it in. Then, in early fall, I use a fertilizer geared to acid-loving plants, such as Holly Tone.

The genus to which this shrub belongs is not without its share of problems for growers. For example, you may have to deal with:

For a more detailed look at the challenges associated with growing these specimens, please consult my full treatment of magnolia care.

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