Jane Magnolia: Tree or Shrub to Brighten the Spring Yard

Later Blooming Period Often Saves Buds From Frost Damage

Jane magnolia (image) is relatively small. It is considered a tree or shrub.
David Beaulieu

Taxonomy and Botany of Jane Magnolia

Magnolia x 'Jane' is the name given to this specimen by plant taxonomy. An "x" in the Latin name means the plant is a hybrid. '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 called both Jane magnolia "trees" and "shrubs." What many people grow would best be described as a large, multi-branched shrub; this can be either intentional or accidental (see below).

Plant Characteristics

The flowers are good-sized (with those on some plants, under ideal conditions, reaching 8 inches across when fully open) relative to the overall size of the plant. In describing the flower color of Jane magnolia shrubs, there are really two different time periods to look at, 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 like tulips.
  2. After the flower has been fully open for a while, the color of the outer side of the petals fades to pink. The petals are white on the inside.

The bushes come into bloom in a zone-5 garden in the second half of April and finish blooming in the second half of May. Reblooming may occur, but on some bushes it never amounts to much of anything. Blooming later in spring than star magnolia trees, Jane is at less of a risk of losing its flower buds to frost damage.

Flowers come before the leaves do, as on other spring standouts such as witch hazel, forsythia, etc. The flowers, themselves are preceded by buds that look like pussy willows. The new leaves sport a bit of copper color, which gives way entirely to green in summer, only to return in fall prior to the leaves' eventual yellowing.

This shrub becomes 10-15 feet tall when mature, with a spread of about 8-12 feet. But it is a slow grower. Plus you may wish to keep it more compact through pruning (it all depends on your landscaping needs and goals).

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 to protect it in winter.

Plant Jane magnolia shrubs in a spot where the soil drains well. An acidic, loamy soil rich with compost is best. Water needs are average for this bush.

Sunlight needs are trickier to specify. Northerners, though, should grow theirs in full sun. If you live in a warmer climate, the best spot for your plant may be one with morning sunlight, but with some relief from the pounding sun in afternoon.

When and How to Prune

Jane magnolias are shrubs that bloom on old wood. 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 the newbie may very well prune at the wrong time and end up losing flowers. On the other hand, the later-flowering plants (for example, beautyberry shrubs) tend to set bud on new wood, so pruning them is easier 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 it is advisable to prune away any suckers that might develop to keep the shrubs looking neat. Some growers prune their bushes lightly, simply to nudge them into taking a slightly different shape than they would on their own. But that is up to you, and many folks give their Jane magnolias a green light and allow them to take their natural shape, without any pruning.

In some cases, a shrub may get what you might call an "accidental pruning" that shapes it for life. For example, if you grow yours under a big pine tree, it could be damaged when pine branches snap off and fall on it after an ice storm or heavy snowstorm. Whereas your plant may have started out with just two main stems (or even a single, tall leader), after the damage that results from this accident, it may decide to grow as a shrub.

The two main stems will have been "pruned back" (from the damage) severely, and many new branches will sprout off from them. Some gardeners do not mind (or even prefer) this shrubby form, so they keep on pruning it after the accident so as to prevent any of the branches from getting too high. The result will be a plant that stands about 5 feet tall, with a spread of about 6 feet.

Uses in Landscaping

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

For companions, one idea is to grow it with other acid-loving plants that like the same sun and soil conditions.

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 (called "Little Girl"), made up 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 Trait

Many feel that Jane magnolia is at its prettiest before its flowers fully open. At this point in the season, they are at their darkest (purple).

Once the flowers open fully, the color of the petals on the outside fades to more of a pink. Combined with the white color on the inside, the overall effect is one of brightness. Some people do not like this look as much as the darker look the flowers had before. Many growers also miss that tulip shape the flowers had before opening.

It is not rare for flowers to be at their showiest when not fully opened. Some gardeners have the same opinion regarding several other flowers, including:

Speaking of tulips, another tree in the magnolia 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 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 heat of summer. Learn how to transplant trees and shrubs the right way before you begin your project.

To fertilize, you can spread compost around your bush in spring and water it in. Then, in early fall, 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: The challenges of magnolia care are many. For example, you may have to deal with: