How to Grow and Care for Saucer Magnolia

This smaller tree is an early bloomer with a display of pink and white flowers

saucer magnolia tree

The Spruce / Kara Riley

Saucer magnolia is a popular flowering tree or large shrub created by cross-breeding Magnolia liliiflora (lily magnolia, a shrub form) and M. denudata (lilytree), both native to Japan. It is sometimes called tulip magnolia, but it is not to be confused with tulip trees. It often grows as a multi-stemmed shrubby plant but can be trained into the form of a small tree by pruning it in its first years to have one central trunk.

Its huge, early spring blooms appear before its broad, dark green leaves. Saucer magnolia flowers may continue to bloom after the leaves emerge, usually blooming for one to two weeks. Saucer magnolias are messy, but since it has a short bloom time, it's not a prolonged clean-up period. The spectacular, refreshing display makes the clean-up worth it.

The native saucer magnolia species has pinkish-white flowers, but many cultivars are available with pure white, pure pink, magenta, and purple flowers. The plant has a nicely rounded crown, making it an ideal landscape specimen. It grows moderately, about 12 to 24 inches each growing season. Saucer magnolia heights can reach 25 feet tall, with a spread of 20 to 30 feet wide.

Common Name Saucer magnolia, tulip magnolia, Chinese magnolia
Botanical Name Magnolia x soulangiana
Family Name Magnoliaceae
Plant Type Tree, shrub
Mature Size 20 to 25 ft. tall, 20 to 25 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full, partial
Soil Type Moist but well-drained
Soil pH Acidic, neutral
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color Pink, white
Hardiness Zone 4-9 (USDA)
Native Area Asia
saucer magnolia blossoms partially open
​The Spruce / Kara Riley
saucer magnolia tree
The Spruce / Kara Riley 
saucer magnolia tree in front of a home
​The Spruce / Kara Riley 
closeup of a budding saucer magnolia
The Spruce / Maegan Gindi 
saucer magnolia tree from below
The Spruce / Maegan Gindi

Saucer Magnolia Care

Saucer magnolias are best planted in a full-sun to part-shade location—preferably not southern exposures, which can cause the flowers to open too early when cold early spring weather can damage the flowers. This tree doesn't like extremely dry or wet soil, so try to give it rich soil that is both moist and well-draining. It also does best if somewhat protected from strong winds.

Saucer magnolia's rope-like tree roots grow horizontally to provide stability. Its roots do not grow invasively or deeply like other types of magnolia trees that can affect a home's foundation if planted too close.

Pruning can be done to shape the plant into a tree form, and you should prune diseased and broken branches away to prevent the spread of fungal diseases. These plants often do fine without any feeding, but a spring application of fertilizer can help the plant thrive.

The branches of saucer magnolia trees are favored by wildlife as nesting sites, and their seeds are a food source for birds. This tree is also moderately pollution tolerant.

Light

Saucer magnolia trees prefer full sun, but they can tolerate partial shade locations.

Soil

Though they will tolerate clay soils, saucer magnolia trees do best in moist, acidic, organically rich, and well-drained, loam.

Water

During the first year of planting, water the tree deeply and frequently. Afterward, saucer magnolias need irrigation only when the weather is dry. Once established, these trees have a moderately good drought tolerance.

Temperature and Humidity

Cool, rainy weather tends to cause fungal leaf spots and cankers on magnolia plants. They can handle a wide range of humidity. If possible, avoid splashing soil from the ground onto the plants, and give them good air circulation.

Fertilizer

Magnolias are not heavy feeders, but they benefit from mixing fertilizer into the soil when planting, then lightly feeding them each spring with a balanced slow-release fertilizer. For annual spring feeding, do not mix the fertilizer into the soil; spread it over the surface around the plant, then water it in.

Types of Saucer Magnolia

  • Alexandrina (M. soulangiana 'Alexandrina'): This multi-stemmed variety grows 20 to 30 feet high. This saucer magnolia hybrid is a cup-shaped plant with deep rose-purple flowers with white inside.
  • Rustica Rubra (M. x soulangiana 'Rustica Rubra'): This plant grows 15 to 25 feet high with a broad, open, pyramidal form. The flowers are rose-red.
  • Verbanica (M. x soulangiana 'Verbanica'): This cultivar grows 10 to 15 feet high with an upright, broad, pyramidal form. The flowers, which appear later than other varieties, are cup-shaped and rosy-pink flowers with white inside. Lustrous dark green leaves turn coppery brown in fall.
  • Lennei Alba (M. x soulangiana 'Lennei Alba'): This plant grows 12 to 24 feet high and wide with a broad, pyramidal form, making it ideal for small gardens. This saucer magnolia hybrid's flowers are pure white and globe-shaped; this tree flowers slightly later than the primary species.

Pruning

Saucer magnolia trees often produce multiple stems. To shape it into a tree form, prune away all but one central trunk. Or you can prune to just a few central trunks, understanding that the tree will likely need additional support such as cabling or propping. Such drastic pruning should be done while the tree is still young. You may also shape the crown in later years by pruning lightly after the flowering period. Remove any dead or diseased branches as you see them, preferably in dry weather when fungi are less likely to infect pruning wounds.

Do not be alarmed by a dramatically leaning saucer magnolia; instead, consider having it propped. It is common for these trees to grow with rather extreme leans.

Tip

If you are like most homeowners and acquired your saucer magnolia from the previous property owner rather than by planting your own sapling, early pruning won't be possible. Do not prune adult trees as you would a sapling. Only remove dead and damaged limbs. Call a certified arborist as needed.

Propagating Saucer Magnolia

Saucer magnolia is a fairly fast-growing tree that can be propagated from cuttings but be prepared for a good number of the cuttings to fail. If you start 4 to 6 cuttings, you have a good likelihood of 1 or 2 succeeding. It's best to take cuttings in summer after the buds have set.

  1. Use a sharp knife or pruning shears to cut a 6- to 9-inch cutting from the tip of a branch. Immediately place the cutting into water to keep it moist.
  2. Remove all but the upper leaves, then make a 2-inch vertical slice at the end of the stem.
  3. Dip the stem into a hormone solution, then place the tip of the cutting into a planter filled with moist perlite.
  4. Place the cutting in indirect light and cover it loosely with a plastic bag to keep the cutting humid. Mist the cutting often and watch for roots to grow.
  5. When a good network of roots has developed, you can transfer the plant to a larger pot filled with potting mix for continued growth. The magnolia can be planted in the landscape when vigorous upper growth has begun.

Magnolias started this way often grow large enough to produce flowers within two to three years.

How to Grow Saucer Magnolia From Seed

Gather the seeds of the saucer magnolia during spring and summer. They need a period of dormancy, so plan to plant the seeds outdoors in the fall, about 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep. The seeds should germinate in the spring.

It's possible to germinate the seeds indoors. Use an empty coffee can or a similar container. Bury the seed in a few inches of moist peat moss, add the lid, and punch holes in the lid for air circulation. Place the can in the refrigerator for three to five months. When the time is up, remove the seed and plant it in a small container indoors. Keep the soil moist while the seed germinates. When spring rolls around, and the threat of frost has passed, plant the germinated seed outdoors to continue growth.

a soulangiana variety of saucer magnolia
The Spruce / Maegan Gindi
Magnolia Lennei Alba
Gratysanna / Getty Images

Overwintering

Saucer magnolia is a hardy plant that needs no particular care to overwinter well. Keep watering it through the winter if snows and rains aren't quite enough, and add a thick layer of mulch around the trunk to protect the root system from deep cold.

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

Saucer magnolia doesn't suffer from many severe insect or disease issues. However, it can be affected by leaf spots and canker, both caused by fungi. Copper-based fungicides regularly applied (preferably before the spots appear) can prevent fungal leaf spots. Prune away and destroy canker-damaged branches during dry weather, sterilizing the pruning shears after each cut.

Common Problems With Saucer Magnolia

Saucer magnolia is a hardy plant that presents few problems. However, fungal diseases might be an issue.

Spots, Yellowing, or Dropping Leaves

Small brown or black spots, yellowing leaves, or early leaf drops are signs of common disease leaf spot. This condition doesn't require treatment.

Black Growth on Leaves

A black, velvety growth on leaves can indicate sooty mold. Treat this with a strong spray of water across the leaves or a 2 percent solution of horticultural oil for severe cases.

Discolored Rings on Branches

Rings on the larger branches are often the result of sapsuckers, a type of woodpecker. Wrap the branches in burlap or hardware cloth to discourage revisiting.

White Powder on Leaves

This condition is known as powdery mildew, which can make the tree drop yellowed leaves early in the season. To treat, try a solution of 1 tablespoon baking soda to 1 tablespoon of horticultural oil to 1 gallon of water, sprayed thoroughly on the foliage.

FAQ
  • How long can saucer magnolia live?

    Though the general rule of thumb is over 20 years, some magnolias can last for 120 years or more.

  • Can saucer magnolia grow indoors?

    Though it can be started indoors as a germinating seed or tended to as a small cutting, saucer magnolia needs the outdoor soil to truly thrive.

  • What are alternatives to saucer magnolias?

    There are many other magnolia types available, including the popular Jane Magnolia.

Watch Now: How to Prune a Tree

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Saucer Magnolia. Arbor Day Foundation.

  2. Magnolia - Leaf Spots. Pacific North West Pest Management Handbooks, Pacific North West Extension.

  3. Magnolia - Magnolia spp. University of Florida Plant Pathology.

  4. Magnolia. Clemson University Cooperative Extension Home and Garden Information Center.

  5. Why are the leaves on my magnolia turning black and attracting wasps? University of New Hampshire.