When looking for the perfect show-stopping tree, a magnolia is a great option. And while standard magnolia varieties can reach up to 80 feet tall, several smaller cultivars max out at 20 feet. This means it's doable to grow them in a container that can be moved to suit your space's (and your tree's) needs.
Watch Now: How to Grow Potted Magnolia Trees
Choosing a Container
The first consideration when growing a magnolia in a container is the container itself. If the container will only be a temporary home for the tree before you plant it in the ground, then you can select one that's just slightly larger than the tree's root ball. But if you intend to keep your tree in a pot permanently, you'll want to plant your sapling in a pot that is several times larger than the tree's root ball.
Just remember that you might need to move the container, so it should be manageable in size and weight. If you think you'll be moving the tree frequently, set up your container on a rolling plant caddy before you add the soil.
Most importantly, make sure any container you choose has sufficient drainage. Pot shards, rocks, or a layer of pearlite at the bottom of the container will ensure that water filters through and the roots get adequate air.
Choosing a Tree
Next, consider which cultivar to buy. Your climate is an important factor, so ask your local nursery about which types grow successfully where you live. But remember that planting in containers gives you flexibility in terms of temperature. You might be able to overwinter your magnolia indoors if your climate is too cold for your desired cultivar.
In addition, varieties with a relatively compact growth habit are better suited for containers. A few to consider include:
- 'Teddy Bear' Southern magnolia
- 'Rose Marie' magnolia
- 'Black Tulip' magnolia
These cultivars range in size from 12 to 20 feet tall and 8 to 12 feet wide.
Caring for a Potted Magnolia Tree
Magnolias are quite hardy trees. But they do need the right soil, light, water, and feeding to thrive.
In general, magnolias prefer well-draining soil that is slightly acidic to neutral. But this can vary depending on the tree type, so check with your nursery when you buy your tree. Amend the soil with compost, and, if desired, add a little peat moss or sand to keep the right moisture balance. Also, leave 2 to 4 inches at the top of the pot for wood chips or another type of mulch. Because the magnolia's roots are close to the soil surface, this organic top layer is important for retaining moisture. So don’t skip this step.
Place the container where it will get full sun to partial shade. The best flowering occurs with ample sunlight. However, if you find your tree is withering in a hot, sunny location, move it to a slightly shadier spot.
Water several times a week for the first few months to keep the soil moist but not soggy. Once your tree is established, you can back off a little on water. Furthermore, during the summer months, use a 20-5-10 fertilizer to keep your tree healthy and to optimize flowering.