How to Grow and Care for Star Magnolia

This beautiful tree is the harbinger of spring

Star magnolia tree branch with white flowers

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

The star magnolia (Magnolia stellata) is a deciduous, slow-growing flowering tree with a rounded growth habit that can be shaped into a multi-stemmed shrub in a pyramid shape. It can reach a height of 15 to 20 feet at maturity, with a slightly smaller spread. It's best planted in spring in colder climates; otherwise, plant it in fall or winter in warmer temperatures.

The star shape of its white flowers gives it both its common name and scientific name. It blooms in March or April, a beautiful harbinger of spring. Fuzzy, pussy-willow-like buds precede the spring display of mildly fragrant flowers. Later in the season, it produces bright pink seed pods. By early autumn, it bears fruits full of brilliant orange seeds.

Common Name Star magnolia
Botanical Name Magnolia stellata
Family Magnoliaceae
Plant Type Tree, shrub
Mature Size  15-20 ft. tall, 15 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full, partial
Soil Type  Loamy, sandy, well-drained
Soil pH  Acidic, neutral, alkaline
Bloom Time  Spring, summer
Flower Color  Red, pink, yellow, white, purple
Hardiness Zones  4-9 (USDA)
Native Area Asia

Star Magnolia Care

Indigenous to Japan, star magnolia trees can grow in planting zones 4 through 9. Select a well-drained site, with acidic soil, that is located in full sun to partial shade. It flowers best in full sun. It can also grow in loamy soil enriched with humus.

Star magnolias blossom a bit earlier than saucer magnolias, usually from February through April, climate depending. Their precociousness after a long, hard winter is most appreciated by gardeners who desperately crave spring flowers. Plant your star magnolia where it can be seen to get the most out of its early bloom.

Star magnolia tree with white and light pink flowers closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Star magnolia tree dried branches with white flowers

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Star magnolia tree branches with white flowers against blue sky

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Star magnolia tree with white flowers next to lamp post

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Star magnolia tree branch with white flowers and buds closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Light

This tree grows best in full or partial sun, needing at least a minimum of four hours of direct, unfiltered sunlight daily.

Soil

Star magnolia can grow in acidic, loamy, moist, sandy, well-drained, and clay soils.

Water

Star magnolias are low-maintenance plants that don't require frequent watering. They can handle some flooding and are tolerant of moderate drought situations. Water magnolia trees thoroughly once a week during the first two growing seasons and twice a month in subsequent years.

Temperature and Humidity

Star magnolia is cold hardy down to zone 4 or as cold as -30 degrees Fahrenheit. However, it can be damaged by heavy snow and ice, particularly its blossoms can be injured by frost or wind. Its humidity needs are moderate—about 30 to 50%.

Fertilizer

Star magnolia needs very light to no fertilizer. Apply a general, all-purpose fertilizer in early spring before any growth appears. Get a phosphorus-rich fertilizer to promote stronger root growth and potential bloom production. For the amount to use, follow product label instructions.

Types of Star Magnolia

Star magnolia has a variety of flower colors (ranging from white to pink), tree sizes, and shapes.

  • 'Centennial': Features large 5-inch flowers; white with a slight tinge of pink on the outside, can grow up to 25 feet tall
  • 'Rosea': Pink flowers that fade to white at maturity; non-fragrant
  • 'Royal Star': Double, white flowers form from pink buds; grows up to 12 feet tall
  • 'Pink Stardust': Fragrant, 5-inch flowers; tree is pyramid shape; grows up to 12 feet tall
  • 'Waterlily": Highly fragrant; may flower later than other star magnolias
  • 'Jane': Grows about 15 feet tall; large 8-inch blooms; burgundy-purple buds with tulip-shaped flowers; pink petals on the outside and white inside

Pruning

The plant blooms on old wood (last year's growth), so prune it more or less immediately after blossoming to avoid losing next year's flowers. People don't generally prune magnolias much (although M. stellata is sometimes a bit more tolerant of pruning than other members of its genus).

They have a tendency to grow as multi-stemmed shrubs or bushes. If you wish to avoid this look, prune away any suckers to train your specimen to assume a tree form. Prune away the lower growth as it emerges while letting the rounded, spreading crown become dense.

New growers are sometimes alarmed by the "funny growths" that appear on star magnolia trees in the latter part of the growing season. No need to worry, though: Those odd lumps are just the pods in which star magnolia tree seeds are contained.

Propagating Star Magnolia

The best way to propagate star magnolia is by stem cuttings in late spring or early summer from soft or semi-hardwood. If using a rooting hormone, roots will grow in a few weeks. Star magnolia can also be grown from seed.

You will need to grow the rooted cutting in a pot for a year under controlled conditions before planting it in the ground. Using stem cuttings from annual pruning benefits star magnolia when branching gets crowded. Here's how to propagate a star magnolia using stem cuttings:

  1. You will need a planter or pot with drainage holes, a perlite potting mixture, sterilized pruners or a knife, and a clear plastic bag. Optionally, get compost and rooting hormone.
  2. Cut a 6 to 8-inch branch with active growth, cut on a diagonal, or cut a vertical slit at the bottom. Optionally, add rooting hormone to the cut end to encourage rooting success.
  3. Plant the cut end about 2 inches deep into the perlite potting mix. Optionally, add compost to the mixture to encourage growth. Moisten the soil. Tent a clear plastic bag over the planter to trap moisture in the bag, which encourages rooting.
  4. Put the plant in indirect light. While waiting for roots to grow, keep the top of the soil moist. Remove the tented bag once you notice growth—a sure sign of successful rooting.

How to Grow Star Magnolia From Seed

Magnolia seeds must go through stratification or a cooling period to germinate. Place the seeds in a container of moistened sand in the refrigerator for three months. When you remove the seeds from the cold, it triggers the seeds to germinate. Plant the seeds about 1/4-inch deep in a pot or the ground in the spring using potting soil. Mulch over the plant to keep moisture in the soil. Place it in a sunny spot.

Transplant the seedling after about one year of continuous growth in a controlled environment. The planting hole should be at least three times the width of the root ball or container and just as deep.

The root ball should be even with the ground when placed in the hole. Be sure the plant is straight before replacing half of the soil you took from the hole. Fill the hole with water and allow the root ball to absorb the moisture. Backfill the hole with the remaining soil. Top dress with a layer of mulch to keep the roots moist and discourage weed growth. Dress with compost in late winter.

Overwintering

Star magnolias are hardy during the winter and withstand temperatures down to -30 degrees Fahrenheit. However, as late winter or early spring bloomers, strong late winter winds can affect the longevity of its blooming flowers. When considering planting location, give it a spot with a wind break that can help prevent flower loss. However, don't shelter the tree too much. A sheltered area with a southern exposure can cause the buds to open up too early and allow frost damage.

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

Star magnolias are susceptible to fungal infections like powdery mildew, botrytis (gray mold), verticillium wilt, and leaf spot. It spreads by spores between infected plants.

To prevent conditions that favor fungal growth, give the plant ample sunlight, air circulation, and well-draining soil, and make sure the tree has dry foliage and flower petals. Also, remove infected leaves early on. Prune branches or thin them out to discourage an overly moist environment and promote air circulation. If symptoms persist, treat with fungicides according to the product label instructions.

Magnolia scale insects (Neolecanium cornuparvum) are one of the biggest threats to star magnolias. The insects suck the sap from the leaves and can harm the tree. The insects leave behind a residue that leaves a black, sooty mess, which encourages mold growth conditions.

To treat the magnolia scale, you must catch it early on when the insect is in the crawling stage. You can use organic methods like horticultural oil or insecticidal soap (usually applied in August) and reapply again two weeks later. Progress to other chemical alternatives if organic methods are unsuccessful.

How to Get Star Magnolia to Bloom

Star magnolia blooms usually have showy 12 to 18 thin, delicate, strap-like petals that are whitish or pink-toned. Depending on the cultivar, some star magnolias have up to 30 petals. Many types are sweetly fragrant, while some have no scent at all. Depending on your USDA growing zone, they bloom from late February to early April.

Star magnolia will shed their flowers naturally with no deadheading assistance necessary. If your star magnolia was grown from seed, it could take your seedling up to 15 to 20 years for it to mature enough to the point of flower production.

If your plant is mature enough or has flowered in the past, check its soil; most magnolia trees prefer acidic soil. Full sun is also a general prerequisite for bloom creation.

Common Problems With Star Magnolias

Star magnolias are easy to plant, and their care is straightforward. They are relatively trouble-free, except for being susceptible to fungus and scale if the branches are overcrowded or not getting enough ventilation.

Tiny Brown or White Bumps on Branches

A sign of star magnolia infested by magnolia scale is brown or white bumps clustering on branches. The plant's leaves appear shiny and sticky and often look like they have black sooty mold growing on the plant. If not treated or the insects overtake the plant, the tree will not survive. To get rid of magnolia scale, manually remove the insects or the affected limbs or branches, or use organic or chemical controls like horticultural oil, insecticidal soap, or pesticides.

Brown or Black Leaf Spots

Several fungus types can cause leaf spots that appear black, brown, tan, or red. Leaf spot is most likely to occur during rainy or humid weather and often clears up when sunny, dry weather returns. Remove diseased brown leaves that have dropped, preventing the fungus from spreading. Most mature trees can fight it independently, but a young tree might need help from a copper-based fungicide before being ravaged by the fungus.

Dying Branches

Verticillium wilt is a fungus that can kill branches or an entire star magnolia. Symptoms include streaking and fading wood, leaves dropping prematurely, and weakening limbs. Once a plant gets verticillium wilt, spores remain on the tree, infect the soil, and can spread. Mature trees can likely fight it off for a few years, but the prognosis is grim; eventually, it will kill the tree. Removal is the best course of action.

FAQ
  • How long can star magnolia live?

    With more than 80 species of magnolia trees, most are long-lived, with a lifespan of 80 to 120 years.

  • Are star magnolia trees messy?

    Star magnolias are messy but not as bad as saucer magnolias. In general, magnolias are known for leaving behind a carpet of petals each season; however, star magnolia shed more petite petals that dry up and crumble easily by the wind, leaving behind less of a mess than saucer magnolias.

  • How are star magnolia trees used in landscaping?

    Star magnolias are attractive when in bloom in spring as specimen trees. As relatively small trees, they are also used as foundation plantings or near patios.

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. Star Magnolia, Magnolia stellata. Division of Extension: Wisconsin Horticulture, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

  2. Verticillium wilt refresher. Michigan State University Extension.