Saucer Magnolia is a multi-stemmed, spreading tree, 25 feet tall with a 20 to 30-foot spread and bright, attractive gray bark. Growth rate is moderately fast but slows down considerably as the tree reaches about 20-years of age. Large, fuzzy, green flower buds are carried through the winter at the tips of brittle branches. Blooms open in late winter to early spring often before the leaves, producing large, white flowers shaded in pink, creating a spectacular flower display.
Scientific name: Magnolia x soulangiana
Pronunciation: mag-NO-lee-uh x soo-lan-jee-AY-nuh
Common name(s): Saucer Magnolia
USDA hardiness zones: USDA hardiness zones: 5 through 9A
Origin: not native to North America
Uses: container or above-ground planter; espalier; near a deck or patio; shade tree; specimen; no proven urban tolerance
Availability: generally available in many areas within its hardiness range
The most recommended Saucer Magnolia cultivars are ‘Alexandrina’ - flowers almost white; ‘Brozzonii’ - flowers white shaded with purple; ‘Lennei’ - flowers rosy purple outside, white flushed with purple inside, flowers large, blooms later; ‘Spectabilis’ - flowers almost white; Verbanica’ - flowers clear rose pink outside, late blooming, slow-growing to 10 feet tall.
Height: 20 to 25 feet
Spread: 20 to 30 feet
Crown uniformity: irregular outline or silhouette
Crown shape: round; upright
Crown density: open
Growth rate: medium
Flower color: pink; white
Flower characteristics: spring flowering; very showy; winter flowering
Trunk and Branches:
Trunk/bark/branches: bark is thin and easily damaged from mechanical impact; droop as the tree grows, and will require pruning for vehicular or pedestrian clearance beneath the canopy; routinely grown with, or trainable to be grown with, multiple trunks; showy trunk; no thorns
Pruning requirement: needs little pruning to develop a strong structure
Current year twig color: brown
Current year twig thickness: medium
The saucer magnolia is one of the earliest flowering trees to bloom. In mild climates it blooms in late winter and as late as mid-spring in colder zones. This non-native magnolia is a true first sign of spring. Many cultivars are available, bred for size of plant, blooming time, and flower colors. Yulan magnolia (M. heptapeta), one of this hybrid's parents, is very similar but with white flowers. It is often grafted onto the more vigorous M. x soulangeana rootstock.
Light requirement: tree can grow in part shade/part sun or in full sun
Soil tolerances: clay; loam; sand; acidic; well-drained
Drought tolerance: moderate
Aerosol salt tolerance: none
USE AND MANAGEMENT
The tree is best used as a specimen in a sunny spot where it can develop a symmetrical crown. It can be pruned up if planted close to a walk or patio to allow for pedestrian clearance but probably looks its best when branches are left to droop to the ground. The light gray bark shows off nicely, particularly during the winter when the tree is bare.
Saucer Magnolia grows best in a sunny location in rich, moist but porous soil. It will tolerate poor drainage for only a short period of time. Growth will be thin and leggy in a shaded spot but acceptable in part shade. Saucer Magnolia dislikes dry or alkaline soil but will otherwise grow very well in the city. Transplant in the spring, just before growth begins, and use balled in burlap or containerized plants. Older plants do not like to be pruned and large wounds may not close well. Train plants early in their life to develop the desired form.
A late frost can often ruin the flowers in all areas where it is grown. This can be incredibly disappointing since you wait 51 weeks for the flowers to appear. In warmer climates, the late flowering selections avoid frost damage but some are less showy than the early-flowered forms which blossom when little else is in flower.