General gardening topics

Growing magnolias in pots – the beginner’s guide

Last updated on May 5th, 2022

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Magnolias can be found in evergreen or deciduous varieties. The deciduous varieties lose their leaves come winter and are much more common in gardens across the UK and they are usually for sale at all good garden centres and nurseries. The main reason for this is that they produce stunning large flowers in spite of having few leaves which makes for an incredibly striking visual display at the end of winter and beginning of spring when not much else is flowering. With stunning flowers complimented by a bright blue sky, snow on the ground in some cases, and bare branches.

Magnolias may or may not be the best option for your garden depending on the type of soil and sun exposure you have. So before you head out to buy your next Magnolia and start planting, check to see whether your garden is a good fit, in most cases the answer will be yes and you don’t have to worry about soil quality and pH if you are planting one in a large pot or container. 

Planting magnolias in pots and containers

Our recommended Magnolias to grow in large pots

White Magnolia Stellata 'Star Magnolia' Standard Tree 70cm Tall
  • The classic early Spring flowering 'Star Magnolia' tree - in standard lollipop style form.
  • The perfect addition to smaller gardens, a slow growing small tree or large shrub.
  • Will reach just 2.5M tall in 10 years or so, so is easily managed.
  • Smothered in pure white star-shaped flowers every Spring.
  • Supplied as an established plant in a 3L pot, in a standard form approx. 70cm tall. Dormant in winter.
1 X Magnolia 'Susan' DECIDUOUS Bushy Shrub Hardy Garden Plant in Pot
  • Propagate by seed, semi-hardwood and softwood cuttings
  • May be damaged by horse chestnut scale, snails and capsid bug
  • May be affected by coral spot, grey mould, honey fungus, a virus or fungal leaf spot
Magnolia 'Fairy Blush' in a 13cm Pot
  • A new and exciting introduction and worth pride of place in your garden.
  • Flowers on young plants so no need to wait years for results.
  • Dark green, evergreen foliage.
  • Compact and bushy growth habit, easy to grow and low maintenance
  • Supplied as an established plant in a 13cm pot.

A few tips to get you started if you are growing Magnolias

  • Magnolias prefer full sun all year round but they can survive if you have an area of your garden with light shade for just part of the day. If you only have low light conditions in your garden, you can theoretically grow Magnolias but they won’t produce as many flowers. With pots, you can grow Magnolias anywhere in your garden with adequate exposure. 
  • There are certain varieties that are better suited for container growing so if you plan on growing Magnolias in a container, be sure you’ve selected the appropriate variety.
  • Different varieties reach various heights and spreads, some spanning an average of 2.5 metres in height with a similar spread, while others can reach a staggering 20 metres in height and spread. To that end, you want to be sure that you have enough space to allow a fully mature Magnolia to thrive wherever you plan to grow it. If, for example, you have a smaller space in your garden just make sure that you pick the right variety. The good news is container-grown Magnolias will be somewhat restricted and will not get anywhere near the size they would in the ground, it’s just better to choose a variety that doesn’t grow too large in the first place.
  • Certain Magnolia varieties grow best in slightly acidic or neutral soil but most do not thrive in highly alkaline soil so by growing in a container, you can amend the soil easily to suit the variety you have selected. In most cases, John Innes potting compost with some grit mixed through will be fine.
  • Magnolia plants have shallow roots and because of that, you have to take precautions to prevent the soil from drying out. This is particularly problematic when growing in pots because the compost in pots dries out much more quickly than in the ground. You can help prevent water loss by adding mulch annually and water regularly when needed.
  • Aside from the annual mulch requirement, most Magnolias will tolerate neglect once they get established because they have very low nutrient requirements thereafter and very minimal pruning requirements.
  • Magnolias will all produce flowers spanning the end of March through the end of May depending on your local weather.
  • You don’t want to plant them in an area that is subject to a lot of waterlogging. With pots, you can always drill extra drainage holes and add perlite to the mixture to help with this. 
  • Most Magnolias won’t suffer from pests or diseases.
  • It is recommended that you plant them in a slightly protected area so that they are not exposed to direct wind and are positioned in a sheltered position. Severe wind exposure can damage the branches but it can also exacerbate the negative impact of frost.

Once you have verified that you are well-equipped to plant a magnolia, it’s time to get down to business.


Picking the right container for your Magnolia

Pick a large heavy wide pot

When growing Magnolias you want to pick the right container right from the start. Stone or terracotta pots are the best for multiple reasons. First and foremost, a Magnolia is quite large and therefore quite heavy. The weight of a stone or terracotta pot is significantly higher compared to plastic which will help support the weight of the Magnolia and prevent it from being blown over in the wind.

It is best to pick containers that have a base just as wide as it is tall. This will give it more stability and help it to maintain an upright position. You don’t want round pots where the top is narrower compared to the middle of the base because if you have to re-pot your Magnolia for any reason further down the line, you might not be able to get it out without breaking your container, plus they tend to be less stable.

Wooden containers are very attractive and can be of course decorated how you see fit, but the problem is that Magnolias will be around for quite some time, not just one season and to that end, you will likely have to apply some treatment to the wood to help prevent decay as your Magnolia gets older.

Propagating magnolias. Propagate by taking cutting or layering

Ensure you have adequate drainage holes to avoid waterlogging

Whatever the material you select, make sure that it has adequate drainage holes. If it doesn’t, you can always drill more before you plant your Magnolia.

Choosing the right pot size

The size you select should be appropriate for the size of the Magnolia you have and its current pot size. Look at the container size in relationship to the size of the pot as a good starting point. For example, if you have a Magnolia that is in a 5-litre pot, you might want to consider a 10-15 litre pot so that it has plenty of space to grow over the next couple of years. It is best to pot them up gradually rather than plant them straight into a very large pot, this actually goes for most plants and not just Magnolias.


Planting a Magnolia in a Container

If you are going to grow in containers, it is recommended that you pick one of the Magnolia stellata varieties, they are easily identifiable from the star-shaped flowers in white or sometimes tinted pink. These are comparably smaller and will do just fine with the restriction of a container.

Planting a magnolia stellata in a container

When to plant Magnolias in pots

When you purchase your Magnolia in a pot, it might need to be replanted immediately into a new container. If this is the case, you should replant it at the beginning of spring but they will do well if planted in summer. You can get root balled Magnolias which are usually more affordable and often large established shrubs, these can be planted between November and March when they are dormant, they have no foliage but often already have flower buds on them. Once you plant your Magnolia you should not have to replant it for several years, not until it outgrows the existing container.

Always clean old pots before using them again

If you are using a container you have used previously, make sure you clean it out, allow it to soak in a mixture of bleach and water to ensure it is sterilised before you plant your Magnolia. The last thing you want is for the residue of a fungus, or an unexpected pest problem to infiltrate your Magnolia immediately.

Choosing the right compost

Magnolias prefer slightly acidic soil,  so you should choose a compost that is good for ericaceous plants like Rhododendrons or Azaleas. You can also pick an ericaceous mixture that is loam-based with extra acidity, which means going for a John Innes ericaceous compost. They will also grow in normal compost too if needed but a soil-based compost is always better to help retain moisture and the added weight helps prevent them from getting blown over.

Miracle-Gro 119780 Premium Eracacious Compost - Azelea, Camelia, Rhododendron - 40 Litre BAG, (New 2021 Range), Earth
  • Enriched with Miracle Gro plant food
  • Feeds for up to 3 months
  • Fortified with iron for rich green leaves
  • PH balanced - prevents yellowing of leaves in acid loving plant

Don’t forget to add stone or crockery to the bottom of the pot

You can help guarantee better drainage by adding stone/gravel or broken pieces of crockery from broken pots to the base of your Magnolia container. This will help prevent the holes from getting blocked up.


Planting your Magnolia into its new pot

Planting Magnolia plants into pots

When you are ready, remove your Magnolia from an old container being careful not to damage the root ball. Be careful when you do this, the roots can break easily and any unnecessary pressure will break them.

Place your new compost mixture into the container and transfer your Magnolia, backfilling once the Magnolia is buried to the same depth that was originally. When you are adding the compost, you want to make sure the main stem is at the same level it was, and you can guarantee this by adding a few centimetres at a time and then lightly packing it down, never firmly packing it down, those roots need to be able to expand into the new compost as it grows.

When you are done, water it well to allow the Magnolia an opportunity to settle in place.


General Care

Watering

When you grow Magnolias in containers they require minimal care. The first thing you need to do is give them a regular supply of water but never overwater them. If you have two or three days of sunny weather and you forget to water them it can cause some damage so always be on the lookout for dry soil. If you are going on a holiday make sure to ask someone to come by and water your Magnolias. If that’s not possible, simply move them into the shade, in a cooler area while you are gone, and think about adding a water timer to an outside tap if possible.

Check out some of our recommended water timers in this review here

Protecting container grown Magnolias in winter

Winter care for container-grown Magnolias consists of two key principles. The first is to prevent your soil from becoming waterlogged by reducing the amount of rain to which it is exposed. The second is to protect the soil from freezing conditions over a long period of time because the root system can be damaged by regular exposure to frost.

Place Magnolias in a greenhouse over winter if possible

If the winter in your area is particularly harsh and you suffer from heavy frost, cold weather with high winds, it is recommended that you move your Magnolias into a greenhouse or in your garage from the middle of December until the start of spring, putting them outdoors during mild weather. You can help the recuperation in spring by adding a general-purpose fertiliser (at the beginning of spring) every two weeks in preparation for moving them back outside.

Wrap pots in bubble wrap and protect with fleece in freezing weather

If you don’t have a garage or a greenhouse where you can store the Magnolia, do not bring it inside. Other plants you can bring indoors for the winter but not Magnolias. The air inside your home will be too dry and too warm. The best solution here, if you have no other option, is to find the most protected area against the walls of your home and add some additional protection by wrapping the pot in bubble wrap and the plant in fleece.

The physical walls of your home will be relatively warmer in the winter compared to it being left exposed outside, so if you have no other options, this will protect them against the worst of winter with the help of bubble wrap and fleece. 

Haxnicks 2x Large Easy Fleece Jackets | Garden Fleece Bags For Winter Plant Frost And Wind Protection | Trees Shrubs Tree Ferns Banana Plant Protection | Pack Of 2, 1.2m x 1.8m, Fleece030101
  • Provides instant protection from frost and harsh weather, while still allowing air and moisture to filter through to maintain healthy growth
  • Made of soft-green, high-quality UV-stabilized, extra thick 35gsm polypropylene fleece; includes drawstring for easy and practical use.
  • Two jackets per pack; Dimensions: 47"D x 71"H each
  • Ideal cover for wintering large, exotic, and tender container plants such as palms and cordalynes; eliminates the need for bring indoors
  • Also available in Small and Medium sizes (sold separately)

If possible find a position in your garden that protects the Magnolias from wind and from heavy rainfall. Too much rain on the soil in your container can cause root rot.

Only prune Magnolias if you have to

If you see any wispy shoots that are detracting from the overall structure of your Magnolia plant, you can prune them. However, regular pruning will reduce the flowering for the next few years. As a general rule, it is not recommended that you prune Magnolias if you can avoid it. The only reason you should prune is if they are outgrowing the existing space.

If you absolutely must prune your Magnolias hard, spread this process out over two or three years. Remove diseased branches first and then branches that cross one another. The idea is to keep the middle of your Magnolia tree open by pruning the branches back to the main stem. Do it in the middle of summer after flowering. If you do it any other time of the year it will cause the cuts to bleed and this can make your plants susceptible to infection.

How to Prune Magnolias

Pests and Diseases

Slugs and snails

If you have a younger Magnolia, slugs will try to eat the new fresh leaves. You can add slug pellets to prevent them from munching away on your plants or you can pick them off by hand. Once you have a Magnolia that is more than 5 years old this should no longer be a problem.

Another way to stop slugs from getting to your Magnolia is by sticking copper tape around the top of the pot. This can be purchased from most garden centres and has proved effective in protecting potted plants from slugs and snails because they get an electric shock when they touch the copper tape.

EFA International Copper Foil Tape, Pest Tape 20m x 3cm, Pet Safe Slug Repellent, Snail Deterrent, Garden Repellent Pest Control, EMI Shielding Conductive Tape
  • 🌈 HUMANE Copper Tape for Slugs and Snails; values wellbeing of all living creatures, wildlife and pets; 100% cruelty free Pest Control Solution; Snail and Slug Repellent; Use in Garden in isolation or as Copper Mesh compliment helping create Copper Rings for Plants, Slug Fence and Plant Protector; non-lethal replacement of old-fashioned Slug Pellet / Slug Trap methods;
  • 🌍 ECO FRIENDLY Anti Slug Tape. Do your bit for the planet protect all living beings to help maintain integrity of your local ecosystem and food-chain ensuring natural habitat protected; Copper is a long-lasting versatile metal will not rust and is an effective repellent and slug guard. Wildlife Friendly and 100% Chemical Free;
  • ✔️ EASY TO USE Conductive Adhesive Tape has an easy peel backing and creates a strong bond to most surfaces. Suitable also as indoor slug repellent; pet friendly slug and snail control enables you to focus on task without worry for your loved animals, Easily create copper rings for slugs;
  • 🎵 EMI SHIELDING Conductive Copper Foil Tape can be used for shielding against electromagnetic interference helping to ensure you can enjoy use of your gadgets and instruments at an optimum level;
  • 🎁 VERSATILE art & craft foils; many wider uses for decorative purposes such as stain glass windows, using to dress plant pots and furniture or as an addition to wrapping presents and gifts;

Rabbits

Rabbits might eat through the bark, something you can prevent by adding a barrier or a low wire fence. Once the rabbits have eaten the bark (and they can actually eat through a significant amount in one sitting) it could have fatal consequences for your Magnolia. Your best option is a preventative one.

Yellowing leaves

If you notice the leaves on your Magnolia are turning yellow it is indicative of too much alkalinity, however, this is usually unlikely for pot grown plants. Too much alkalinity is problematic because it prevents your Magnolia from absorbing the essential nutrients. Younger plants often naturally have yellow leaves when young and you need to be careful it isn’t confused with alkalinity.


More Recommended Varieties

Magnolias Stellata

Planting a magnolia stellata in a container

The Magnolia Stellata is the best variety for growing in a container. This variety will reach a height of 2.5 metres and a spread of the same when grown in the ground and even smaller in pots which is why its such a good choice. It flowers between the end of March and April just when spring is getting on the way and people start venturing back into their gardens again.

The flowers are pure white with very thin petals and a lovely scent. The leaves are green and they shed in winter as they are deciduous. The Magnolia Stellata is tolerant of alkaline soil, does very well in containers, and has received the RHS Award of Garden Merit. You can also get a variety called Magnolia stellata Rosea which is very similar but has a pink tinge to the flowers.

White Magnolia stellata 'Star Magnolia' Flowering Shrub in a 3L Pot
  • The classic early Spring flowering 'Star Magnolia' tree.
  • The perfect addition to smaller gardens, a slow growing small tree or large shrub.
  • Will reach just 2.5m tall in 10 years or so, so is easily managed.
  • Smothered in pure white star-shaped flowers every spring.
  • Supplied as an established plant in a 3L pot, ready to pot on or plant out. Dormant in winter.

Magnolia Susan

Another variety is the Magnolia Susan which reaches a full mature height and spread of around 3 meters when grown in the ground and much smaller in containers.

Another variety is the Magnolia Susan which reaches a full mature height and spread of around 3 metres when grown in the ground and again, much smaller in containers. It blooms between April and the beginning of May just like the Stellata. The flowers are purple when the buds start to form and once the flowers are in full bloom they take on a beautiful pink colour. The leaves are green and they shed in the winter. This is another variety perfect for containers. 

Overall, if you would like to enjoy Magnolias but you want a smaller variety that you can move around outside, or you simply want the ease of a container-grown Magnolia, growing Magnolias in pots is fairly simple and if you follow all of these instructions you will enjoy beautiful flowers at the beginning of spring.

1 X Magnolia 'Susan' DECIDUOUS Bushy Shrub Hardy Garden Plant in Pot
  • Propagate by seed, semi-hardwood and softwood cuttings
  • May be damaged by horse chestnut scale, snails and capsid bug
  • May be affected by coral spot, grey mould, honey fungus, a virus or fungal leaf spot

Last update on 2022-03-17 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Welcome to my site, my name is John and I have been lucky enough to work in horticultural nurseries for over 15 years in the UK. As the founder and editor as well as researcher, I have a City & Guilds Horticultural Qualifications which I proudly display on our About us page. I now work full time on this website where I review the very best gardening products and tools and write reliable gardening guides. Behind this site is an actual real person who has worked and has experience with the types of products we review as well as years of knowledge on the topics we cover from actual experience. You can reach out to me at john@pyracantha.co.uk

4 Comments

  1. Jennifer

    Can you grow magnolia indoors. Was given one for Mother’s Day and I live in a flat. Was told it was an indoor magnolia. Would appreciate your comments. Thank you.

  2. John Moore

    Hi Jennifier if it’s an indoor one then yes shouldn’t be a problem. Most outdoors varieties would simply grow to big but some such as Dwarf Southern Magnolia, Chinese Magnolia, Magnolia Red Lucky, Ann Magnolias, and Star Magnolia will grow indoors if they get plenty of light.

  3. Modesty Hunter

    A brilliant and informative post – thanks. I want to get a stellata for a container. Would it be ok to plant whilst dormant outside or should I wait until spring? Thanks, Modesty

  4. John Moore

    It should be perfectly fine, if you can find a root balled one then it will also be cheaper than a potted magnolia but they are only available autumn to spring when they are dormant.

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