General gardening topics

Why does my magnolia tree drop so many leaves and how to help prevent it

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Magnolias are stunning trees deciduous and evergreen trees which are representative of an ancient species of trees so the dramatic flowers and fragrant blooms have been appreciated throughout the centuries. Today they remain well known for the large and leathery leaves as well as the dramatic flowers but sometimes those leaves start to drop and if you have put a lot of effort into maintaining their Magnolia with might be cause for concern. 

So why does your Magnolia drop so many leaves? There are a handful of reasons. Firstly, you have to consider the type of tree you have and whether by design it will not really lose its leaves. You also have to consider environmental factors, things like the soil conditions, watering habits, and whether the leaves are being dropped right before your magnolia flowers or whether they are being dropped throughout the spring. 

Type of magnolia

Magnolia dropping leaves

There are different species of Magnolias, some of which come in tree form others that come in shrub form. Magnolias can be evergreen or deciduous but most of the varieties you plant in your garden in the Uk such as Stellata or Susan are deciduous and that means they drop their leaves every Autumn to conserve energy for the upcoming winter months. There are, still, some varieties that are semi-deciduous in which case they might still go into dormancy and therefore drop their leaves out of necessity.

Evergreen is a bit of a misleading term. Even Evergreen plants have to shed older leaves and needles the same way you have hair on your head all the time but you still lose hair every day. Healthy trees can regularly drop up to 10% of their existing leaves during a drought as a way to conserve moisture and maintain healthy even in otherwise dry conditions. If they didn’t drop these leaves, they would lose too much moisture through transpiration, effectively a breathing process that takes place in the leaves.

Overwatering watering

That said, if you water your Magnolia too much it can result in a multitude of leaves dropping, not just the standard 10% that would drop during a drought. You need to make sure that you are watering your plant the appropriate amount which means keeping the soil moist and if growing them in containers making sure if free-draining soil and that the containers have drainage holes up and cannot get blocked.


Another issue could be the soil in which your Magnolia is growing. Environmental stresses are usually the result of weather, water, or soil conditions. Magnolias are rather particular about the soil in which they grow and if they don’t get enough nitrogen, they will shed extra leaves. You can try to combat this by putting nitrogen back into the soil with some slow-release fertilizer and verifying whether or not this rectify the problem.

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Environmental stress

As mentioned, during a drought, in order to conserve moisture your healthy tree can drop a significant portion of their leaves. This is one of a handful of environmental stresses that can result in a lot of leaves falling from your tree. Excess wind storms, severe weather, flooding, all of these can add to extra leaves dropping from your tree. Usually, this doesn’t kill the tree but can hold them back for a while but they usually recover

Leaf Drop

In the springtime, you might notice your magnolia tree dropping their oldest leaves. You’ll know that it’s dropping older leaves because they turn yellow very suddenly all throughout the tree and then drop. They won’t drop all at once, they simply fall throughout the season. Most of the time these are the larger leaves just shy of 25cm and they’re often very strong.

These are not things that you need to be worried about but you should remove them once they fall to keep the area clean. If you choose not to prune your Magnolia early on to maintain an upright shape and you let the lower limbs drape to the ground, they will strategically hide all of these fallen leaves so you won’t see them. This brings with it the benefits of decomposition which add extra protection for the roots and more nutrients into the soil.

Leaf drop before or during flowering

With a magnolia, you have to understand that it takes quite a bit of energy for your trees to produce flowers and in some cases that finite amount of energy has to be divided between flowers and leaves in which case, your Magnolia may trade one for the other. In fact, Magnolias are well known for dropping their leaves right before flowering. This is much more noticeable if you have an evergreen Magnolia with large leaves especially when you consider the mess that is made when they drop.

You need to keep your eyes peeled for when your Magnolia drops its leaves. If you noticed that it regularly dropped leaves right before it flowers, the issue isn’t one that you need to worry about. Rest assured that it will put out new leaves as soon as the flowering process is over.

Compact soil 

Planting a magnolia stellata in a container

If there are other times that your Magnolia is dropping its leaves it could be the result of a health problem. It is beneficial to lightly mulch the area directly underneath the Magnolia using pine bark or pine straw to make sure the soil stays loose and aerated. If the soil becomes compacted it reduces the amount of oxygen that gets to the roots and this can cause problems for Magnolias and other trees. Mulching will also serve to keep down weeds which will improve the overall appearance of your tree and make sure weeds are not stealing vital nutrients out of the soil.

So, if you notice your magnolia tree dropping a lot of leaves, pay attention to when it is dropping leaves, how many leaves out of the entire tree are being dropped, and what other factors might be happening at the same time which could lead to leaves dropping off the tree. In most cases you won’t have to do much other than tidy up the space around your tree but if it is something within your control you can always change how frequently you water, add some nutrients back into the soil, or strategically prune your stunning magnolia tree.

Last update on 2021-10-16 / 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

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