Magnolia grandiflora is a handsome evergreen tree that originates from the South Eastern parts of the USA. Today numerous different selections are grown around the world as magnificent specimen trees for ornamental purposes.
One of the major drawbacks with the ordinary species is the enormous size that mature trees can attain (15 to 18 metres). This makes them unsuitable for planting in smaller suburban gardens. ‘Little Gem’ is a compact, upright growing selection that grows to around about 6 to 8 metres tall and can be comfortably fitted into many a smaller garden.
The evergreen leaves are relatively small, approximately 12 cm long, dark green and glossy on the upper surface and brown and furry beneath. White, cup-shaped flowers with a delicious fragrance are produced sporadically through the year, with an abundance in late summer and early autumn. The blooms are relatively small, measuring 12 to 15 cm in diameter. (To put the size into perspective, another form, called Magnolia grandiflora ‘Samuel Sommer’, has blooms 30 to 35 cm across.)
Magnolias grow best in rich, loamy soil that retains moisture through the year. A thick layer of mulch covering the root zone and extending out to the drip line of the tree helps to achieve this requirement. Regular applications of balanced garden fertiliser from spring to autumn ensure vigorous, healthy growth and a profusion of flowers. If necessary, larger trees can be pruned to keep them in check, but that reduces flower bud set in the shorter term. Remove spent flowers wherever possible to maintain a neat looking plant (the seed pods can be rather unsightly).
Use ‘Little Gem’ as a stately specimen tree, for creating a background screen or as a stunning container specimen in a very large pot. It is fantastic for lending height, shade and shelter to exposed patios. The fragrant flowers add a very special ambiance to outdoor living areas.
This is without doubt one of our favourite garden plants. It never ceases to amaze us every time we see one adorned with those magnificent white blooms. It is easy to grow, incurs very few insect attacks or diseases and is so, so rewarding.
Growth tips for different regions:
Winter rainfall regions – A fine garden plant for this region. Regular watering during the hot, dry summer period is necessary to maintain good health.
Dry, arid regions – Will survive in this climate if given sufficient protection from hot, dry winds, plus plenty of supplementary water during the year. Growth will be slower and more compact.
Sub-tropical, summer rainfall regions – Grows well in this climatic zone, even in the really hot and humid parts. Foliage can be scorched or damaged by salt spray from the ocean. Blooms can be damaged by excessive heat.
Temperate, summer rainfall or Highveld region – Excellent plant for this area. Extreme winter cold can damage young plants, so they benefit from protection during their first few winters.