Why Star Magnolia Deserves A Spot In Your Garden

Magnolia stellata, commonly known as Star Magnolia

First introduced from Japan in the 1860s, star magnolia has long been a resident of the American garden. One of the smallest magnolias, it produces a cloud of showy white or pink flowers in early spring. The blossoms appear before the leaves, dangling like fallen stars on the tree’s smooth, bare branches. It’s enough to leave you speechless.

It’s a small tree with a big personality. And, no matter how many times I experience it, I am always dazzled by the sheer abundance of its star-shaped blooms. So recently, I decided to purchase a star magnolia from my local nursery. And next March, I plan to enjoy its spectacular show in my own back yard.

Following are five reasons why you, too, should consider adding one of these beautiful trees to your early spring garden.

1. STAR MAGNOLIAS ARE GREAT FOR SMALL GARDENS

In addition to being small-sized, a star magnolia is slow-growing, meaning it won’t ever overwhelm your landscape. Topping out at a manageable 10 to 15 feet tall, its multi-branched shape starts out vase-like and becomes more open and rounded over time. It works perfectly as a specimen tree even in the smallest of gardens. 

2. VERY EARLY SPRING BLOOMS

One of the earliest trees to bloom, the star magnolia is smothered with flowers when most other ornamentals are still tight in the bud. As a result, it never fails to deliver an early spring boost to winter-weary gardens. Depending on your zone, it generally blooms in late March, right before the saucer magnolia.

3. STAR MAGNOLIAS PRODUCE ABUNDANT, FRAGRANT FLOWERS

Depending on the variety, star magnolia flowers have a natural variation in color that ranges from bright white to rich pink. Slightly fragrant, each flower is composed of 12 -18 delicate petals, and some cultivars have more than 30! (See M. stellata Rosea below). Moreover, they attract pollinators, giving the other plants in your garden an early start on the season.

4. BEAUTIFUL FALL COLOR

Star magnolia’s oblong leaves turn yellow, then bronze in autumn, making the foliage an interesting complement to other fall colors.

5. GREAT WINTER INTEREST

Compact and twiggy, star magnolia’s many-branched shape provides great winter interest. And its shiny chestnut brown twigs and smooth gray trunk turn silvery with age. Moreover, the buds that appear in late winter are fat and fuzzy, just like pussy willows. 

TOP STAR MAGNOLIA VARIETIES TO TRY

Convinced? Try one of these popular Magnolia stellata cultivars for reliable, low-maintenance early spring color.

‘Centennial’ produces fragrant, waterlily-shaped blossoms in early to mid spring. The large white flowers often have a pink tinge at the base of the petals. 

Magnolia stellata ‘Centennial’

‘Jane Platt’ produces double, scented, pale pink flowers with long, narrow petals in early to mid spring.

Magnolia stellata ‘Jane Platt’

‘Royal Star’ has pale pink buds that open in early spring to pure white flowers. In particular, this cultivar is known for its almost 5-inch (12 cm) wide flowers with up to 30 petals. ‘Royal Star’ blooms later than the species. 

Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’

‘Rosea’ is a pink-flowered variety. It has a rounded shape and dense bushy habit. This cultivar flowers a month later than the species, or in late April. 

Magnolia stellata ‘Rosea’

HOW AND WHERE TO PLANT

Star magnolia flowers are vulnerable to damage by late spring frosts, so it’s best to plant the trees in a sheltered spot. While they’ll do fine in full sun, they’ll perform best in morning sun with filtered shade in the afternoon. Generally, the more exposed the location, the earlier the flowers open. Like most plants, star magnolias prefer moist, well-drained soil. 

Magnolia stellata really shines when viewed against a dark background. Site it in front of a stand of deep green arborvitae, a yew hedge or even a dark brick house and watch its flowers ‘pop.’  Daffodils with cream or white petals and yellow cups make excellent early-spring companions. Check out Narcissus ‘Sovereign’, Golden Echo’ or the orange-cupped ‘Barrett Browning’ for a dramatic effect.

 

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About carole funger

I'm a garden designer and Maryland Master Gardener living in the Washington, DC area. I blog about new trends in horticulture, inspiring gardens to visit and the latest tips and ideas for how to nurture your own beautiful garden. Every garden tells a story. What's yours?

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