Magnolia Companion Plants: What Grows Good With Magnolia Trees

By: Jackie Carroll

Magnolias have a large canopy that dominates the landscape. You can’t help but focus your attention on their huge spread of glossy green leaves, fragrant white flowers, and exotic cones that sometimes fill with bright red berries. If you’re wondering what you can plant with these beautiful trees, we’re here to help.

Magnolia Tree Companions

Selecting magnolia companion plants can be a challenge. If you have an evergreen variety, anything you plant under the tree must tolerate the deepest shade. Deciduous varieties have the additional challenge of managing the large, leathery, and sometimes crispy leaves that fall from the tree. If you’re up to the task, deciduous varieties allow you to plant some early spring-flowering plants that like partial or filtered sun beneath the branches.

What Grows Good With Magnolias?

There are companions for magnolia trees regardless of the type. Let’s take a look at some options.

Camellias are lovely shrubs with flowers that echo the shape and texture of magnolia flowers, but in a smaller size and wider range of colors. The blossoms appear in late fall or early spring, depending on variety, in shades of white, pink, and red. They need light shade. The leaves scorch when they get too much sun and they don’t bloom well when they get too much shade. Plant camellias near but not directly under a magnolia.

Bulbs make ideal magnolia tree companions. Plant them along the edge of the canopy, or a little further in if you have a deciduous magnolia. Bulbs look their best in groupings. Choose a mixture of spring, summer, and fall bulbs so that you always have something in bloom. Daffodils and dwarf irises are among the first to bloom, and a mix of bright yellow daffodils and purple dwarf irises never fails to make you think of little girls in their bright Easter dresses. You can find daffodils in pink and white as well as the traditional yellow.

Most summer- and fall-blooming bulbs are going to need a lot of sunlight. Many of them grow well in containers, so you can shuffle them around as the seasons change to help them catch just the right amount of light. Calla lilies look great in pots. Picture them in front of a mound of elephant ears. You can plant the elephant ears under the outer branches where they can enjoy half shade and half sun.

A mixed planting of ferns and hostas looks lovely under a magnolia tree, and they do well on just a few hours of morning sunlight. Foliage plants can completely transform the area by giving it a lush look. Grass won’t grow under a magnolia tree, but you can depend on shade-tolerant foliage plants to serve as ground cover.

When choosing shade plants compatible with magnolias, look for those with white or light-colored variegation. Light colors stand out under a tree while dark colors fade in the shade. For example, white callas seem to shine on the fringes of the shade, but you may not even notice deep purple ones. Keep this in mind when choosing flowers.

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Companion Planting Guide

It’s helpful to think of building good plant communities when planning your garden. This is the most important concept behind companion planting. Time-tested garden wisdom holds that certain plants grown close together become helpmates. (See the list at the bottom.)

What to Plant Under a Southern Magnolia February 6, 2015

I have a mature Southern magnolia tree with large roots rising out of the ground. What can I plant under the tree that will survive?

Rising up to 60 feet tall with a canopy often reaching 50 feet wide, Southern magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora) are one of the more majestic trees that grace our gardens. Because of their attractive evergreen foliage, sweet smelling blooms and interesting berries these giants are a treasure if you have room to grow them.

As the name implies, Southern magnolias are best suited for warm climates. They are only reliably cold hardy to zone 7 where winter temperatures do not drop below 10 degrees F on a consistent basis. However they can be grown in zone 6 and some varieties will survive as far north as zone 5. They thrive in full sun, but will tolerate partial shade. Plant them in well-drained, humus rich, moist and slightly acidic soil and they will be a relatively carefree addition to your garden for many years to come.

The root system on a Southern magnolia is fairly extensive and shallow, resulting in the problem that you are experiencing where the roots rise to the soil surface. Couple this with the low, dense canopy and year round dropping of leaves and you have an area where it is very difficult to grow anything.

The first thing to understand about the situation is the relationship between the roots and the canopy. The canopy serves as a protection for the roots from sunlight and helps them to remain cool and moist. So you really don’t want to remove the lower branches. Also mature trees don’t heal quickly from pruning and can develop a wood disease.

If the tree is young you can plant a shade loving ground cover, such as liriope, under the canopy, but with a mature tree such as yours it is best not to dig around the roots.

Your best option for tidying up the area is to apply a thin layer of mulch, no thicker than 3 inches, under the canopy. Keep the mulch at least 2 feet away from the trunk of the tree.

If space allows you can use the shady shelter of the branches as a relaxing retreat from the summer sun. A comfortable chair, good book and glass of lemonade can quickly turn this otherwise dead space into a secluded spot that will bring back fond memories of childhood tree houses while staying securely on the ground!

Which plants are suitable for which trees?

Underplant deep and heartworm roots

Deep roots are particularly suitable for underplanting. They leave plenty of room for the growth of other species in the near-surface soil on the tree disc. The settlement of companions under ashes, oaks and firs, which all form vertical main or tap roots, is particularly easy.

Deep roots without tap roots such as chestnuts and heartworts such as lime trees or larches have more extensive roots. In some distance to the tree trunk a slightly free soil should nevertheless be found for the planting. Hostas, hedge cherries, forsythia or berry bushes such as blackberries are ideal companions.

Plant under shallow rootlets

Flat root plants such as willows, magnolias or birches cause the hobby gardener considerably more problems with subplanting. Its plate-shaped root network extends over the entire tree disc and is usually dense and compact. Some vacancies can also be found under these trees with a little patience. Check the soil at a distance of about 40 centimetres by tapping it slightly with a spade. If you do not feel any significant resistance, you have probably found a suitable location for a companion.

In addition, even on already rooted soil a new settlement of plants is not completely excluded. Ferns, green ground coverers like ivy, but also small flowers like crocuses, snowdrops or lilies of the valley find enough soil even under pronounced shallow roots. Some forest-dwelling shrubs, including the flowering rhododendrons, are also strong enough to compete successfully with shallow-rooted trees.

In principle, it is recommended to mulch the soil on the tree disc regularly. Ordinary garden soil is otherwise very quickly leached out due to the double strain.

Note rain and parasol effect

Keep in mind that trees with dense foliage almost act like an umbrella in summer. Even if the tree roots do not dispute the water directly with their companions, you have to water the plants more often than plants that grow in the open air.

The tree shadow is a serious problem for bushes with a high need for light, such as lilac. For this reason, do not plant your trees with any species that only thrive in full sunny locations. In the edge area of the tree disc, which is exposed to the sun for at least a few hours a day, you can, for example, plant hydrangeas that can cope well with semi-shade.

I am Don Burke, one of the authors at My Garden Guide. I am a horticulturist that cultivates, grows, and cares for plants, ranging from shrubs and fruits to flowers. I do it in my own garden and in my nursery. I show you how to take care of your garden and how to perform garden landscaping in an easy way, step by step.I am originally from Sydney and I wrote in local magazines. Later on, I have decided, more than two decades ago, to create my own blog. My area of specialization is related to orchid care, succulent care, and the study of the substrate and the soil. Therefore, you will see many articles dedicated to these disciplines. I also provide advice about how to improve the landscape design of your garden.

Plant Combinations, Border Ideas, Spring Borders, Summer Borders, Companion Plants, Syringa

A lilac in full bloom, with its heavenly fragrance, is a breathtaking sight. A mainstay of the spring landscape in northern and colder climates, lilacs are one of the most effective flowering shrubs. Easy to grow, tough as nails, deer resistant and relatively free from major pests, these hardy shrubs have been tailored to meet the needs of all gardens.

While extraordinarily good-looking on their own during their blooming season, Lilacs do not add much sparkle during the rest of the growing season. To extend their season of interest, they need companion plants that will provide color against the green foliage of the midsummer lilacs. Well-behaved, they make perfect partners with other shrubs or perennials and help create strikingly beautiful combinations in the garden.

Choose the right companion plants and extend the season of interest of your garden

Surrounding your Lilacs with a succession of flowers and foliage plants will reinforce the beauty of their blooms and extend the season of interest of your landscape. Here is the list of favorite companion plants for your Lilacs

Among nature’s most beautiful and interesting trees, conifers deserve a spot in most gardens. Adding year-round beauty and structure to your landscape, these shapely and statuesque evergreens include Pines (Pinus), Spruces (Picea), Firs (Abies), Cedars (Cedrus), False Cypresses (Chamaecyparis), and many others.

Flowering Crabapples
Flowering crabapples (Malus) are stunning trees with 2 seasons of interest: most bloom profusely 1-2 weeks before the lilacs in spring and produce brilliantly colored fruit from the summer into the late fall. Though the fruits are not appropriate for human consumption, they are vital to the insects, birds, and small animals.

Flowering Dogwoods
Flowering dogwoods (Cornus) are excellent landscape choices for all four seasons and wonderful companions for early-blooming lilacs. Awakening in spring with their delicate bracts, their foliage turns glorious shades of gold, red or purple in fall and their brilliant red berries attract winter songbirds for the pleasure of all.

Flowering cherries
Flowering cherries (Prunus) are terrific ornamental plants with their profusion of spring flowers, handsome foliage and shape, and sometimes their shiny bark. Most of them are at their peak when the lilacs are still in bloom and they both create a spectacular floral display.

Magnolias are outstanding early flowering trees of great beauty and more effort to combine the pleasures of magnolias and lilacs should be made. Bloom time of most of the choicest deciduous magnolias overlaps with Syringa vulgaris, the common lilac. They like the same deep, well-drained, enriched loam.

After flowering, most lilacs offer limited interest. To extend the season of interest of your lilac, grow clematis with different bloom times through its branches to add color and glamour to the shrub. Choose a clematis type that blooms mid- or late-season and bursts into bloom after your lilac. Clematis viticella is probably the most popular choice for growing through a shrub.

Passion Flowers
Passion Flowers (Passiflora) are among the most exotic vines to enjoy in our gardens. Easy to grow, they reward us with their bold, beautiful, fascinating blossoms over a long season and some give way to delectable passion fruits. Passion Vines are trouble free climbers that cling with tendrils and lilac shrubs make ideal trellises for them. Passiflora incarnata (Wild Passion Flower) is the hardiest of the passion flowers and will add striking color after the lilac blooms have faded.

Herbaceous peonies and tree peonies (Paeonia) are wonderful companions to lilacs. They are compatible in color, fragrance and form, and make each other look better. Plant peonies at your lilac’ foot to hide its poorly clad legs and savor the beauty and pervasive perfume they lavish on those who passes-by.

The large, showy leaves of Hostas complement nicely the blooms of the lilacs. Put in a glorious bed of hostas on the northern or western side of your lilac bushes. Blanket the foreground of pink lilacs with some of the blue hostas. Use golden-leaved hostas for white or lavender lilacs. There is an amazing number of hostas available in a wide range of sizes, shapes, and colors and create striking combinations!

Hemerocallis (Daylilies) are colorful, spreading perennials that help hide the leggy base of lilacs. Often called the perfect perennial because of their numerous qualities: showy flowers, wide array of vibrant colors, drought tolerance, ability to grow in most areas and low care requirements, they are remarkable and stunning additions to the garden where they bloom vigorously for weeks and weeks. They parade their attractive blossoms in summer and the green of the lilacs becomes a wonderful background.

Lilacs Cultural Requirements

There is a wide range of companion plants that will bring out the best qualities of your Lilacs and share their space with a serene balance. Make sure you select any ornamental grasses, perennials, shrubs or trees that have the same growing requirements as your Lilacs.

  • Lilacs tolerate a range of conditions but thrive, exuberate, and radiate beauty when they are grown in moist but well-drained, neutral to alkaline soil in full sun (at least 6 hours). Use our Plant Finderto find the perfect companion plants for your lilac shrubs.
  • Make sure your site drains well. Lilacs do not like wet feet and will not bloom with too much water.

You may want to review these useful guides too

Blooming Seasons of Lilacs

Depending on where you live, and the lilac varieties you choose, lilacs can provide color and fragrance from April through June. By selecting carefully, it is possible to have two months of spring blooms, particularly if the weather is cool.

Wonderful Lilacs for the Lower South Region

Sadly, not all lilacs are suited to the heat of the south. They often need a long period of winter chill for buds to mature and bloom the following spring. However, some lilac varieties and cultivars bloom well in the Lower South Region.

Wonderful Lilacs for the Middle South Region

Sadly, not all lilacs are suited to the heat of the south. They often need a long period of winter chill for buds to mature and bloom the following spring. However, some lilac varieties and cultivars bloom well in the Middle South Region.

Wonderful Lilacs for the Upper South Region

Sadly, not all lilacs are suited to the heat of the south. They often need a long period of winter chill for buds to mature and bloom the following spring. However, some lilac varieties and cultivars bloom well in the Upper South Region.

Syringa vulgaris (Common Lilac)

Prized for its delightful fragrance, Syringa vulgaris (Common Lilac) is a mainstay of the spring landscape in northern and colder climates. Easy to grow, tough as nails, deer resistant and relatively free from major pests, Common Lilacs are one of the most effective flowering shrubs. Tailored to meet the needs of all gardens, this species counts 2000 cultivars.

Syringa x hyacinthiflora (Early Flowering Lilac)

Vigorous, Syringa x hyacinthiflora are early-flowering hybrids between Syringa oblata (Early Lilac) and Syringa vulgaris (Common Lilac). Exceptionally hardy, these terrific shrubs reward us with an abundance of exquisitely scented flowers in mid spring, about 7-10 days earlier than common lilacs. But this is not their only charm. Their foliage often colors up to shades of red, purple and gold in fall, extending their season of interest. As an added bonus, they are highly resistant to powdery mildew, unlike many other lilac varieties. Easy to grow, Hyacinth Lilacs are low-maintenance shrubs that will grow and flower profusely without much attention. They should be on every gardener’s list.

Guide Information

Plant Type Shrubs
Plant Family Syringa - Lilacs
Exposure Full Sun
Season of Interest Spring (Mid,Late)
Summer (Early)
Soil Type Chalk, Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil pH Alkaline, Neutral
Soil Drainage Moist but Well-Drained, Well-Drained
Characteristics Cut Flowers, Fragrant, Showy
Tolerance Deer
Compare All Syringa - Lilacs Great Plant Combination Ideas with Syringa - Lilacs Guides with Syringa - Lilacs

While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.

Guide Information

Plant Type Shrubs
Plant Family Syringa - Lilacs
Exposure Full Sun
Season of Interest Spring (Mid,Late)
Summer (Early)
Soil Type Chalk, Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil pH Alkaline, Neutral
Soil Drainage Moist but Well-Drained, Well-Drained
Characteristics Cut Flowers, Fragrant, Showy
Tolerance Deer
Compare All Syringa - Lilacs Great Plant Combination Ideas with Syringa - Lilacs Guides with Syringa - Lilacs

Related Items

Plant Family

Syringa vulgaris (Common Lilac)

Prized for its delightful fragrance, Syringa vulgaris.

Southern Magnolia – Your Questions Answered

Grumpy addresses your growing concerns about this iconic Southern tree.

My Southern magnolia tree is blooming. I don’t have to see it to know. I can smell it from 20 feet away. Waxy, white blossoms up to 10 inches across crown its glossy, evergreen leaves. Some flowers may smell as good, but none smell better.

With magnolias in bloom or nearing bloom, I’m getting a lot of question about this native stalwart. I will answer them now to your great delight and approbation.

How big does Southern magnolia tree grow?

That depends on where it’s growing, but the average tree matures anywhere from 60 to 80 feet tall and 40 feet wide after many years. That’s BIG. Fortunately, home gardeners can plant more compact selections that won’t swallow entire an entire yard. They include ‘Teddy Bear’ (16 to 20 feet tall, 10 to 12 feet wide), ‘Brackens Brown Beauty’ (35 feet tall, 15 feet wide), ‘Little Gem’ (20 to 25 feet tall, 10 to 15 feet wide), and ‘Majestic Beauty’ (35 to 50 feet tall, 20 feet wide).

Where can you grow Southern magnolia tree?

It thrives in USDA Zones 6 to 10. It likes acid to slightly alkaline, well-drained soil and full to partial sun. It also tolerates salt spray, so it’s a good candidate for beach gardens.

Is it OK to prune Southern magnolia trees? How and when?

Sure! Where do you think all of those magnolia branches for holiday decorations come from? I use hand-pruners to do the work, shortening branches to the point where they join with another branch, so I don’t leave obvious holes in the canopy. You can prune in spring, summer, late fall, or winter. Keep in mind that if you completely remove the lowest branches of a big tree, they probably won’t be replaced.

What should I fertilize it with and when?

Shocking news! It doesn’t need any fertilizer, so don’t waste your money. Just plant it in a hole that’s three times wider than the root ball, but no deeper. Fill in with the same soil you just dug out.

I planted my Southern magnolia tree five years ago and it has never bloomed. What am I doing wrong?

Probably nothing. Unnamed, generic trees (just says “Southern magnolia” on the tag) can take a long time to start, especially if they’re small. Named selections such as ‘Little Gem,’ ‘Teddy Bear,’ and Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ start blooming much earlier. If you want an absolute guarantee, buy a tree that already has flowers or flower buds on it.

My magnolia has this brown coating on the undersides of the leaves. Is this a disease?

Nope! The brown stuff is made up of tiny hairs and called “indumentum.” Many gardeners, Grumpy included, find the rich, brown undersides combined with the deep-green top sides to be quite attractive.

WATCH: Grumpy Gardener's Guide to Magnolias

Lots of smaller branches on my magnolia have brown leaves on the ends. What’s up with that?

This is damage caused by a small beetle called a black twig borer. The female beetle bores a tiny, round hole on the underside of a twig and lays eggs inside. The larvae hatch and feed inside, hollowing out the twig, which then dies. The dead twig ends don’t threaten the life of the tree, but they sure do make it ugly. Solution? Pick up any dead twigs that fall and throw them out with the trash. Remove any you can reach that haven’t fallen by cutting three inches up from the holes into live wood and throw them out too.

What’s the most common mistakes people make when planting Southern magnolias trees?

Planting them too deeply (top of the root ball should be even the soil surface) or too close to the house (no closer than 20 feet).

Watch the video: Top 10 Flowering Trees. Flowering Trees for Garden. topmost popular flowering trees

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