How to Grow a Magnolia Tree From Seeds

Lead Image
  • 2-4 hours
  • Beginner
  • 20-150
What You'll Need
Magnolia seed pod
Hardware cloth or metal screen
Liquid soap
Sharp file or sandpaper
River sand
Peat moss
Spray bottle
Seed tray for germination
Compost soil
Small containers for repotting

It is easy to plant magnolia seeds in your yard to grow a tree, especially if you already have an established tree at your disposal. The magnolia is native to the Americas, China, and the West Indies, and famous for its huge white or pink blooms with large thick petals that are tough, but look delicate. Follow these steps to recreate another magnolia tree from seed.

Tip: The Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) is fragrant, gorgeous, and the most common type of magnolia tree. However, there are many other beautiful varieties of magnolia. The star magnolia (Magnolia stellata) has pink star-shaped flowers with bushy light green foliage; the Black Tulip magnolia produces masses of goblet-shaped dark scarlet flowers, and the magnolia Yellow Fever has very fragrant abundances of yellow blooms with a light pink base. There are over 80 types of exotic magnolia varieties, and one should be chosen based on sun and soil needs as well as aesthetic preferences before planting.

Step 1 - Collect Magnolia Seed Pods

Magnolia seed pods can be collected in mid-September through October. Don't force the pod open; it will open on its own, the seeds loosening when they are ripe.

Step 2 - Prepare Seeds

The seeds will be covered in a red or reddish-orange flesh. Remove the seeds from the pod and place them in a bowl of warm water for 24 hours. This will soften the flesh so that you can remove it with your fingers. It is easiest to do this in the water with several seeds in your hands at a time. You can also rub the seeds on hardware cloth or a metal screen to aid in the flesh removal. The seeds will also be covered with an oily residue which you should remove by washing them in liquid soap. Any seeds that don't sink to the bottom should be discarded.

Nick each seed with a sharp file or rub several together between two sheets of sandpaper to scar the hard seed coat. This will help in the germination process.

Step 3 - Store Seeds in Winter

If you don't plant the seeds immediately, store them in a well-sealed bag, containing an equal mixture of river sand and peat moss as well as a wrung-out sponge, at 40 degrees Fahrenheit (refrigerator temperature). If the seeds are stored at room temperature they may lose their viability. You can store seeds up to six months.

Step 4 - Germinate

A good time to germinate is early spring. Plant the magnolia seeds in a seed tray covered with ½-inch of compost soil. Dampen the soil by misting it with water, then cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place like above the refrigerator. Seedlings should appear in four to six weeks but may take much longer. Be patient! When germination occurs, remove the plastic wrap and place the tray next to a window.

Tip: Water the seeds with a spray bottle every few days to keep the soil moist but never soggy. Open the plastic wrap daily for a little while to provide air circulation. Temperatures above 85 degrees F encourage germination. If this temperature cannot be maintained in a sunny window, use a heating pad underneath the seed tray.

Step 5 - Transplant Seedlings to a Container

Once the seedlings have developed their second set of leaves, transplant them to their own containers. Start with pots three inches wide and move into larger ones if necessary. Plant them in a compost soil like the one used for germination. Magnolias like full sun, but take care to introduce your plants to it gradually. Keep them in partial shade through the first summer.

Step 6 - Transplant Magnolias to the Yard

Unless you are growing a small magnolia like the M. Stellata, you will need to transplant it to the yard. Seedlings are ready for transplanting when they are eight to 12 inches in height. The magnolia has a fast-growing and intricate root system so, if possible, plant it in a permanent location by the end of the first summer. Position the magnolia in an area where the roots have plenty of room to grow and where it can receive about eight hours of sunlight a day. Avoid spots next to buildings or other structures. Also, make sure you pick a spot where shallow roots will not be damaged by digging or heavy foot traffic.

Tip: Magnolias do not look their best when crowded and their beautiful blooms are best showcased standing alone. Miniature magnolias look beautiful in large flower or shrub gardens, or as ornamental trees amongst a rock or Asian- inspired garden.

Magnolias prefer a slightly acidic, well-draining loam. For the first few years, maintain a layer of mulch three inches deep around the roots to protect them. Keep the newly planted tree well watered for the first year, but never allow the soil to become soggy.