Magnolia is a genus of deciduous and some evergreen trees and shrubs with more than 200 species, most of which are native to East-Asia or America. The majority of these species grow strongly with coarse twigs, large leaves and huge flowers and are therefore hardly used for bonsai.

Beside the purple magnolia (Magnolia liliiflora), the star magnolia with its thinner twigs and smaller leaves and flowers is the most common magnolia which is used for bonsai purposes. The leaves of the star magnolia are narrow and dark green and turn yellow in autumn before they fall. The bark is light grey and smooth. The scented flowers, which appear in early spring, have many long and narrow white petals, a greenish pistil and yellow stamina. There is also a cultivar with pinkish flowers. The star magnolia is often used for medium and small bonsai trees, even for shohin, although its beautiful flowers are quite large and a bit out of proportion on them.

If you need help identifying your tree, try our Bonsai tree identification guide.


Specific Bonsai care guidelines for the Magnolia

Placement: Magnolias like to be placed in full sun or semi-shade. They are frost-hardy, but should be protected from strong frost when they are planted in small bonsai containers. A cold but frost-free greenhouse is an ideal winter place. The flowers can wilt very suddenly when they are exposed to night frost in spring, although the flowers of the star magnolia resist frost better than those of other magnolia species. If you want the flowers to last, better protect the star magnolia bonsai from rain and frost while it is blooming.

Watering: The rootball of the magnolia should be kept moist, but not water-logged. During the growing season it consumes quite a lot of water, so take care not to let it dry out. The magnolia prefers slightly acidic or neutral water with a pH value between 5,5 and 7. Better use rain water if your tap water is very calcareous.

Fertilizing: Fertilize the tree once a month with solid organic fertilizer or use a liquid fertilizer every week.

Pruning and wiring: The magnolia bonsai tree can be pruned and wired during winter dormancy when the branch structure is not hidden by leaves. After flowering and during the rest of the growing season the new shoots are trimmed back to two leaves when five or six have grown. When the canopy becomes very dense in summer, with a lot of large leaves which shade the inner twigs, it is important to remove the largest leaves. If necessary, you can also reduce the size of the remaining leaves by cutting them in half. Tenderly fold each leaf along its middle nerve and make a diagonal cut to produce a pointed shape that resembles the normal leaf shape.

Applied wire must be carefully monitored because it can bite into the bark soon when growth starts and the wire is obscured by the leaves. Guy wires are also a good way to shape the branches

Repotting: Repot younger trees every two to three years, older specimen less often, using a standard soil mixture with a pH value between 5,5 and 7. The roots of the star magnolia are quite tender, so prune them only lightly, especially those of older bonsai trees.

Propagation: Magnolia bonsai can be propagated from seed in spring or from cuttings in summer. Air-layering is also a good option.

Pests and diseases: Magnolia trees are hardly attacked by pests and diseases. Aphids or scale can infest the tree, then use a specific pesticide. Root rot and leaf drop occur when the tree is overwatered. Frequent watering with calcareous water or a lack of fertilizer can cause chlorosis.

For more detailed information on these techniques, try our Bonsai tree care section.



Example of a Magnolia Stellata Bonsai tree

Magnolia Bonsai tree