Imagine: As you stare out your kitchen window you imagine how it would be to have a small tree centered in the yard so that you’ll see it in all seasons. “A specimen tree,” your friend suggested. You’ll place a bird feeder nearby so that you can watch this tree be festooned with bright red cardinals all winter. You’ll watch the silver, fat buds at the end of the branches bide their time until spring. Just as the daffodils come into bloom in the bed behind it, this tree will also burst into flower. White or pink blooms will cover this magnolia before the leaves appear, and every time you stand at your kitchen sink this small tree will lift your spirits.
Name: Magnolia stellata and M. stellata ‘Royal Star’ aka the star magnolia
Type of Plant: A small (usually under 20 feet) spring flowering tree that’s hardy in Zone 4-8. Sometimes grown with a single trunk and other times sold as a multi-stemmed large shrub.
Why I love this: Star magnolias are a good size for small yards in that they typically grow ten to twenty feet tall and eight to ten feet wide. They are one of the very first spring flowering trees to bloom, so they lift our spirits and raise our eyes from the often-bare ground early in the season.
In some areas star magnolias bloom in February or March, but in the Northeast they typically flower in Mid-April. Since they are often in bloom when the daffodils are flowering, use this as your guide.
There are pink-flowering varieties available as well, including Centennial Blush and M. stellate rosea. All of these Magnolias are relatively pest free.
A Word to the Wise: The species (Magnolia stellata) is prone to opening flower buds a bit too early during warm spells in February and March. If you buy a M. stellata, plant it where it’s in a bit of afternoon shade to help prevent this from happening. The cultivar ‘Royal Star’ is less prone to early bud-break, however, so if you find that variety it is safer to plant in full sun.
Star magnolias do best with even levels of moisture through the summer season, so don’t place this tree in a dry garden.