Magnolias of all kinds are loved by gardeners, for their beautiful, large flowers. The southern magnolia is also loved for its beautiful foliage, with glossy, deep-green, evergreen leaves and fascinating brown ‘fur’ on the underside. However planting a southern magnolia is an investment – it takes quite a few years before your tree reaches sufficient maturity and size to begin to flower. Those beautiful flowers are pure white, with thick petals and a rich perfume, so they are certainly worth waiting for, but how nice it would be to have blooms sooner, when your tree was only three or four feet tall. With the Little Gem Southern Magnolia that is exactly what you get, because this unique variety of magnolia blooms while still young, and continues to bloom every summer as it grows into a beautiful specimen tree. So no more waiting for blooms– almost as soon as you plant this tree it will begin to bloom for you.
Blooming while young is not the only virtue of the Little Gem Southern Magnolia. As gardens become smaller we need smaller trees to match. The original southern magnolia, which can grow 60 feet tall and be 20 to 30 feet across, is too large for many gardens, while the Little Gem, as its name suggests, stays much smaller and more compact, growing to between 12 and 20 feet tall and only 6 to 8 feet across. It can be grown as a large, multi-stem shrub, or with a little pruning while young it can easily be turned into a tree with a sturdy central trunk.
The Little Gem Southern Magnolia can be used as a specimen tree in a smaller garden. It can be planted as a beautiful background to other shrubs and flowering plants. It also makes a beautiful screen or avenue, planted in rows. It even makes a great specimen for a large planter or container, where it can be grown for years without becoming too large. If you live in colder areas, plant up against a sunny wall of your house, so that the building will shelter it from the winter cold. Branches can even be tied to the wall as an espalier, and this way it will take up almost no room at all.
The leaves of the Little Gem Southern Magnolia are 5 to 6 inches long, smaller than those of wild southern magnolia trees, and they have the same lovely brown ‘felt’ on the underside, which makes a beautiful contrast with the rich-green glossy surface of the upper side. The bark is smooth and light-grey in color, and is especially attractive if you choose to prune up your plant into a tree form. Each spring the new growth appears, and shortly after that some older leaves will yellow and fall, which is perfectly normal. The first flowers will appear in May or June, and will continue to be produced for most of the summer. The flowers are in proportion to the tree – smaller, but still magnificent, with their thick pure-white petals opening almost flat, showing the central parts of the flower, and releasing a rich perfume into the air. In fall you will see the fruits, which look a little like pine cones, and open to show bright-red seeds, which hang briefly from a thin thread before falling to the ground.
The southern magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora, was seen by the early settlers, growing wild in forests from North Carolina to Florida, and west to Texas. Over time this beautiful tree became associated with plantations and the southern way of life, and its rich perfume carries thoughts of long, hot summers and relaxing on the porch. A number of different special forms of this tree have been developed by gardeners, and ‘Little Gem’ was developed by Warren Steed, who in 1952 collected seed from trees near the tiny community of Candor, North Carolina. He grew them at his nursery and in 1966 released ‘Little Gem’ as a new variety. It proved very popular, and has become the ‘go-to’ variety of southern magnolia for anyone wanting a more compact version of this wonderful and evocative tree.
Choose a sunny or partially-shaded spot to plant your Little Gem Southern Magnolia. If your garden is well-supplied with water then full sun is idea, but in drier gardens some shade will be beneficial to your tree, especially during summer. This tree will grow well in most soils, from sand to clay and from acidic to alkaline, and it will do best in soil that has a good organic content, so add plenty of rich organic material when planting your tree, and an annual mulch. Water your new arrival regularly for the early growing seasons, but after that the tree is moderately resistant to drought. It has no significant pests and diseases and this long-lived tree will be a part of your garden for many, many years, becoming more and more beautiful over time.
We have a good supply of top-rate plants from our specialist growers, but this popular tree is always in high demand, so order now to avoid being disappointed.