Northern Belle Sweetbay MagnoliaMagnolia virginiana ‘Northern Belle’
View more from Magnolia Trees
30 day - ARRIVE AND THRIVE™ guaranteeLearn more
Magnolia virginiana ‘Northern Belle’
Outdoor Growing zone
Full Sun, Partial Sun
The Northern Belle Sweetbay Magnolia is the most evergreen of all the summer magnolias, and this selection stays green in zone 4, where all the others lose their leaves. It grows into an impressive upright tree, reaching 20 or 25 feet and spreading 15 feet wide, making a lovely specimen. From May to July large white blossoms open on the branches, releasing a rich vanilla perfume that spread across the garden. This tree is perfect at the edges of woodlands, and around water, where it grows well even in very wet soil.
Full sun or partial shade both suit the Northern Belle Sweetbay Magnolia. This variety is very cold-hardy, and it keeps its leaves through winter even in zone 4. It grows in ordinary garden soils, but also in wet and even flooded conditions. Once well-established it has some drought resistance. Pests and diseases are almost never problems, and this tree needs no particular care to be a glorious addition to your garden.
OK, so you have been aching to have a scented white magnolia in your garden, but you live in a colder part of the country. Yes, you looked at other sweetbay magnolias because you heard they are cold hardy. They certainly are, but heck, you live in zone 4 and they don’t seem to be THAT hardy. Well, wait, because this one – the Northern Belle Sweetbay Magnolia – sure is. It is hardy all through zone 4, and if you are truly adventurous, we have had reports that it even grows in warmer parts of zone 3 – wow! Not only that, if you live in zone 5 there are several varieties of sweetbay magnolia you could choose, except that this one is completely evergreen in that zone – that’s right, it really is. If you are interested now, but not sure just what a sweetbay magnolia actually is, let’s say that this is a close cousin of the southern magnolia, flowering for months though summer, and producing showy white flowers that spread the heady smell of vanilla all through your garden. It has glossy green leaves, and grows to about 25 feet tall, making a beautiful lawn specimen. Oh, and if you have wet ground, or areas along a river or lake, this tree is going to love living at your place.
The Northern Belle Sweetbay Magnolia grows into an upright tree, with a short trunk and branching almost to the ground. It will reach 20 to 25 feet tall, and probably taller in warm zones, with a crown that will be around 15 feet across. It has one or several trunks, covered in smooth, soft-gray bark. The leaves are about 5 inches long and 2 inches wide, with a smooth, glossy surface. The sweetbay magnolia normally keeps its leaves through winter in zones 7 to 10 and loses them partially or completely in zones 5 and 6. Not this variety though, which keeps its leaves through zone 6, zone 5, and even in zone 4. Only when the thermometer plunges to a chilly minus 35 do they finally drop, and even then, the buds remain alive.
Starting in May you will see the beautiful flowers opening at the ends of the branches. These are creamy-white, with broad, spreading petals of substantial texture. From them flows a rich, vanilla-like perfume, which spread across the garden for hundreds of feet, even drifting through open windows. Each bloom lasts a week, but more and more keep opening, and flowering continues into July. By fall there is a further surprise, when the flowers have turned into curious seed pods like pine cones. First green and then brown, these suddenly open to show big brilliant-red seeds, which drop to the ground on a silken thread.
This beautiful tree makes a substantial specimen on a lawn. It has an almost rectangular outline, creating a wonderful sight. It is beautiful grown that way, or at the back of large shrub beds. Plant one near your home to enjoy the perfume, but don’t plant closer than 10 feet from walls, or blocking windows. This tree also thrives in the partial shade of wooded areas, or beneath large deciduous trees. It enjoys growing in wet soil, so plant it in low-lying areas and beside streams, rivers and lakes. Because it is a form of a native tree it is also ideal for natural and wild-flower gardens.
Much more cold resistant than the southern magnolia, the Northern Belle Sweetbay Magnolia is the most cold-resistant variety and most evergreen of all the varieties of Sweetbay Magnolia. It is fully evergreen and hardy even in zone 4, yet it grows well all the way into Florida in zone 10. It may even grow and bloom, although it will shed its leaves in winter, in warmer parts of zone 3.
The Northern Belle Sweetbay Magnolia grows well in full sun, and it also grows well in partial shade, such as around deciduous trees and beside wooded areas. It grows well in ordinary garden soils, and it is especially useful in places where the soil is often wet or even flooded, such as in low-lying ground, along rivers and beside lakes. Once well-established it has some resistance to ordinary drought conditions too.
This tree needs no particular care of attention. Water regularly in the first few seasons, and perhaps do a little formative pruning, but after that no special care is needed. Pests and diseases are rare on this tough native plant.
The Sweetbay Magnolia, Magnolia virginiana, was the first American magnolia to be introduced into Europe, in 1678, where it created a sensation. It grows wild from Long Island, New York all the way south through the coastal states into Florida, and around much of the Gulf of Mexico throughout the Deep South. Its beauty has always been a little eclipsed by the southern magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora, but for gardeners in colder areas it is a spectacular alternative to that tree, and a plant that deserves a lot more attention. Coles Nursery, in Painesville, Ohio, was a long-established grower of trees and shrubs. It was there that Ned Rader selected a unique tree from among a batch of seedlings, noticing its hardiness and how it kept its leaves while the others dropped theirs. He named his plant ‘Northern Belle’, and it remains today the best choice of sweetbay magnolia for cold zones.
The Northern Belle Sweetbay Magnolia is a hard tree to track down, and the demand always exceeds the supply. There are many northern gardeners who ache to see those scented blossoms in their summer gardens, so our limited supply will soon be sold out. Order yours now, you will be so pleased you did.