Post last updated: November 4th, 2018

The romance novel, Gone With The Wind, brings to mind fair maidens swooning under the magnolia tree. If you need to get your swoon on for dramatic effect, we have the obligatory Southern Magnolia, magnolia grandiflora, in our front yard. Described as “beloved by gardeners,” I want you to know that’s a lie. Here are my issues with the most famous of all the swooner trees:

1.    It’s big. Really big. The worst of the land hogs. They typically grow 60 to 80 feet but some of the over-achievers reach for 100 feet.

2.   It’s a landscaping nightmare. The “beloved,” including my own Momma, tend to plop the tree in the middle of the yard which, forgive me, is the worst possible landscape design. Yes, it makes a statement but what do you do with the rest of the yard around it? I’ll tell you. The beloved make a round flower bed under the tree and never give it another thought. The tree grows huge, as they tend to do, the flower bed is never enlarged and what happens? A big fat tree that looks like it’s tottering in shoes five times too small for it. Seriously, don’t make me whip out my shovel and bop you upside the head for committing such a grievance. Go to the library and get some landscaping books. You don’t have to read them, just look at the photos. You’ll notice landscape designers plant trees near the property line in gently curving flower beds that flow across the front of the house.

Seed pods without seeds
seed pods

3.   It sheds. Yes, Scarlett, those glossy green leaves turn brown, fall off the tree and litter the yard. Worse yet, they don’t look like they would ever break down in your compost pile so I tend to shove them out the front gate and let the garbage men figure out what to do with them. They also shed 2 to 4 inch tough seed pods full of red seeds. This makes the Southern Magnolia worse than a two-year old. At least with the toddler you can screech, “Pick up your toys!” Just try getting that magnolia tree, a maple tree, or a sweet gum tree to pick up after itself.

If you simply must have a Southern Magnolia tree for Rhett and Scarlett, do not cut the lower limbs off. Allow those limbs to dangle all the way to the ground like this:

Those lower limbs help hide the brown leaves thus allowing you to avoid raking them. The photo that follows shows the same tree with the brown leaves hiding beneath it.

Magnolia with lower limbs leaves underneath-0195

I would recommend keeping swooner trees to a minimum but the Southern Magnolia does have one redeeming feature: a scented bloom with petals of velvet.

Southern Magnolia bloom
Southern Magnolia bloom


  1. I love magnolias, but don’t have one due to their very, very large size! There is a house I see occasionally that planted two in their front yard. Gorgeous trees, but absolutely no way to get into the house except thru the side garage! If you only look straight on, you don’t even realize there’s a house back there! Those big flowers, though, do make me swoon!

    1. Holleygarden — I’ll bet they planted both of those magnolias in the middle of the yard, side by side. Maybe 6 feet apart. There’s a house around from me, maybe 5 years old, and they’ve been attempting to landscape their place. I’m actually embarrassed for them because they’ve messed it up so bad. Builders contribute to a lot of bad landscaping. They are usually the ones guilty of plopping that tree in the middle of the yard and the homeowner, instead of digging it up and moving it while the tree is still young, try to work with what they were given. Just awful. –Mizz Chairman

  2. Haha, we see so many Southern magnolias around here! I actually don’t care for them anyway because the leaves are just too glossy for me. The flowers are stunning though! Those giant trees definitely wouldn’t fit in any of the tiny house plots that are for sale nowadays..

    1. Indie — You are so right about the trees not fitting into today’s suburban plots yet there will be homeowners out there who find a twig of a tree in a nursery, take it home, plant it and refuse to deal with it after it matures. Thanks for stopping by. –Mizz Chairman

  3. Wait a minute…
    I was lucky enough to plant a flower garden under a large magnolia recently… I absolutely love it!
    The garden blooms 12 months out of the year… The bed hasn’t had enough time yet to look like anything from a distance… but it will, the shrubs will come into their own… in the meantime, the bennies of the frost protection, sun protection conferred by those evergreen leaves is simply unbeatable!

    Of course… Your complaint about the garden shrinking up around the tree is understood… the solution is simple… cover more of that stinkin’ turf with mulch… better yet, leave those wonderful turf-killing leaves where they fall!

    There are plenty of shade-loving plants that can be grown outside of the leaf-falling zone… those leaves under the tree look very nice!

    I CAN’T STAND those yards where the home-owner made the mistake of tidying under the beautiful magnolia trees, and made a big-ole messy area.

    1. Now Stone, don’t get your shovel in an uproar. I’ve seen pictures of your place and you’ve got plenty of room for a Southern Magnolia. I just happen to hold a different opinion about the leaves under the tree and since our Magnolia leaves fall on lawn, they simply must be tidied up. Our tree is so large that the roots under the drip zone would prevent growing anything. –Mizz Chairman

      1. Nope… the magnolia is in a tiny yard.

        Planting between the roots is an adventure, but not impossible… Those attractive leaves covering the roots is a MUCH nicer solution than uncovering them.
        No one says you have to plant under the magnolia, it’s just that in this one instance, the yard is so tiny… that to take advantage of the magnolia makes sense.

        1. Okay, Stone, I wanna know. Since you are not removing the magnolia leaves from the flower bed you made around it (which IS wide enough to make the tree look balanced), do those leaves ever break down and return to the soil? Or do they act as permanent mulch? I’m nominating you as CEO and Defender of the swooner trees. –Mizz Chairman

      2. The leaves are organic… Luckily, the tree drops enough leaves that it keeps a beautiful layer of mulch on the ground, and makes adding more mostly unnecessary. As I introduce new plants into the bed, soil is exposed, and does need additional mulch/leaves…

        The seedpods that fall outside of the bed are easy to toss back into the bed, where they turn into humus in their own good time.

        I can’t defend the sweet gum balls in the back yard as easily, though…

        1. Stone — I’m glad to hear there is at least one swooner tree you can’t defend. And those seed pods turning into humus in their own good time. What? Ten years? I want you to save me some of those yellow milkweed seeds this summer. I’ve only got the multi-colored milkweed. –Mizz Chairman

    1. I sweah. You all the time calling me “stoopit” but if you’d get out and play in the dirt once in a while, you’d know things. Cypress knees are the part of the root that “comes up for air” in a swamp or helps anchor the tree in a swamp. They really don’t know. I got news for them, my two are not in a swamp and they are tossing up rounded (versus the usual pointy, cone-shaped) knee stumps. –Mizz Chairman

  4. Magnolias are not the only messy Southern favorite. Camellias are pretty, but once they start dropping their blooms, they make a mess too. I want low maintenance and tidy along with my pretties.

    1. Ms. Priss – I don’t mind the camellia droppings. All of our camellias are in flower beds. Most of the flower beds have liriope borders so the droppings are well hidden as they become mulch. But that magnolia!

  5. Well, mess comes with beauty. So suck it up girls. My magnolia is in a back corner and it hides rusty wheel barrows, tomato cages a pile of chicken manure and more. Never rake, just let them fall. A beloved neighbor gave us ours, so it has special qualities. I remember seeing them planted along the highway in Florida as a kid in the 1960s. For a northerner, they were very special. Go magnolia, you sweet thing (JJ Cale). Just put it in the right place.

    1. Well, Scott, my magnolia is in the very front of the yard, nearest the street and I just can’t stand all those leaves littering the ground. Just today I was out there raking them. I was down to my last trash can for yard waste so I got only part of them out to the street for the yard debris guys. I’d like to take my shovel to your chicken manure!

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