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Care Guides: Bare Root Magnolia

Bare root Magnolia are shrubs or trees that have been field-grown and then dug up for planting. Follow our planting guide below for help growing your bare-root magnolia.


If you cannot plant immediately, we recommend checking the root bag is damp every day and keeping the plants in a shady spot, out of direct sunlight and the wind. Planting at this time of the year gives the Magnolia the cool, damp weather they need to establish a root system before the hot summer weather when their energy will be put into foliage and fruiting. Soaking the roots for 30 minutes in a bucket of water before planting will benefit your new Magnolia.

If you haven’t planted a tree or shrub before, you may find it easier to work with a partner the first time. The day you come to plant the Magnolia, keep the roots in a bucket of water until you come to place them in the planting hole.

We suggest a planting distance of up to 2m (6ft) or more apart for these plants, especially if located in borders. They can be planted closer, but you will need to prune more regularly to keep them in hand so they do not become too large once they start growing away well. A larger space may be required if planting as a specimen tree is to be admired independently.


After deciding where to site the Magnolia, dig a large hole up to 30cm (12″) deep and 60cm (24″) wide. Place the topsoil in two piles and any subsoil in a separate pile. Be careful to keep the sides straight so the hole isn’t narrower at the bottom than the top. Lightly fork the edges and bottom of the hole to let the roots grow out more easily and provide air holes.

All of our Magnolia are grafted on a special root stock. The stock of the Magnolia mustn’t be planted too deeply and covered up with soil. When planting, it should be easy to see the graft mark and keep it above the soil. The correct depth will prevent the stock from sending out shoots; place the plant in the hole to check it is deep enough so that all the roots will be covered, but the grafting point of the stock will be above the ground. Make the hole deeper as required.

Once the hole is finished, the stake is ready to go in; this is done before planting to avoid root damage. The stake should be around 80cm (32″) above the ground and vertical rather than angled when the Magnolia is planted. Remove the plant from the hole to prevent damage when putting it in the stake. One person holds the stake while another wields a suitable mallet or hammer to get it into the ground. Make sure it is both straight and secure. Place the Magnolia next to the stake with the stem being about 5-10cm (2″-4″) away.

Next, mix good-quality compost with some of the topsoil you have removed from the hole. We suggest a mix of 25-50% compost to topsoil; this will help the Magnolia establish. Now shovel some of this soil mix around the roots. Once the roots are covered, gently firm the soil to ensure it is tucked around the roots. Shovel the rest of the topsoil and firm again, then add the subsoil at the top of the hole. Firm the soil again and now water the Magnolia. We suggest giving 1-2 buckets per plant straight after planting, even if the soil is damp. Plant failures mainly occur due to a lack of water and competition from weeds. It is important to keep the Magnolia well-watered every week with a heavy soaking on a regular basis, more so in hot, dry weather, so it does not dry out. Keep the area free of weeds competing for the plant’s water and feed. Mulching may be beneficial to retain moisture and keep weeds at bay.

Attach the rubber ties to the stake and then around the stem of the shrub/tree. The tie can be held in place by fitting tightly to the stake or fixing them to the stake with a nail. If rabbits are a problem in your area, wrap a spiral tree guard around the stem to avoid nibbling its bark.

After Care

The Magnolia will need frequent and large amounts of water until it is established.

As the plant grows and the stem thickens, check the rubber tie to see if it needs loosening.

Also, check the stake after stormy weather to ensure it is still secure.

If planting in large patio planters, follow the steps above, except you will be using a high-quality Tub and Basket compost and will not need to dig any holes!

It is especially important for patio Magnolia never to dry out and get stressed. Plants should always be allowed to drain, but we suggest using a saucer with your pots in summer to keep this full in hot weather to prevent the plants from becoming dehydrated.

Feeding monthly (or according to manufacturers’ recommendations) with a good quality liquid plant food will also be beneficial in the growing season, as the tree roots cannot grow to find more nutrients, so must have everything they need to be provided to their pots.

Top Tips

  1. Smaller Magnolia (less than 3ft – 90cm tall) should not require a stake. However, in windy or exposed locations, staking may be beneficial.
  2. Dig a channel around the edge of the dug area to stop water from running away from the root area.

Frequently Asked Questions

These Magnolia look dead; why have they taken a long time to deliver?

Once we have your order, the plants are carefully lifted from the fields when the conditions for lifting (and replanting in your garden) are right. This is in the winter months, so we must be careful the ground is neither too wet nor too frosty, as this would not be good for the plants. We normally, therefore, suggest on pre-orders that delivery in early March is normal as a guide. Once the Magnolia are safely gathered together in packs, they are put into cold storage to prevent them from coming into growth before they reach you. The plants are not dead, simply dormant for winter.

Why are the roots and packing material looking dry? Will the Magnolia survive shipping?

If you follow the instructions and soak the roots well before planting, these Magnolia will be fine and thrive. We specifically keep the packing material and roots on the dry side so that the plants do not start to grow in transit; if they were kept damp, once removed from our cold storage, they would want to start growing immediately, which would be detrimental to them before planting. This is why Magnolia purchased elsewhere from a warm cosy store environment often fail – they get too warm, start growing and dehydrate in the shop.

How far apart should my Magnolia be planted?

Spacing of shrubs/trees is again down to personal preference and will depend on your space and how compact you will keep the Magnolia by pruning. We would suggest a good amount of space between each shrub/tree would be 2m; remember, they will be here for decades, so if allowed to reach their full potential, they will need a little more space, especially when grown as a specimen tree set on its own. It is perfectly fine to plant them closer together for smaller, more compact shrubs that you will keep on top of pruning. Don’t forget they can also be grown in large patio tubs for several years.

My Magnolia has been planted for a few weeks, but I can’t see any visible growth yet.

This is nothing to worry about; it is most likely the Magnolia is making fresh roots and simply taking their time before shooting. Because they are different varieties, you will also notice some shooting before others; they can start to grow at considerably different rates.

How can I check if my Magnolia is still alive?

If you want to check a shrub/tree is healthy, a good tip is to scrape back a little bark just above the graft, which should be green underneath, which means the plant is healthy and simply taking its time to shoot back, it is unlikely, but if it is dry and corky in appearance, the plant has sadly failed.
Please be patient with new Magnolia starting to shoot back; they may take a little time to show signs of growth, and completing the bark test is important if you are in doubt.

How do I care for a magnolia plant in winter?

The flowers on magnolia trees are particularly vulnerable to late-winter frosts because they bloom so early in the year. However, magnolia trees are completely hardy. Planting the tree in a sunny, sheltered area is the best way to prevent this. Using horticultural sacking or even some bin liners can also protect younger plants.

Download Care Guides

We have created two care guides to help you grow a happy and healthy plant. We have an In-depth Care Guide and a Simplified Care Guide.

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Updated on July 20, 2023

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