Most modern-day yards are simply too small to accommodate the towering presence of a Southern Magnolia tree, which can reach heights of up to 80 feet. But that huge tree represents only one type of magnolia. We’d like to introduce you to the perfect-sized magnolia for your smaller landscape ‘– Royal Star Magnolia (Magnolia kobus var. stellata ‘Royal Star’). It may be a lesser-known species, but this stellar performer is rapidly becoming the go-to choice for savvy gardeners who want a small flowering tree that really puts on a show!
Sensational, Showy, and Scented Flowers
Each flower is a work of art, exploding into bloom with a starburst shape that reveals captivating double white blossoms. It’s the flower shape that gives this magnolia species its common name ‘– “star magnolia.” Royal Star is an improved cultivar that was bred to produce larger and showier flowers than the original species plant. Each bloom measures 3 to 4 inches across, opening on trees even before the leaves emerge in springtime. Among more than 100 species of magnolias, the Missouri Botanical Garden notes that Star Magnolias are the first of the magnolia trees to bloom each year. The flowers resemble a water lily, which is not surprising ‘– one of the parent plants that produced Royal Star Magnolia was named “Waterlily” for its resemblance to those flowers. As a little bonus, Royal Star Magnolia flowers are deliciously fragrant!
Small Tree with Mighty Blooms
Some types of magnolia trees don’t bloom until they are 10 years old! You don’t want to wait that long to enjoy flowers on any plant ?… and you won’t have to when you plant Royal Star Magnolia. Even when it’s a young tree only 3 feet tall, Royal Star Magnolia begins producing flowers. The beautiful pink buds open to reveal bright-white flowers And the show keeps getting better each year until mature trees are a flurry of white in springtime ‘– the entire tree is covered in blossoms, from the tip to its ground-hugging branches!
Whether You Want a Shrub or Tree, You Decide.
Because of its small stature, is Royal Star Magnolia a shrub or a tree? Yes to both! Although it’s botanically classified as a small deciduous tree, you can also grow it as a dense shrub. It has a shrubby look because of the multiple stems that grow from its rounded crown. This growth habit gives Royal Star Magnolia such versatility in the landscape. Whether you need a thick shrub that grows in an oval or rounded shape or a small flowering tree to add vertical interest to the shorter plants around it, Royal Star is the perfect choice!
A Magnolia Tree that’s Perfect for Tiny Yards
All magnolia trees are not created equal. Even though each magnolia species brings a charm all its own, some of the larger varieties completely overwhelm small landscapes. Or you may have a large landscape, but you want to plant a small flowering tree close to your home as a design accent. Royal Star Magnolia’s maximum height potentially reaches only 20 feet, but heights of 10 to 15 feet are more common. This is the perfect size even for tiny landscapes of cottage communities, condominiums, and townhouses. And when it’s in full bloom, this gorgeous tree really packs a whopper of a punch in a small package!
Landscape Placement Ideas
You can feature Royal Star Magnolia in any sunny spot in your landscape; in fact, it grows best and flowers more profusely in full-sun locations. Imagine a row of Royal Star Magnolia trees planted as a flowering hedge in your yard! You’ll have flowers in springtime and privacy in summer after the flowers fade and the foliage fills in. When the leaves fall in autumn, the multi-stemmed trees add a striking silhouette to your winter landscape, particularly when illuminated with spotlights at night. Royal Star Magnolia is a stunning centerpiece for a courtyard garden, where its size adds just the right amount of height to balance smaller plants around it. And it adds a special touch to any cottage garden, where its flowers and form add a graceful, airy look to the design theme. Planted against a dark brick wall or in front of evergreens, Royal Star Magnolia’s flowers really pop!
Works Great in a Container
You can grow Royal Star Magnolia so easily in containers! You may have to water it slightly more often than some of your other potted plants, but the payoff is worth it. On a sunny deck or patio, a potted Royal Star offers a breathtaking way to enjoy its spring flowers up close. And you’ll also be able to enjoy the fragrance of the blossoms while you’re sitting on your patio. Choose a large container ‘– one that’s at least twice as wide as the rootball ‘– to give your Royal Star Magnolia plenty of room to grow. And if you use a commercially packaged potting mix that is rich with organic ingredients, your watering time will be reduced!
White Flowers for Your Moonlight Garden
White flowers and light-colored foliage are the choices for creating a moonlight garden, which reflects the light of the moon and brightens a twilight sitting area. These popular theme gardens are so easy to create, and they provide a quiet respite at the end of a busy day. Choose white-flowering plants that provide a succession of bloom, such as Royal Star Magnolia and white camellias for spring, Annabelle hydrangea and white roses for summer, and white autumn-blooming azaleas for fall to provide season-long color for your moonlight garden.
Cold-Hardy and Heat-Tolerant
Now there’s a combination that all plants can’t pull off ‘– resilience in cold climates and a tolerance for hot climates! Royal Star Magnolia is a perennial across USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 4 through 9, which covers both ends of the temperature spectrum. From Maine to Florida; throughout the Midwest and Southwest; and west to California; Royal Star Magnolia is a reliable garden performer.
Less Susceptible to Late-Spring Frosts
Many spring-flowering plants are damaged by late-spring frosts that kill flower buds and rob you of colorful spring blooms. But Royal Star Magnolia was specifically bred to bloom later than the original star magnolia species ‘– the Morton Arboretum notes that it flowers approximately two weeks later. This small 2-week window delays the flower buds from maturing too early and becoming susceptible to late frosts. You can further protect the flower buds from frost by planting it in a sheltered location, such as near your home, or planting clusters of multiple Royal Star Magnolias that help insulate each other. If possible, plant it away from a southern exposure because this placement will encourage the flower buds to open earlier in spring than other locations.
Few Needs for Big Rewards
Royal Star Magnolia is not a fussy plant, which is a benefit you’d like to have from all your landscape plants! When you take care of its few needs, it will reward you handsomely by blooming more quickly at a young age and flowering more profusely. Find a sunny spot for your Royal Star’s optimal growth ‘– it’ll grow much better in full sun, although it appreciates a little shade from the harsh afternoon sun in hot climates. It’s adaptable to different soil types, but it grows best on organically rich, well-drained sites. During its transition to your landscape, keep your Royal Star watered regularly to help its young root system become established. Moist soil keeps these plants healthy, but you don’t want it to sit in soggy soil that doesn’t drain after rainstorms. Spread a 3- to 4-inch layer of mulch underneath the tree to help keep the soil uniformly moist. Just before the flowers emerge in springtime, fertilize your tree with a balanced, all-purpose fertilizer.
Pruning and Shaping
You won’t have to prune your Royal Star Magnolia to shape it or to keep it flowering year after year. But if you need to trim it to remove dead or broken branches, winter is the best time for this task ‘– when the plant is dormant. Royal Star keeps a full shape, partly because its branches grow nearly to the ground. If you prefer this shrubby look, you can leave the lower branches to grow naturally. But if you prefer the look of a small tree, you can manipulate the natural shape of Royal Star by removing its lower branches to expose the trunk!
Pest- and Disease-Resilient
Royal Star Magnolia tree is rarely plagued by pests or disease. It’s a happy-go-lucky little tree that offers you so much for such little care. The best way to keep pests and diseases at bay is to keep your tree watered and fertilized. A happy tree is a healthy tree!
Brush up on Your Magnolia Trivia
- Magnolias are among the earliest-known flowering plants.
- Star Magnolias are native to Japan.
- Magnolia trees are named to honor Pierre Magnol, a French botanist (1683-1715).
- The showy white petal-like structures of Royal Star Magnolia flowers are botanically called tepals.