10 Elegant Magnolia Trees for USDA Zone 5

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Written By Shannon Campbell

Off-Grid Gardener & Food Forager

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Gardeners in zone 5 enjoy a mostly cool climate, with mild summers and long, cold winters. Winter temperatures in this zone regularly dip as low as -20 degrees F, and there are plenty of flowering tree species that are simply not hardy enough to grow in these temperatures.

Some of the most sought-after flowering trees in the US are magnolias.

This article will give gardeners a selection of ideal magnolia trees for zone 5 that will grow well even in the chilly winters of these regions.

10 Stunning Magnolias You Can Grow in Zone 5

1. Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata)

Star Magnolia
Image by Katja Schulz via Flickr

A deciduous magnolia native to Japan, the star magnolia is the earliest bloomer of all deciduous magnolias, according to the North Carolina State University Gardener Extension. Its early flowers are a beautiful way to herald spring, at a time when most flowering trees and plants will be dormant, adding color to the still wintry landscape.

Star magnolias are drought-tolerant, flood-tolerant, and otherwise fairly low-maintenance trees to plant in your landscape. Appropriate mulching, watering, sunlight, and pruning dead or infected branches are all one needs to develop a healthy star magnolia.

This small tree is best grown as an ornamental due to its showy flowers with its draping, delicate petals, and pleasant yellow foliage in fall. There are several varieties of star magnolia, including the Rosea and Centennial, both of which bear flowers with shades of pink.

Other Common Names: Starry Magnolia, Magnolia Bush

Growing Zones: 4-9

Average Size at Maturity: 15-20 feet tall, with a 10-15 foot spread

Flowering Season: Late winter, early spring

2. Merrill Magnolia (Magnolia × loebneri ‘Merrill’)

Merrill Magnolia
Image by manuel m.v via Flickr

This small winter-hardy magnolia is a cross between the star and kobus magnolia, bred in the 1930s. Today it is an award-winning, free-flowering hybrid known for its magnificent proliferation of large flowers that grow en masse and are pure white with flushes of pink at their base. It then produces small red fruits in lieu of flowers, though the yield is quite scarce compared to other varieties.

The Merrill Magnolia is a guaranteed showstopper on any property and will begin flowering at only 2 or 3 years old. They can even be grown as patio or container plants, and as ornamentals in city gardens.

Merrill Magnolia needs moist, well-draining soil with a pH that ranges from neutral to acidic, in a location with full to partial sunlight. Gardeners should provide the Merrill with some level of winter protection so buds and flowers are not damaged by late frosts.

Other Common Names: Loebner Magnolia

Growing Zones: 5-9

Average Size at Maturity: 20-60 feet tall, with a 20-45 foot spread

Flowering Season: Early to mid-Spring

Available at: Nature Hills

3. Yellow Bird Magnolia (Magnolia × brooklynensis ‘Yellow Bird’)

Yellow Bird Magnolia
Image by Wendy Cutler via Flickr

The aptly named ‘Yellow Bird’ magnolia differs from many other magnolia cultivars and their pink and purple blossoms, as it produces beautiful lemon-yellow flowers that look very similar to tulips with their narrow, cupped formation. It adds a bright, sunny element to your garden for up to three weeks at a time in late spring.

It is an excellent specimen plant that fits perfectly in a cottage garden and into city landscapes too. It is also a good fit for border planting and hedges due to its small size. Yellow bird magnolias are fast-growing trees that typically reach around 30 feet tall.

These trees are in moist, acidic, well-draining soil in a location with full sun and partial shade. However, they can adapt to varying soil types. Their preference for moist, almost boggy soil means they can be susceptible to fungal diseases such as honey fungus and coral spot.

Growing Zones: 4-8

Average Size at Maturity: 30-40 feet tall, with a 25-30 foot spread

Flowering Season: Late spring

4. Magnolia ‘Ann’ (Magnolia x ‘Ann’)

Magnolia Ann
Image by SpeedProPhoto via Flickr

A particularly cold hardy variety, the magnolia ‘Ann’ grows as low as zone 3, making zone 5 a perfect sweet spot for this stunning tree.

Small and compact with upright, spreading purple-red flowers and an overall rounded shape, the ‘Ann’ makes a beautiful addition to small gardens that would benefit from a dramatic specimen plant but don’t have the space for a moderate-sized species.

Magnolia ‘Ann’ does well both in cities, suburbs, and rural gardens, and can be grown as a wall-side border, accent, foundation, or even an informal hedge. Plant your ‘Ann’ in early spring, in a location with full sun to partial shade.

Soil should be rich, moist, and well-draining, with a slightly acidic pH. This tree can be affected by a number of pest and disease issues including root rot, honey fungus, weevils, scale, leaf spots, and more.

Growing Zones: 3-8

Average Size at Maturity: 8-12 feet tall with a similar spread

Flowering Season: Mid to Late Spring

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

5. Magnolia ‘Jane’ (Magnolia liliflora ‘Reflorescens’ x stellate ‘Waterlily‘)

Jane Magnolia
Image by F.D Richards via Flickr

Created in the 1950s in the National Arboretum, as part of the “Little Girl” series of magnolia hybrids, the magnolia ‘Jane’ is a deciduous hybrid that is closer to a shrub than a small tree due to its compact habit. Like the ‘Ann,’ which was bred in the same series, the ‘Jane’ is a particularly cold hardy variety perfect for zone 5.

Like the ‘Ann,’ it also has the traditionally tulip-shaped and purple-red flowers that many associate with magnolias, though they are white on the inside. Due to its size, this tree is perfect for small spaces, such as minimal gardens, patios, and courtyards. It is most often grown as a specimen or informal hedge and is sometimes used in foundation and border planting.

Magnolia ‘Jane,’ should be planted in rich, moist, well-draining soil with a neutral to slightly acidic pH, in a location with full or partial sunlight.

Growing Zones: 4-8

Average Size at Maturity: 10-20 feet tall, with a 10-15 foot spread

Flowering Season: Late Spring to Early Summer

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

6. Cucumber Magnolia (Magnolia acuminata)

Cucumber Magnolia (Magnoila acuminata)
Image by 阿橋 HQ via Flickr

Comparative to most magnolia varieties, the cucumber magnolia is very large, easily reaching up to 60 feet tall and sometimes as high as 80 feet in their native habitats.

These magnolia trees are not only unique for their cold hardiness and size, but also for their small, tulip-shaped yellow and green flowers. Between only 1-3 inches in size and subtly colored, the flowers of the cucumber magnolia are some of the least showy of all magnolia varieties. Keep this in mind if you are looking for a magnolia with trademark exuberant flowers.

Cucumber magnolias do best grown in parks and large gardens, or any other open area where their size can be accommodated. They are not recommended for use as street trees, or in small backyards with limited space. For best results, these trees should be grown in full sun and moist, well-draining soil with a slightly acidic pH.

Other Common Names: Cucumber tree, Cucumbertree, Blue magnolia

Growing Zones: 4-8

Average Size at Maturity: 50-80 feet tall, with a 35-60 foot spread

Flowering Season: Mid-Spring through to Mid-Summer

Available at: Nature Hills

7. Lily Magnolia (Magnolia Liliflora)

Lily Magnolia
Image by TANAKA Juuyoh (田中十洋) via Flickr

A Chinese native and one of the parent species of the popular ‘saucer’ hybrid, the lily magnolia is a small, pretty magnolia that produces profuse blooms in spring, before its leaves appear. Its flowers form the well-known tulip shape made of only six or seven delicate petals and range from very light pink to deep purple in color.

The lily is one of the smallest magnolias, growing to approximately 10 feet tall and wide, with a rounded, spreading growth habit. Gardeners interested in this species will find its best uses are as a hedge, screen, accent, and specimen plant.

This tree prefers rich, fertile, well-draining soil with a neutral to acidic pH. Keep in mind that they will not tolerate poor-quality soil. Full sun is also recommended for increased flower production and protection from wind and frost is needed. While the lily magnolia is somewhat cold-hardy, it can struggle in the northern parts of zone 5 and is better suited to more central and southern areas.

Other Common Names: Yulania Liliiflora, Mulan Magnolia, Magnolia Quinquepeta, Woody Orchid, Purple Magnolia, Red Magnolia, Tulip Magnolia, Japanese Magnolia

Growing Zones: 5-8

Average Size at Maturity: 8-12 feet tall, with a similar spread

Flowering Season: Spring, with sporadic blooms through Summer

8. Saucer Magnolia (Magnolia × soulangeana)

Easily one of the most popular magnolia hybrids is the saucer magnolia, which is prized by domestic gardeners for its abundant 10-inch flowers that come in shades of white, pink, purple, and even reddish tones. This tree was bred in France in the 1820s and since the mid-19th century has been in high demand.

These trees can be grown as single-stemmed or multi-stemmed, with the former being a preferable choice if you are growing the saucer as a specimen plant. Any pruning to keep the magnolia in a tree form, as opposed to a shrub, should be done when the tree is young.

Saucer magnolias should be planted in well-draining soil with a slightly acidic pH in a location with full sun to partial shade. As an early-blooming magnolia its blossoms can be sensitive to late frosts, so make sure to provide winter protection.

Growing Zones: 4-9

Average Size at Maturity: 20-30 feet tall, with a 20-25 foot spread

Flowering Season: Early Spring

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

9. Big Leaf Magnolia (Magnolia Macrophylla)

Big Leaf Magnolia
Image by Wendy Cutler via Flickr

This next plant isn’t called ‘big leaf’ for no reason! The leaves of the big leaf magnolia are enormous, measuring from 12 to 26 inches long, according to the University of Kentucky’s Department of Horticulture. Not only that but its stark-white flowers are large too, growing up to 10 inches across. In fact, it has the biggest leaves and flowers of any tree native to North America!

No surprises then that big leaf magnolias offer plenty of visual interest for any property. They are most often planted as specimen trees or shade trees. Interested gardeners should keep in mind that the big leaf is deciduous in zone 5, so its massive leaves can cause a mess in fall.

Big leaf magnolias should be planted in rich, loamy, well-draining soil that has a neutral to acidic pH in a location with full sun to partial shade. It is not tolerant of overly dry or wet, boggy soil, or urban pollution.

Other Common Names: Large-leaved Cucumber Tree, Bigleaf Magnolia, Umbrella Tree, Great-leaved Macrophylla

Growing Zones: 5-8

Average Size at Maturity: 30-40 feet tall, with a similar spread

Flowering Season: Late Spring to Early Summer

Available at: Nature Hills

10. Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia Virginiana)

sweetbay magnolia
Image by Plant Image Library via Flickr

A highly adaptable magnolia, the sweetbay magnolia is hardy to as low as zone 4 and continues to thrive in climates as warm as zone 10. This tree is particularly lovely, with bright green leaves and spreading, bowl-shaped creamy white flowers that emit a lovely lemon fragrance.

They are often associated with the southern US, where they are evergreen trees, but in zone 5 and other cooler zones, they are deciduous. In landscape gardening, these gorgeous trees are most often used as ornamentals. They do well in both domestic gardens and public parks.

While these magnolias are not necessarily difficult to grow, they do require care and attention, such as fertilizing to meet nutrient deficiencies in the soil, combating pests and disease, and necessary pruning. Like other magnolia types, sweetbay may need some degree of winter protection during zone 5 winters. Sweetbay likes moist, rich, boggy soil and can thrive in both full sun and partial shade.

Other Common Names: Sweetbay, Swampbay, Swamp Magnolia, Laurel Magnolia, Beaver Tree, White Bay, Sweet Magnolia, Southern Sweetbay

Growing Zones: 4-10

Average Size at Maturity: 10-30 feet tall, with a similar spread (can exceed 50 feet in warmer climates)

Flowering Season: Late Spring to Early Summer

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

Flowering Magnolias For Your Cool-Climate Garden

Beautiful flowering magnolias will make a great addition to any property, either as appealing ornamentals, shade trees, or even privacy screens. Some see these trees as primarily heat-loving southern evergreens but in reality, many zone 5 magnolia varieties can thrive year-round in those cooler temperatures.

While many colorful flowering trees are not compatible with the cold climate of zone 5, magnolias are a safe bet if you’re looking for beautiful trees that will brighten your zone 5 landscape.

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Shannon Campbell

Off-Grid Gardener & Food Forager

Shannon has always loved looking after trees and plants since as long as she can remember. She grew up gardening with her family in their off-grid home and looking after her neighbor's plant nursery. As a child she also participated in native tree replanting, and as an adult has volunteered in reforestation programs in northern Vietnam. Today, she puts her horticultural efforts into tending her vegetable and herb gardens, and learning about homesteading and permaculture. When she’s not reading, writing, and gardening, she’ll be out fishing and foraging for edible flora and fungi in the countryside around her home.

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