May 26th, 2004
Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’

photo: Magnolia Little Gem
2004-05-26. Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’.

photo: Magnolia Little Gem
2007-05-27. Loving this wet, cool spring.

Maybe because my Mom wore “White Shoulders”, I love the scent of the flowers old South: jasmine, gardenias, and magnolias. AJM, too, is impressed by magnolias and wanted me to plant one. But they grow into huge trees, casting a dense shade. I also worried that a magnolia would get chlorotic in our chalky soil and need special treatment, like azaleas (another plant I’ve avoided so far). This winter, however, I was impressed with some magnolias in an apartment landscaping along Victory Drive behind the Target on Ben White Blvd. They seemed green and healthy and the trees had a beautiful conical form.

So, after a little research on the net, I decided to buy ‘Little Gem’, a “dwarf” magnolia that is supposed to grow only to 12 to 20 feet tall. I found one at Floribunda Nursery and planted it last January. Today, although still quite young and only three feet tall, it produced three creamy flowers, each five inches across. The leaves are glossy green on the upper surface and a velvety-textured russet underneath. And the scent! sweet but also sharply lemon.

Zanthan Gardens History

Bought 3-gallon ‘Little Gem’ magnolia at Floribunda.

Fed, weeded and mulched with compost. Topped with cuttings from the Christmas tree and put the cover of flat rocks on top.

by M Sinclair Stevens

57 Responses to post “Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’”

  1. From bill (Dallas):

    In my neighborhood about one out of every four yards has a magnolia, but few of them really look good. they are too close to the house or too close to the drive, or else the leaves are yellowed.

    It is good to know there is a smaller alternative. I think it would make a good screening plant at the edge of the yard.

    I planted this one in the far corner of my yard…a rather wild spot which I haven’t done much with. This was the spot that had been the shade garden and now that my neighbor cut down his trees is a sun garden. In the summer time, the deciduous Mexican plums provide a screen from my neighbors, but in winter we had no privacy (chain link fence in the back). Based on the size estimates I planted the magnolia at least ten feet away from anything else. I’ve added coffee grounds (from Starbucks) to the mulch to increase the acidity. — mss

  2. From Shirley Jansen:

    Does anyone know if Little Gem dwarf magnolias can be trained into a sort of bonsai shape. I wanted to use sasanqua camillias around a fountain but, because the plants will have to be in full sun, I am thinking about dwarf magnolias. Any information will be much appreciated.

  3. From Raven:

    I have 2 of these trees in my front yard and they are very hardy and have flowers all summer long especialy late summer early fall. I fertilize them with fresh horse manure and they seem to love it.

  4. From Anna:

    Hi, I have a planter on a courtyard that is about 1.5 feet by 8 feet that backs against a second story wall with no windows. I love the Little Gem leaves and flowers and wondered if I could plant one in this spot that gets full sun most of the day without problems interfering with the concrete patio or the foundation of the house. Is there a way to stunt this tree’s growth without sacrificing its looks or flowering ability?

    Even though it is not the size of a full-grown magnolia, ‘Little Gem’ can still become a large tree. On the other hand the Japanese have been keeping trees small through pruning for hundreds of years. However, bonsai requires a lot of maintenance. My ‘Little Gem’ has barely grown at all in 3 years. So it might be worth a try in a planter. — mss

  5. From Nicole L:

    Can I plan ‘Little Gem’ magnolia close to the house foundation. Or the root damage the foundation.

    How far from the foundation recommended?

    What kind of root system does it have?

    No. Do not plant trees close to a house. — mss

  6. From Pattie:

    I have same question. I’m planting a dwarf magnolia tree in front of my house. It receives plenty of full sun all day but I’m not sure whether or not it’ll be too close to the house foundation. Do you know how big the root system is? My neighbor has a tree that she just planted, Amapola, (yellow leaves). Could these two trees survive next to each other?

    Do not plant trees next to your house. Dwarf, is a relative word. In the case of magnolias it means 15 to 20 feet tall. Plant ‘Little Gem’ at least 10 feet away from your house and other large trees. Magnolias form a very dense shade that prevents most things in its shade from thriving. — mss

  7. From Lynn Lineman:

    Can I plan little gem magnolia close to the house foundation? Or will the roots damage the foundation. How far from the foundation is recommended? What kind of root system does it have?

    No. Yes. Ten feet minimum. I don’t know. — mss

  8. From Michele P:

    The leaves on my dwarf magnolia have a great deal of unhealthy brown in them and they are not glossy. The plant otherwise appears healthy but it did not have many flowers this past spring. The tree is planted in the path of the water drainage from the yard. So I believe lack of water is not the problem. I sprayed it for insects (potentially too late). Any guesses will be appreciated.

  9. From Mark Schmidt:

    Can I plant the dwarf Magnolia to grow up and over a large trellis for shade? And are they a slow or fast growing plant. I will need it to grow up 12′ tall and cover a 16′ x 12′ area. Thank you for your response.

    A magnolia is a tree not a vine. I can’t imagine it on a trellis. Mine is very slow-growing but I don’t know if that is the case in general. — mss

  10. From David:

    I’m told not to worry about all the brown and dead leaves on the dwarf magnolia; it just comes with the territory. I planted mine last year and it is growing quite well, despite all the brown leaves. But it only flowered about 10 flowers last year and none so far this year. Can someone please tell me how often and when they are supposed to flower? Also, what should I feed them. David, Long Beach, CA.

  11. From Ken:

    I have a 3 year old Little Gem, and wanted to know the best time to prune it?

    I don’t know. Mine is almost three years old and is still so small I’ve never had to prune it. In fact, it doesn’t seem to be growng much at all. I wonder if it will get to a certain age and then take off. — mss

  12. From Judy Dockery:

    I think my husband planted a magnolia tree too close to the house. How would I know specifically. How many feet from the house?

    Depends on what kind of magnolia tree it is. My ‘Little Gem’ only grows 20 feet tall and I would plant it at least 10 feet from a house. A standard magnolia can easily grow 50 feet or taller. I’d plant it at least 20 feet from a house and any power lines. — mss

  13. From Karla:

    I was planning on putting a raised flower bed up against the foundation of my house. Is this a good idea? or is there something I can do to prep the area first so that I won’t have a moisture problem in my basement later? Thanks.

    I don’t know. We don’t have basements in Austin. You should talk to someone in your area. — mss

  14. From Patty Workman:

    How far should I plant a southern magnolia from a concrete driveway . Will it uproot the driveway ?

  15. From Jim:

    I live in Austin, Texas and just bought a Little Gem Magnolia about 4 feet high for $99.00 and I plant it in the corner of my back yard, it already has some buds and I hope they will eventually bloom this summer. Unfortunately the soil is black bottom clay, I’m afraid it will affect my Little Gem to grow healthy. When the worker dig the soil they put grower’s mix that I got from a local store. It has been 2 weeks now since it was planted, I saw one leaf on the ground, old one probably, other than that nothing change. How often should I water my Lil’Gem? It gets almost full sun and it’s planted on the west side. Thanks!

  16. From Beka:

    There is a huge old magnolia in the side yard between my neighbors house and mine, north of my house and in their yard (Austin, Koenig and Link area). The ground is barren. What can I grow UNDERNEATH a magnolia? I understand the emptiness is from water competition, not tree chemicals (as with oaks).

    It gets morning sun that sneaks in under the canopy, but after that, it’s all shade, all day! I’ve nixed water loving plants (ferns) because they compete for water. And drought resistant plants usually want sun (most succulents).

    Suggestions? I’m seriously considering rock gardens. Any shade loving, magnolia friendly plants come to mind?


    Nothing that I know of grows under a magnolia. The roots are shallow, don’t like to be disturbed, and suck the moisture out of the soil. The shade cast by a magnolia is intense. I can’t even recommend a rock garden underneath because of the leaf litter. One think you might try if you are desperate to have something is Spanish bluebells. They bloom only a couple of weeks a year so they might not be worth the trouble. I’ve never tried them under a magnolia but I’ve read other people have had a success with them. — mss

  17. From Lorraine:

    Can I plant ‘Little Gems’ surrounded closely by a single row of bricks without hindering roots? Will the roots find their way past the bricks?

    How closely? Are the bricks mortared in? Are you more worried about the bricks or the magnolias? If the latter, I wouldn’t worry. If they feel confined, they’ll just heave the bricks. — mss

  18. From Kirsten (Virginia):

    I live in Central Virginia (foothills of the Blue Ridge) and have a three year old Little Gem magnolia which has done splendidly and has doubled in size. This spring it came on normally then the leaves drooped and when the first blossoms cracked their covers, the petals had large, brown, spoiled spots and just browned out and died. I gave it a heavy watering two weeks before and wonder if it got too wet. Now the other flowers are opening normally, yet have little tiny insects in the flowers. Do you know what I should do if anything? A tree service is coming this week to spray the bagworm larva on the cypress trees so do you think the Little Gem needs a spray? If so what? Thanks.

    Are you guys going through a drought this year? I don’t think it got too wet but if it’s been dry in your area then the magnolia will turn brown. Mine tends to look very unhappy in the height of Austin’s summers. I don’t spray my trees so I can’t offer any advice. The best person to talk to would be your tree specialist, who can look at the tree in person and who is familiar with the problems, pests, and diseases in your area. — mss

  19. From vera:

    i live in central fl., many houses in our development have beautiful wide magnolia trees. why is mine so skinny. my husband fertilizes it and cut some off top but it is so slim. it has blooms and looks healthy. than. you so much.

    Are there other trees growing nearby? To branch out it needs to be by itself in full sun. Is it the same variety magnolia as your neighbors’ trees. There are all kinds of magnolia trees. You get the best advice for your area from your neighbors and your local nursery (not a big box store). — mss

  20. From Claire:

    I have a Little Gem tree and I want to know that after it flowers, do I cut the flowers off. How soon after planting can this tree be pruned?

    One of the things I like about magnolias is letting the pods go to seed. The seeds have an interesting scent all their own. Try it. Of course, I cut so many flowers for the house, that I don’t usually have any pods left to go to seed. As for pruning, that depends entirely on the size of tree you planted and the shape you desire. I haven’t seen any need to prune mine at all. Magnolias have such a beautiful natural shape. — mss

  21. From Gerald:

    Can an oleander tree be planted in flower beds close to the foundation?

    No. Oleander bushes are often wider than they are tall. They are no at all suited for foundation plantings. — mss

  22. From Emmy in S. Carolina:

    Can I trim 4′ off my “Little Gem” Magnolia.
    It might interfere with my Satelite Dish reception.

    Depends on what percentage of the total plant the 4 feet is. I wouldn’t trim more than 30% of any plant in one year. Try your satellite dish first. If you have problems take a little bit off at a time. Whatever you do, don’t just hack 4 feet off the top. When in doubt, call in a professional tree trimmer. Trees are expensive to replace if you kill them. — mss

  23. From Suze from Austin:

    Does anyone know the difference between the little gem magnolia and a “feather magnolia”? thanks.

  24. From Jo from Albuquerque, NM:

    I have an evergreen magnolia planted two feet away from the inner corner of our courtyard. The tree is about almost 30-yrs old and stands 20-ft tall. It has been pruned up so the canopy is over the house and partially over the courtyard. A small part of the sidewalk near the front door is slightly heaved and I worry about the roots of the magnolia going underneath the stemwall (?) of the house thought I was reassured that this was doubtful (there is a air register on the inside of the house near the window by the magnolia). For this reason, my husband would like to take the tree out and move it somewhere else, but I’m certain a move would kill it. Has anyone had any experience with magnolia roots causing damage to the house? There doesn’t seem to be a problem and I’m inclined to keep the tree since it’s evergreen and has survived subzero temps. I cuss the tree when I have to sweep up all the litter, but it really is lovely and the big blossoms are heavenly!

  25. From Julie, Dallas:

    I have heard that if you snap the ovaries off of the little gem, the branch will grow out and produce a new flower(hopefully). This could cause growth.

  26. From Manel Gulavita:

    My neighbour has planted a magnolia tree next to our garage. I wish to find out how big are the magnolia roots and will it damage the garage wall? It has grown very high and branches are coming to my garage. What should I do with this magnolia tree?

    Manel from Wantirna South

    It really depends on what kind of magnolia it is. This ‘Little Gem’ grows quite slowly and reaches only 20 feet. However, no magnolia or any other kind of tree, should be planted close to a structure. — mss

  27. From Michael, Round Rock, TX:

    My in laws want to plant a magnolia tree in place of a live oak in their back yard. They don’t have any other trees and think only about the big blooms and of their childhoods… will be 10 years before a sweetbay is 10-12ft. I know they grow well in east texas, but what about next to a golf course in full texas heat? They are gone during the summer months also….

    Is the live oak dead? Does it have oak wilt? If not, they shouldn’t remove it. I wouldn’t replace the live oak. I’d plant the magnolia in addition to it. You might suggest that they get a miniature, like my ‘Little Gem’. The leaves will probably burn somewhat in the summer time, depending on what kind of summer we get. There are quite a few magnolias all over Austin, especially downtown and on the UT campus. They seem to do fine over all. They do create a very dark shade under which nothing else (like grass) can be grown. — mss

  28. From lori - orlando:

    I just purchased a ‘Little Gem’ about 12 feet for 200 dollars and just planted it today. It was in a 65 gallon pot. I did not dig the hole quite big enough, maybe 1/4 inch less , so I covered the top with extra soil. The tree guy told me to build a little dam around the tree to hold water. Basically I put a wall of dirt about 3 inches from the hole all around the tree. The ‘Little Gem’ will be getting direct sunlight. After I planted it I soaked it with water. It looks a bit skinny now, but will it actually get wider. Should I put mulch around it or do nothing.

    Trees generally fill out but a shape of a tree is influenced by pruning when it is young. The best person to answer that question is the tree man who sold it to you. By all means mulch. The tree well (your little earth dam) is also an excellent idea. –mss

  29. From Lori (North Carolina):

    I’m looking into planting a ‘Little Gem’, but I’m not sure if it can live in clay.

    I garden on heavy black clay. So far mine is surviving and growing slowly. I suggest that you talk to gardeners in your area, your county extension agent, or to the helpful people at your local (not big box) nursery. — mss

  30. From Ann Secretti:

    Will a Dwarf or Little Gem Magnolia do well in the shade. I don’t care if it gets to full heigth.

    Mine is in shade about 2/3 of the day in the summer but in full sun during the winter. It survives but perhaps it would do better and produce more flowers if it got some sun. Why don’t you drive around your neighborhood and look at how people near year have planted theirs and how they look. For questions like these, local answers are the best. — mss

  31. From Ann Secretti:

    I have another question is the “Little Gem: dwarf magnolia an evergreen tree, keeping its leaves all year long and if not can you recommend another magnolia that is still dwarf like but also an evergreen? Thanks for your input.

    Mine is evergreen here in Central Texas, zone 8. This is a good question to ask the person you buy it from (as long as you are buying it from a knowledgeable and reliable local nursery). The best gardening information is local. — mss

  32. From Matt Wichita Falls:

    I noticed that the Little Gem is pyramidal in shape and the branches extend all the way to the ground. Can the lower branches be cut off, and the plant be trained up as a single trunk tree? Will its top spread out into a canopy/rounded type shape, or always be cone shaped? Thanks for your help.

  33. From Curtis:

    I would love to plant one of these and a bigger version in my yard. How hardy are they?

    They’re hardy where I live, in Zone 8. You should talk to your local independent nursery where you live. — mss

  34. From Towana Anderson South Carolina:

    My Little Gem Magnolia has branches extending all the way to the ground. Can the lower branches be cut off? The leaves are a little thin and the lower trunk has something green growing on it. It hasn’t grown very much. Do they like coffee grounds? What kind of fertilizer should I use?

    Yes you can cut the lower branches off. I put coffee grounds on mine because I have very alkaline soil. But you already have acidic soil in South Carolina, don’t you? The first thing in deciding how to amend the soil is to test it and see what you have. You should contact your local county extension office or a local independent nursery to answer specific questions for your area. The best garden advice is local–this is one area where one size does NOT fit all. — mss

  35. From denise:

    I just recently purchased a southern magnolia and planted it in my backyard. I live in spanish fort, al. We get alot of sun here with our tropical weather. I’m concerned about how large this tree will become and can i trim the tree to prevent the growth. Also, will all the grass around this tree die? If so, what to plant underneath it?


    We had a landscaper plant a ‘Little Gem ” tree in 2006 when we moved here.It is about 6 or 7 ft. ,planted in soil that is mostly red clay .It is in full sun ,looks great but has not flowered yet. Any suggestions ?

  37. From Felicia Putnam, Bedford, TX:

    I was told by a PhD botanist that the Little Gem’s roots are fleshy and will not hurt the foundation of a house.

  38. From Janice, Chesapeake, VA:

    I have a 3 year old Little Gem Magnolia that I transplanted from my backyard to my frontyard flower bed to use as an accent tree. It is 6′ tall with a shallow root system that is not very wide around at all. It’s a very slow grower. The sun exposure is the same in the new location as the old. I planted it the same depth and mulched around it in the same way. I watered it every day (temps have been 90-100 degrees), but after a week, the green leaves turned brown and brittle and started dropping. Each day it gets worse. Is my tree in shock from transplanting in such hot temperatures? Should I have waited until the Fall to transplant? There are no other trees nearby at all that would pull moisture away from the tree. Can my tree be saved? HELP!

  39. From jennifer bordelon:

    I was wanting to plant a little gem magnolia in a pot to stay on my patio. How big of a pot do I need, and also will it not get quite as big if grown in a pot? Thank you, Jennifer

  40. From Martin Good, Melbourne, Australia:

    I have a row of Little Gems along a rear fence wall about 1 foot from a wall and approx 8 feet apart. I havebjad these for approximately 2 years and they have shown little growth. Good spil and water twp or three tomes a week. Their height when planted was about 3 or 4 feet and now about 4 or 5 feet high, how long before I can expect to see them at 15 feet? Does anyone have an idea. I am hoping for some nice screening.

  41. From Judith Ringer, Shepherdstown, WV:

    Our Magnolia, “Little Gem” was planted last Mother’s Day (2008). There were at least 40 blooms the first year. Now, after a severe March wind, the leaves have turned brown. The leaves can be very easily removed from the branches. Will they come back?

  42. From Cynthia Seymour, Grapevine, TX:

    We planted a Little Gem and it gets mostly sun all day. It is still bright and glossy. However, it looks like some of the leaves have a crackling on them, some have split in two. I don’t know if this is a disease or an animal of some kind. we have given it minerals and it is planted in a bed of organic materials. Adequate irrigation. It was planted last October.
    Any suggestions?

  43. From Jeannie:

    I live zone 9 FL., would like to plant a shade tree or considering Little Gem, any suggestions, would be full sun

  44. From Steve - Denton, TX:

    I transplanted a 12′ dwarf magnolia May 09′ into red clay soil and in full sun, and would like to know if it’s suggested to add root stimulator to stimulate the root growth? To prep the transplant, I added 4 bags of organic top soil, then followed up with 1 oz of Super Thrive upon watering. In addition, I would like to know how often you suggest watering the transplant during the 1st year for fear of drowning the tree?

  45. From Teresa-Phoenix, AZ:

    A local nursey recommended the Dwarf magnolia as a possible container tree for our courtyard. Would it be a good choice for an area that gets tempatures up to 115 degrees in the summer. The courtyard gets no morning sun and the extreme heat for the western exposure in the summer months, with the winter months the extreme cold (sometimes below freezing). Also, will the tree require lots of water?

  46. From Laura, Phx, AZ:

    I bought a tiny, 1 gal. Grandaflora, 4 yrs ago and it is now in a large pot.I cover it on the few nights of freezing we have and move it to some afternoon shade in the summer. It is now about 8 foot tall, and even though I have seen a few Magnolias in central Phx. I am afraid to plant mine, because of the heat. Any suggestions, or comments if its safe to do this?

    I don’t live in Phoenix, so I can’t advise you on your local growing conditions. Talk to your county extension agent or local (not big box) nursery owner. — mss

  47. From Mary Heath, Augusta, GA:

    My new Little Gem is only about 3 feet tall and was planted about 3 or 4 weeks ago. It gets sun all day and has dropped some of its leaves but it is flowering. It isn’t very thick with leaves, especially toward the bottom. Will it fill out with new leaves as it matures?

  48. From Don Thousand Oaks CA:

    I have a “dwarf” magnolia about 15 ft. tall planted in 1995. Generally it has done well but recently has the appearance of looking shriviled like it needs water. I was told to stop watering but dies not appear to be improving. It’s in a planter and for a long time I have been deep watering weekly and fertilizing with water soluble Miracle Gro at the suggestion of an arborist. Do you have an opinion on what I should do?

    If you have consulted an arborist, then you are already following the advice of someone who knows more than I do, both about the needs of this specific plant and the conditions/environment in which you garden. — mss

  49. From Lesley (Salem Oregon):

    I am looking for a smaller hardy evergreen Magnolia tree like the grandiflora but only growing to 30 ft max ( to ensure neighbors still have view.) Is there a good place to buy one around Salem or Portland? Is it better to have it shipped? I want the kind with the big creamy white flowers. Thanks!

    I don’t live anywhere near Salem or Portland so I’m afraid I don’t know any of the nurseries in that area. — mss

  50. From Bob,Cape May, NJ:

    I purchased a 5 foot Little Gem in Fla. and planted it 15 feet off the corner of the house which faces East. In summer it receives about 6-8 hours of sun. Am I ok with this, and also is there any winter preparation for this little beauty?

    Fifteen feet seems safe enough. I don’t know what kind of winters you have in Florida but so far my ‘Little Gem’ has survived temperatures as low as 18°. In 2010, Austin experienced the coldest 3 days of winter that we’ve had in 30 years. I didn’t even cover the ‘Little Gem’ and it survived without any problems. — mss

  51. From Judy Carle:

    What is the best fertilizer to use for a Little Gem Magnolia? I live in Georgetown, Texas near Austin. I have 2 trees that are Little Gems and just water for 1/2 hour each week and I am not sure what kind of food to give them.

    My nursery guy said I should give them something that they feed azaleas. 4 times per year.

    Any help you can give me would be appreciated. I moved 4 years ago from Cleveland Ohio. the trees are about 3 years old.

  52. From bob cape may:

    I planted a ‘Little Gem’ out front facing easterly. Do you think our winter will be too rough? And if so, is there anything I should to to prepare it for winter. Thank you from South Jersey.

    I know nothing about your winters in South Jersey. You should talk to you local county extension agent or independent local nurseryman–or the person you bought the ‘Little Gem’ from (unless you bought it at a big box store). — mss

  53. From sharon w., atlanta:

    I’ve had a Little Gem growing against a trellis on my balcony since 3/03 with an eastern exposure It has bloomed every year. However, it’s getting quite leggy and unattractive and I plan to prune a third off after this year’s bloom. Wish me luck.

  54. From Keith:

    To the lady asking about making the Little Gem into a bonsai:
    You can make a bonsai out of almost any tree. However, the leaves will only dwarf so much and in this case not nearly enough.

    So, yes you can, but it will probably not be very attractive. The slow growing habit of the magnolia will almost guarantee that you will not realize how unbalanced it will look until after you have devoted several years to it. Of course, you can always transplant it outdoors into the ground at that point.

    Please, please let us know if you try it. I would love to be proven wrong!

  55. From Don, Nashville TM:

    Can Little Gem thrive in parital sun? My neighbor trimmed a row of pines up 20′ & Little Gem seems good to plant in fron but it will have only half day of sun.

  56. From lhan:

    Why are we asking question after question to MS on a world wide network when most of the answers are referred to the local nursery or ‘I don’t know’ and the few answers are only related to MS’s Little Gem magnolia that is obviously not doing well?

    Excellent question, Ivan. I often wonder that myself. The best source of information about how a plant will behave in your environment is local. — mss

  57. From Lynn:

    living in Nashville wanting to plant Dwarf Magnolia in a semi shad (gets afternoon sun) area about 6′ x 6′ plant area, great soil & drainage area, would this tree do well?