Propagating Magnolia Seeds: How To Grow A Magnolia Tree From Seed

Propagating Magnolia Seeds: How To Grow A Magnolia Tree From Seed

By: Jackie Carroll

In the fall of the year after the flowers are long gone from a magnolia tree, the seed pods have an interesting surprise in store. Magnolia seed pods, which resemble exotic-looking cones, spread open to reveal bright red berries, and the tree comes to life with birds, squirrels and other wildlife that relish these tasty fruits. Inside the berries, you’ll find the magnolia seeds. And when conditions are just right, you may find a magnolia seedling growing under a magnolia tree.

Propagating Magnolia Seeds

In addition to transplanting and growing a magnolia seedling, you can also try your hand at growing magnolias from seed. Propagating magnolia seeds takes a little extra effort because you can’t buy them in packets. Once the seeds dry out, they are no longer viable, so in order to grow a magnolia tree from seed, you have to harvest fresh seeds from the berries.

Before you go to the trouble of harvesting magnolia seed pods, try to determine whether the parent tree is a hybrid. Hybrid magnolias don’t breed true, and the resulting tree may not resemble the parent. You may not be able to tell that you’ve made a mistake until 10 to 15 years after you plant the seed, when the new tree produces its first flowers.

Harvesting Magnolia Seed Pods

When harvesting the magnolia seed pods for collection of its seeds, you must pick the berries from the pod when they are bright red and fully ripe.

Remove the fleshy berry from the seeds and soak the seeds in lukewarm water overnight. The next day, remove the outer coating from the seed by rubbing it against hardware cloth or a wire screen.

Magnolia seeds must go through a process called stratification in order to germinate. Place the seeds in a container of moist sand and mix well. The sand should not be so wet that water drips from your hand when you squeeze it.

Place the container in the refrigerator and leave it undisturbed for at least three months or until you are ready to plant the seeds. When you bring the seeds out of the refrigerator, it triggers a signal that tells the seed that winter has passed and it’s time to grow a magnolia tree from seed.

Growing Magnolias from Seed

When you’re ready to grow a magnolia tree from seed, you should plant the seeds in spring, either directly in the ground or in pots.

Cover the seeds with about 1/4 inch (0.5 cm.) of soil and keep the soil moist until your seedlings emerge.

A layer of mulch will help the soil hold moisture while the magnolia seedling grows. New seedlings will also need protection from strong sunlight for the first year.

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Master Gardener: What’s the secret to germinating magnolia seeds?

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Q: Can you tell me how to germinate seeds from a magnolia tree? The magnolia trees at a local shopping center have pinecone-like pods containing bright red seeds. They look like they would grow if I planted them, but I’ve been unsuccessful. Is there a secret to success?

A: There’s no secret to germinating magnolia seeds once you understand the plant’s mechanism for seedling survival.

Magnolia seeds mature and start falling to the ground in the fall however, if they were to germinate right away, the seedlings might not survive cold winter temperatures.

Therefore, the seeds possess a level of internal dormancy that is not broken until they have experienced several months of chilling temperatures. In the natural environment, this would mean that the seeds would not germinate until spring, when they have a good chance of survival.

To germinate these seeds in our mild climate, we must resort to a process called seed stratification to break the seed’s natural dormancy.

To do this, collect the magnolia seeds in fall or winter and, if possible, remove the fleshy pulp from the seeds.

Mix these seeds with at least an equal volume of moist peat moss or clean sand. The peat moss or sand should be moist but not wet. The mixture should be placed in a sealed jar (label and date the jar) and stored in the refrigerator for two to four months. You should check that the mixture remains moist every few weeks.

Near the end of the two- to four-month period you, may notice the root radicle beginning to emerge. Though this is an indication that the seeds are ready to plant, at the end of four months it’s time to plant the seeds — even if no root radicle is present.

If you are growing the seeds in pots, plant the seeds shallowly in an artificial soil mix. Choose deep pots to provide adequate room for the root system.

If you plan to plant the seeds outdoors, choose an area with good soil that is somewhat sheltered. Once the seedlings have germinated, only normal garden care is needed.

Q: I purchased some tomato plants yesterday and the nurseryman told me to bury some of the stem under the soil. That doesn’t sound right to me.

A: Your nurseryman is correct. Although you are supposed to replant most plants with the root ball even with the soil surface, tomatoes are an exception.

Tomato plants root very readily along their stem, so covering some of the lower stem with soil will increase the root system, resulting in a stronger plant.

For instance, if your plants are 12 inches tall, I would pinch off all leaves along the bottom 6 inches of the stem and prepare the planting hole a little wider than usual.

Then, lay the plant in the hole and at a slight angle so that only the top 6 inches of your plants are above the soil level.

Within a week, your plants will be developing new roots along the buried stem and you will be on you way to a robust tomato garden.

How To Grow A Southern Magnolia From Seed

So you want to try to grow the magnificent Southern Magnolia from a seed? It's not to difficult a process, but there are pros and cons.

You can propagate Southern Magnolia by seed, cuttings taken in the summer, or from grafting. The drawback growing them from seed is that the trees might take 15 or more years to bloom. Cutting grown plants are superior to most seedlings because they begin flowering the first year or two after propagation. But, then, there's a drawback to rooting magnolias: it's not easily done. Even with misting systems and rooting hormones, the percentage of successfully rooted cuttings is often very low and best left to the professional/ commercial growers.

Growing Magnolia From Seed

Collect the seeds as soon as possible after the fruit is mature. Depending on the weather, and your location, this is usually sometime from mid-September through early October. Spread the cone-like fruits on a table and allow them to dry for several days. When the fruit has opened shake it and the seeds should fall right out.

You can either plant the seed now - if you have a greenhouse or indoor growing environment - or you can wait until spring to plant them, which is what I recommend.

Whether you plant the seed now or in spring, the seed should be cleaned before planting or stratifying (storing). To remove the fleshy seed coat, soak the seed overnight in warm water. Rub the seeds against hardware cloth or window screening to remove the fleshy coat. After cleaning, the seeds should be sown immediately or stored for 3 to 6 months at about 40 degrees F and planted in the spring. Note: Seeds stored over winter at room temperature seed will lose its viability.

An excellent way to stratify (store) seeds is to use a polyethylene bag and place alternating layers of a moist medium such as a sand and peat mixture and seeds in the bag. Tie the top of the bag and place in a refrigerator at about 40 degrees. The medium should be just moist enough to stick together but not so wet that it will drip if squeezed by hand.

Planting the Seeds

Whether sown in the fall or in the spring, the seeds should be planted in seedbeds or small containers (3 to 4" pots). Cover the seed with about l/4" of soil and then mulch to prevent drying. The soil in seedbeds or small pots should be kept moist until germination is complete. Then keep soil damp.

Grow the seedlings in a partially shaded environment during the first summer. Morning sun with afternoon shade would be perfect.

When a good amount of roots have developed, or have filled the soil in the small pot, you can transplant the seedling to a larger container (6" or 1 gallon). When the roots have filled out in the larger container the trees can be transplanted to landscape beds.

Can I grow a magnolia tree from seed?

A good time to germinate is early spring. Plant the magnolia seeds in a seed tray covered with ½-inch of compost soil. Dampen the soil by misting it with water, then cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place like above the refrigerator. Seedlings should appear in four to six weeks but may take much longer.

Also, can you eat magnolia seeds? Of course, other types of magnolia trees also have seed pods, and they can look quite different from those on a star magnolia tree. Wild birds, squirrels, and other animals eat the seeds. Star magnolia seeds are not toxic to humans, nor are they poisonous to pets (either cats or dogs).

Then, how do you store magnolia seeds?

For magnolias, they require cold conditions between 40 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Store the seeds in the fridge for up to three months. When you take them out of the refrigerator, it simulates the end of winter and signals to the seed that it is time to grow a tree.

Should I cut off magnolia seed pods?

Trim one-half the length of approximately one-third of the stems coming off the main trunk in early summer after the first flush of bloom. This encourages more branching for a fuller plant. Clip off seed pods when flowers fade to encourage even more new growth.

What Other Magnolia Seed Pods Look Like

Of course, other types of magnolia trees also have seed pods, and they can look quite different from those on a star magnolia tree.

The red color of the seeds in Southern magnolia seed pods is just as striking as the orange color of the seeds borne on a star magnolia. Wild birds, squirrels, and other animals eat the seeds.

Star magnolia seeds are not toxic to humans, nor are they poisonous to pets (either cats or dogs). Likewise, closely related magnolias widely grown in Northern yards, such as Magnolia x soulangiana, are safe to grow around kids and pets.


The seeds of Southern magnolia are mildly poisonous if eaten by humans. (Wild birds and squirrels do not seem to be adversely affected.) Magnolia grandiflora is poisonous for cats, too. While toxicity information is hard to find regarding dogs eating the seeds, it is always better to err on the side of caution.

Growing Southern Magnolia

Gary L. Wade, Extension Horticulturist
Department of Horticulture

Southern magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora, is an aristocratic tree. It grows well throughout Georgia, is widely adaptable to a variety of soils and has few pest problems. With glossy evergreen foliage and large white fragrant blossoms, it truly is one of the most handsome and durable native trees for our Southern landscapes.

Most cultivars of Southern magnolia are seedling selections that have been vegetatively propagated, which results in a wide variety of tree shapes, leaf sizes and leaf coloration. Some nurseries also sell seedling trees however, seedling trees may take 10 years or more to flower.

Today, there are several superior cultivars of Southern magnolia on the market (Table 1). Many new cultivars flower at an earlier age and have a tighter, denser canopy or smaller growth habit than the seedling forms. Another popular characteristic is a rusty-bronze appearance of the underside of the leaves.

Where and When to Plant

Southern magnolia is most frequently grown as a single specimen tree in the landscape. Its coarse-textured leaves provide an excellent background for shrubs, particularly needle evergreens. Since the tree sheds old leaves each spring and seed pods in late summer, it can be messy when planted in a lawn area. It?s best to plant it in an ornamental bed along with other plants where the leaf litter can serve as a mulch.

A row of Southern magnolias provides an excellent screen or hedge to block undesirable views or to define property lines. It can also be grown as an espalier against a wall, but be prepared to provide extra care to train and maintain the tree in the desired shape. Southern magnolia can be grown in sun or shade. It prefers moist, well-drained, acidic soils. It is tolerant of high moisture levels and can be planted in areas prone to wet/dry fluctuations in soil moisture.

Container-grown Southern magnolias can be planted successfully any time of year. Balled and burlapped trees are usually transplanted from August to October. Don't be alarmed if the tree sheds an unusually large number of leaves during the first growing season transplant shock is common with Southern magnolia.


If possible, dig the planting hole at least two times wider than and as deep as the root ball. Be certain the top of the root ball is level with the soil surface, then backfill with the native soil after breaking apart clods and removing stones or other debris. Water thoroughly to settle the soil. Finally, apply 3 to 5 inches of mulch on the soil surface to conserve moisture and to prevent weeds. Wait until the tree is established and putting forth new growth before fertilizing.

On windy, exposed sites, guy wires may be necessary to hold the tree in place during the first growing season. Place the wire inside a section of old garden hose before wrapping it around the tree to prevent girdling and injury to the trunk.


Once established, growth can be accelerated with light, frequent applications of fertilizer during the first three growing seasons. During the first growing season after establishment, apply ½ pound (1 cup) of 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 fertilizer along the perimeter of the planting hole in March, May and July. The second year, increase the rate of the fertilizer to 2 cups and broadcast it in a donut-shaped area from the tips of the canopy to 3 feet beyond the canopy in March, May and July. By the third year, increase the rate to 4 cups and spread it in a donut-shaped area from the tips of the canopy to 6 feet beyond the canopy in March, May and July. By the fourth year, the tree should have a well-established root system and should be able to forage for nutrients on its own. Magnolia roots have been shown to grow more than three times further than the canopy width of the tree, so they can obtain nutrients applied to nearby plants and turfgrass.

Southern magnolia is most often grown as a single-trunk tree, but it can also be grown in a multi-trunk form. Begin shaping the plant while it is young by selectively thinning side branches as needed to produce and maintain the desired growth form. In formal landscapes, the tree is sometimes sheared once or twice a season to encourage branching and to maintain a tight, compact form. However, the tree looks best when allowed to grow in a more open, natural form with branching all the way to the ground.


Dirr, Michael A. 1998. Manual of Woody Landscape Plants. Stipes Publishing Co.

Table 1. Popular Southern Magnolia Cultivars
'Bracken's Brown Beauty' One of the most popular cultivars in the trade, prized for lustrous green leaves with a fuzzy, rusty texture on their undersides. The tree reaches 30 to 50 feet tall and 30 feet wide, so it needs room to spread. It tends to be self-branching and forms a dense canopy.
'Claudia Wannamaker' This tree flowers at an early age and has dark green foliage with medium rusty-brown undersides. It is one of the most widely grown cultivars, reaching 50 feet tall and 40 feet wide.
'D.D. Blanchard' Leathery, lustrous, dark green leaves with rich, orange-brown undersides. In youth, the tree is more open than 'Claudia Wannamaker.? It reaches 50+ feet tall at maturity.
'Edith Bogue' Among the most cold hardy of the magnolias. The tight pyramidal form reaches 30 feet tall and 15 feet wide with narrow, lustrous dark green leaves. The loose and open growth habit becomes more dense with age.
?Greenback? A selection from Bold Springs Nursery in Monroe, Ga., with lustrous, wavy, dark green leaves and a tight, dense form growing 30 feet tall and 12 feet wide. A good choice for screening.
'Hasse' Tight columnar form with lustrous, dark green upper leaf surface with dark brown undersides. Ideal for small spaces and screening. Reaches 40 feet tall and 15 feet wide.
'Little Gem' One of the smallest of the magnolias, reaching 30 feet tall and 15 feet wide. Small, dark green leaves are bronze-brown beneath. The tree flowers at a young age. Leaves and flowers are smaller than most other magnolias. A 2000 Georgia Gold Medal Winner.
'Majestic Beauty' Extravagantly large plant with large leaves and large, profuse flowers up to 12 inches in diameter. Very little lustrous dark green leaves. The tree reaches 50 feet tall with a spread of 20 feet.
'Samuel Sommer' Dark green leaves with a brownish-rust underside. An upright, pyramidal tree growing 40 feet tall and 30 feet wide. Flowers are 10 to 14 inches in diameter.
?Teddy Bear? A compact form reaching 20 feet tall and 10 feet wide. Leaves are smaller than most other magnolias, 2 to 4 inches wide and 3 to 6 inches long. They are lustrous green above and fuzzy, rusty brown below. Flowers from May to November.

Status and Revision History
Published on Sep 23, 2009
Published with Full Review on Sep 01, 2012
Published with Full Review on Aug 07, 2017

Watch the video: Planting Magnolia from seed