Tips for Growing Sweetbay Magnolias (White Laurel)

  • jack Officer
  • May 28, 2023

Magnolia virginiana

There are lots of of magnolia species, and each appears higher than the final. However sweetbays have one thing particular going for them.

A close up vertical image of a single sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) aka white laurel flower, pictured on a dark background. To the top and bottom of the frame is green and white printed text.

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The silvery underside of the bay-scented leaves is eye-catching as they wave round within the breeze, and the timber develop in a chic, dense, vase-like form. That is already an attractive tree, earlier than we even get to the flowers.

The creamy white blossoms are three inches large with an interesting lemon scent. They open in late spring after the leaves have shaped on the tree.

Whereas they don’t have the super-massive blossoms of different species, and their flowers aren’t as colourful, they’re each bit as marvelous, particularly in case you have a swampy spot the place different issues received’t develop.

Right here’s what we’re going to talk about that will help you get to know these vegetation:

Her showier cousins, just like the southern magnolia, have a tendency to attract all the eye. So it’s about time sweetbay acquired a second within the highlight! Let’s give her some consideration.

Cultivation and Historical past

Sweetbay, additionally known as swamp bay, swamp magnolia, swamp laurel, or white laurel, grows natively from the southern tip of Florida ranging as far north as Massachusetts, and as far east as Texas.

In colder areas, like USDA Rising Zones 5 and 6, it’s deciduous and shrub-like with a number of trunks, topping out at eight toes.

In hotter climates, like Zones 8 and 9, it’s evergreen and grows a lot taller, as much as 35 toes tall, with a single trunk.

Within the excessive southern a part of its vary, this species has been identified to develop 60 toes tall. And it might attain as much as 20 toes large, relying on the situations.

A close up vertical image of a sweetbay magnolia tree (white laurel) in full bloom in the spring garden.

The tree has an especially swish, slender kind with an open crown, which is a part of what makes it such an interesting choice for the backyard, each at dwelling in North America and overseas.

That’s proper, this southern favourite is well-liked in Europe.

In 1678, British naturalist and missionary Reverend John Banister introduced a sweetbay again to England. It was the primary magnolia to ever attain these shores.

The Bishop of London, Henry Compton, raised it within the gardens of Fulham Palace, the place the sweet-scented blossoms had been successful.

Although the unique plant died in 2019, the palace re-planted a brand new sweetbay with the assist of a cheering crowd.

Talking of these lemony, sweet-smelling flowers, they emerge on the tree later within the season than these of many different species, which suggests they’re capable of dodge a few of these late-season frosts that may destroy the blossoms.

They’ll emerge someday between Could and June, relying on the place they’re rising, and proceed to bloom sporadically all through the summer season.

Hybrids bred utilizing this species can have flowers in shades of pink, however the species and its cultivars all have white flowers.

After the flowers fade, reddish-yellow fruits with pink seeds develop. The fruit regularly turns brown and dry, at which level the seeds are ripe for harvesting. Birds and squirrels will eat and unfold the seeds.

The semi-glossy leaves even have a candy scent and appear like massive bay leaves. The underside is silver and the highest is medium inexperienced.

As an apart, in 1808, the primary hybrid magnolia of any variety documented in Western tradition was bred, a cross between a sweetbay and an umbrella magnolia (M. tripetala). M. x thompsoniana continues to be a well-liked backyard tree within the jap US and Europe.

If the southern magnolias (M. grandiflora) is the grande dame of the South, sweetbay is the standard little sister. The timber are smaller total and the blossoms are smaller as properly.

However if you would like one thing a bit hardier, smaller, and tolerant of moist soil, this kind can’t be beat. Greater isn’t at all times higher.


Sweetbays will be propagated by way of all the customary strategies used with magnolias. You may develop them by sowing seed, rooting cuttings, and layering.

A close up horizontal image of a sweetbay magnolia flower just starting to open up.

Crops began from seed take for much longer than cuttings and air layering to begin producing flowers, however all work equally properly.

Typically talking, all sweetbays propagated utilizing one in all these strategies will begin blooming inside 10 years, and they’re going to attain their mature dimension in about 20 years.

For specifics on methods to propagate every approach, go to our information to rising magnolias.

Set up transplants when the tree is dormant however the floor will be labored within the spring or fall. Place timber at the very least 10 toes away from some other timber or buildings.

Should you bought a tree, dig a gap twice as large and the identical depth as the basis ball. Place the plant within the ready gap with the highest of the basis ball simply barely above the soil degree.

Find out how to Develop

These timber are generally known as swamp magnolias as a result of they will tolerate moist or swampy floor.

They obtain 48 to 64 inches of rain per yr of their native vary, and that’s about what you wish to recreate wherever you plant them.

Water deeply however occasionally and don’t let the soil change into too dry between watering.

A horizontal image of a sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) in full bloom in the garden.

Magnolias don’t draw water from close to the soil floor, so it doesn’t assist to stay your finger into the soil to find out the moisture degree. However in case you have a protracted moisture meter, that may assist.

In any other case, a rain gauge will be helpful to let you know how a lot water the plant has acquired by way of precipitation.

What they will’t tolerate is alkaline soil. The soil have to be barely acidic with a pH of 5.5 to six.5 for these timber to thrive. In soil that’s too alkaline, timber will present indicators of chlorosis.

Sweetbays can even tolerate partial shade, with simply 4 hours of solar per day being sufficient to provide a big floral show.

There’s no want to fret about fertilizing your timber except your soil is extraordinarily poor in a sure nutrient. Do a soil check earlier than planting to see what your soil lacks and amend accordingly. You need to proceed to check and amend your soil each few years.

Don’t use a robust fertilizer as a result of it might burn. Use one thing delicate or sluggish launch, or higher but, some well-rotted manure or compost.

Rising Suggestions

  • Plant in in full solar to partial shade.
  • Ensure the tree receives at the very least 48 inches of water per yr.
  • Don’t fertilize except your soil is poor in one thing.

Pruning and Upkeep

Magnolias hardly ever want pruning. However the common rule to take away lifeless, diseased, or broken/deformed branches – generally known as the three Ds – applies.

Any time you see one thing that appears problematic, take away it as near the closest trunk or department as you may.

A close up horizontal image of a gardener's gloved hands using a pair of secateurs to prune the branch of a tree pictured on a soft focus background.

These timber add a couple of foot or two of progress per yr, in order that they received’t develop uncontrolled and want pruning to regulate their dimension.

If you wish to do some pruning for form, be happy. You too can take away branches which are crossing or crowded, but it surely’s not mandatory.

Once they’re younger, give them somewhat shaping by pruning again to a leaf bud after flowering has stopped. Should you’re rising a multi-trunk kind, restrict the trunks to 5 or much less. Take away any shoots rising past the primary trunk or trunks.

Cultivars to Choose

There are many enjoyable cultivars to look at for, however lots of the time, you’ll discover the species tree.

You may’t go mistaken with the species or any one of many glorious choices which have been bred and made obtainable on the market.

A close up square image of a white sweetbay magnolia flower surrounded by bright green foliage.

Sweetbay Magnolia

If you wish to seize a species plant, go to Planting Tree for a one- to two-, two- to three-, three- to four-, or four- to five-foot-tall stay tree.

Quick Rising Bushes carries stay timber in related sizes.


This cultivar will keep compact at beneath 20 toes and is evergreen to Zone 6, which is way colder than the species will tolerate whereas remaining evergreen.

The leaves are darker inexperienced than the species as properly.

Henry Hicks

‘Henry Hicks’ is extra reliably evergreen than the species. It is going to keep evergreen even in Zone 5.

It’s an early bloomer and grows to 40 toes excessive.


‘Moonglow’ is a 40-foot tree with a unfastened cover that may survive excessive chilly, right down to at the very least -28°F.

This cultivar will keep evergreen additional north than the species, right down to Zone 6.

Northern Belle

With darkish inexperienced leaves and a petite progress behavior, this beautiful girl stands out. She grows to simply eight toes tall and 10 toes large, so she’s completely pleased in a container.

That is no delicate flower, although. She will survive in temperatures as chilly as -35°F and stays evergreen right down to Zone 4.

Santa Rosa

The leaves on ‘Santa Rosa’ are bigger than the species and the most important of any cultivar.

Nevertheless, because it was bred from a tree rising in Florida, it isn’t as chilly tolerant as some others. It’s finest in Zones 7 and up.

The tree has an attractive rounded, spreading progress behavior, reaching 25 toes tall and large.

Managing Pests and Illness

Prepared for some actually thrilling information? Sweetbays are a type of species which are seemingly unbothered by most issues.

No surprise they’re so well-liked for creating magnolia hybrids. Everybody needs a little bit of that candy, candy resistance to pests and ailments.

A horizontal image of a deer grazing in a garden under trees.

A mature tree is at no threat from shopping, however deer will make a meal out of leaves and younger twigs from time to time, and younger timber could possibly be barely deformed.

Over time, the form will be recovered by means of pruning, however you would possibly wish to put a small fence round younger timber in the event you stay in an space with numerous deer exercise.

Scale may additionally be an issue, but it surely’s uncommon and these pests normally solely infest timber which have been broken or in any other case weakened. Our information to scale can stroll you thru the whole lot it’s best to know.

Finest Makes use of

Because of their tolerance for swampy, boggy spots, you should utilize these timber close to ponds and streams or in low areas the place water tends to gather.

Don’t assume yours must be virtually drowning to be pleased, although. This species is drought tolerant as soon as established.

A close up horizontal image of the foliage of a sweetbay magnolia tree growing in the garden pictured in bright sunshine.

It grows properly with bayberries, yaupon, dogwoods, chokecherry, sumac, snowbell, viburnum, ferns, pitcher vegetation, and sedges. Use it in a blended shrub border or as a specimen.

You too can plant it close to porches and patios as a result of it received’t change into overwhelming in dimension, and it’ll present dappled shade.

Some magnolia species are vulnerable to breakage, however this one is pretty proof against wind harm.

Fast Reference Rising Information

Plant Sort: Deciduous or evergreen flowering tree Flower/Foliage Shade: White/inexperienced
Native to: Southeastern North America Upkeep: Low
Hardiness (USDA Zones): 4-9 Tolerance Frost
Bloom Time: Spring, summer season, fall Soil Sort: Free, wealthy
Publicity: Full solar to partial shade Soil pH: 5.5-6.5
Time to Maturity: 20 years Soil Drainage: Boggy/poor to well-draining
Spacing: 10 toes Attracts: Bees, beetles, birds, butterflies, moths, squirrels
Planting Depth: 1/2 inch (seeds), prime of root ball barely above soil line (transplants) Companion Planting: Bayberries, yaupon, dogwoods, chokecherry, hostas, snowbells, sumac, viburnum, ferns, pitcher vegetation, sedges
Peak: As much as 60 toes Keep away from Planting With: Cactus, juniper, Russian sage
Unfold: As much as 25 toes Makes use of: Specimen, blended border
Development Fee: Reasonable Household: Magnoliaceae
Water Wants: Reasonable Genus: Magnolia
Frequent Pests: Deer, scale Species: Virginiana

How Candy It Is

Certain, Southern magnolias stand out just like the belles of the ball, however sweetbays are each bit as implausible.

From their robust perfume to their prolonged blooming season, plus their capacity to thrive in swampy areas, white laurels have loads going for them.

A close up horizontal image of a single sweetbay magnolia (white laurel) flower growing in the garden pictured in bright sunshine on a soft focus background.

How do you propose to make use of yours? Which cultivar is your favourite? Give us all the small print within the remark part.

There are heaps extra decorative panorama timber on the market to fill your yard with. Should you’re in search of some concepts and steerage, learn these articles subsequent:

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