Little Gem Magnolia
Scientific Name: Magnolia grandiflora 'Little Gem'
This cultivar of Southern Magnolia has a compact, upright growth habit more typical of a multistemmed shrub than a single-trunked tree. It grows at a slow rate to a height of perhaps 30 to 35 feet with an 8 to 12-foot spread and flowers at two or three years old. It is surprising to see a Magnolia flower when it is only three or four feet tall. `Little Gem' Southern Magnolia forms a dense, dark green oval or pyramidal shape, making it suited for screen or hedge planting.
The five to 8-inch-long, leathery, oblong, shiny leaves are shed as new foliage emerges in the spring. The large, slowly-decomposing leaves drop on the sidewalk or patio and are considered by some people to be messy or a nuisance to clean up. The underside of the leaves is covered with a fine, red-brown fuzz which is more prominent on some selections than others. In late spring and sporadically throughout the summer, huge, 8-inch-diameter, waxy, fragrant, white blossoms open to perfume the entire garden. Fuzzy brown cones follow these blooms, ripening in fall and winter to reveal bright red seeds which are used by a variety of wildlife.
If moist, peaty soils are available, Southern Magnolia will thrive in full sun and hot conditions once established. If irrigation cannot be provided periodically, plants located in partial shade for several years after planting seem to grow better. Very drought tolerant when grown in areas with plenty of soil for root expansion. Only moderately drought tolerant in restricted-soil areas or in areas with poor, dry soil. Southern Magnolia prefers acid soil but will tolerate a slightly basic, even wet or clay soil. It is generally too hot and dry in central and western Texas and Oklahoma, and the soil pH is often too alkaline for this tree.