Sweet Bay Magnolia Tree: What They Don’t Tell You at the Nursery

Sweet Bay Magnolia tree showing delicate white blooms on branches that have not produced green magnolia tree leaves yet, centered in an oval frame.

For many people, the idea of planting a Sweet Bay Magnolia Tree is exciting. With their lovely blooms that have a lemony scent and twigs that actually have a spicier smell, most people can’t wait to plant them…but there are a few things to learn first.

Because if you’re not careful, it can be a costly mistake and your tree won’t flourish like you’ve planned.

In fact, there are some things that many nurseries neglect to tell customers.

So, before you buy a Sweet Bay Magnolia Tree, read through this complete guide so that you can make sure your tree will grow healthy and strong. 

The first thing you should know about planting a magnolia is that it’s a medium to fast grower. That means if you want to make sure your tree starts off strong, plan on getting a magnolia tree from your local nursery instead of planting one from a seed.

Not only will your local nursery be better equipped to answer any questions you have, they’ll likely have hardy specimens that have already dealt with the freezes, thaws and heat of your local climate.

Plus, a sapling allows you to better plan for the space you’ll eventually need for the tree.

Once you get your new plant home, be sure to keep it well-watered during its first year. This will help ensure that when spring comes around again next year, your magnolia is ready for another round of growth.

Related Reading: Magnolia Tree Guide: Complete How-To for Care and Planting

What To Do After You Make a Sweet Bay Magnolia Tree Buy Decision

After you’ve chosen to buy a Sweet Bay Magnolia, you’ll need to ensure that you have the space and resources to support it.

  • Choose a location that has about 40 feet circumference and height allowance (no overhanging wires or electric lines)
  • Check to ensure that the soil needs are adequate for the tree (proper drainage, etc.) and if needed, prepare the soil before planting
  • Check to ensure that you’ll be able to access the planting site

For example, if you want your sweet bays planted in a remote area of your garden, make sure that you have hand barrows, tools, and other implements needed to get the saplings there and plant them.

How To Grow Sweet Bay Magnolia Trees From Seed

Sweet Bay Magnolia trees grow well in warm climates, and their flowers bloom from May through June. These trees can be grown from a seed, but it will take some time and patience to get them to the point where you can plant them outside. There are a few steps you must follow to grow them properly.

First, you will need to gather your seeds. You can collect them by hand or order sweetbay magnolia tree seeds for sale from a nursery or garden center. You will then need to soak the seeds in water overnight, so they are ready for planting.

After soaking the seeds in water for approximately 24 hours, use a series of pots to foster root development. So, once the sprout appears, carefully transplant to a larger pot, and so on.

Place them in the ground only after a good root system has developed, and if possible, use a biodegradable pot that will allow you to plant the entire thing.

Close up image of sweet bacy magnolia blossom with 10 creamy white petals and yellow center with deep green magnolia leaves.

(Image: Rachelgreenbelt6)

Once planted into the ground, these trees require regular watering and fertilizing during dry summers or overcast winters. This is because they do not tolerate drought conditions very well.

Do not allow the seedling to dry out.

This method is very difficult, so it’s recommended that if you want a sweet bay tree, purchase a sapling and follow tree planting best practices to ensure it thrives.

When Is the Best Time To Plant a Sweetbay Magnolia Tree?

The best time to plant a sweet bay magnolia tree is in the spring, although it can also be planted in the fall. It also depends on where you live and your local climate. If you live in a place where temperatures are milder, you may want to wait until late May or early June to plant your tree.

Sweet Bay Magnolia

(Magnolia virginiana)

Sweet Bay Magnolia tree in an oval frame on a green background.
  • Family: Magnoliaceae
  • Genus: Magnolia
  • Leaf: Soft and glossy leaves with gray or green color
  • Bark: Thin, smooth, and reddish-brown to gray, and may be mottled
  • Seed: Bright red seeds that mature in fall
  • Blossoms: Creamy White
  • Fruit: Up to 2 inches long cone-like aggregates of follicles that are large and have many segments
  • Native Habitat: Eastern United States to Texas and Cuba
  • Height: 10 - 35 feet
  • Canopy: 10 - 35 feet
  • Type: Semi-evergreen to Evergreen, Deciduous
  • USDA Plant Hardiness Zone: 5a-10b

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Ranking

Least Concern


Planting your tree too early could be risky if you live in a place that gets hot during summer. Instead, consider planting it in late spring or early summer when temperatures are cooler.

Common Pests and Diseases of the Magnolia Sweet Bay Tree

The beautiful sweet bay magnolia tree is a common sight in the United States. It grows to about 35 feet and is native to the country’s southeast region. A healthy sweet bay magnolia tree will have smooth trunks and branches and smooth bark that does not split or crack. The leaves will be dark green with a distinct petiole and serrated margins on the leaf blade.

Sweet bay magnolia trees, however, are susceptible to various pests and diseases, including aphids, scale insects, borers, powdery mildew, leaf spot disease, and fire blight (black scorch). Some of these pests can be controlled by pruning away dead or diseased branches and applying insecticidal soap spray regularly throughout the growing season.

How Do Sweetbay Magnolia Leaves Look? (Distinctive Features of a Sweetbay Magnolia Leaf)

Magnolia is a genus of flowering plants that includes multiple species of trees and shrubs. The sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana)1 is one of the most popular species. Like other magnolias, sweet bay magnolias have clusters of fragrant white flowers that appear during the spring and summer months.

Sweetbay Magnolia tree identification chart showing its leaves, flowers, seeds, tree, and bark in oval frames.

The Sweet Bay tree has shiny dark green leaves with a silver underside; these leaves also provide shelter for pollinators such as bees and butterflies.

How To Keep Your Sweetbay Magnolia Evergreen

Sweetbay magnolias are considered to be one of the most beautiful trees in the world. They are known for their large, fragrant flowers with a white center. To keep your tree healthy, you’ll need to provide it with appropriate water, air circulation, and nutrients. You should also ensure that your soil contains plenty of organic matter – the more fertile your soil is, the better your tree will grow!

Once established, you may want to water your sweetbay magnolia deeply once every two weeks during summers or once every week during winters (with a drip irrigation system).

What To Look for in a Sweet Bay Magnolia Tree for Sale (Where To Find Sweetbay Magnolia Tree for Sale)

The sweet bay magnolia tree is a great addition to any home, but it’s important to know what you’re looking for when you’re shopping for one. Here are some tips on how to find the right one:

  • Look for a fast-growing tree that has been pruned properly. This will ensure that it stays healthy.
  • Take into account where you want your new tree to be located. If you have limited space, consider getting a smaller tree that can fit into your yard without taking up too much room.
  • Pick trees with thoroughly watered roots. They will die after a few years (or less) if they’ve dried out.

Also, if possible, choose a local grower. Big box chains will have saplings, but buying form a local grower not only supports your community (making it more sustainable and reducing the carbon footprint of the purchase), but also ensures that your sapling is acclimated to the area where it will be planted.

What Is the Sweetbay Magnolia Tree Growth Rate?

The sweetbay magnolia tree2 is a medium-sized deciduous tree that grows at a medium to fast rate, with height increases of anywhere from 13″ to more than 24″ per year.

Sweetbay Magnolia tree growth chart showing full grown Sweetbay Magnolia tree on a line graph with Sweetbay Magnolia tree age on the x-axis and Sweetbay Magnolia tree height on the y-axis.

This tree can grow as high as 30 feet tall and as wide as 35 feet.

Important Sweetbay Magnolia Care Tips

The following care tips apply to most magnolia trees, including the Sweet Bay:

  • Magnolias will tolerate a wide range of soils, but they do best when planted in rich, well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter. They also prefer full sun with some afternoon shade (5-10 hours maximum).
  • Magnolias should be fertilized every spring with a balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10 (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) for optimal growth.
  • The sweetbay magnolia leaf should be kept clean by removing dead leaves or twigs each fall before they turn brown.

You should immediately contact a professional arborist if you notice any disease symptoms on your Magnolia trees, such as leaf spotting or yellowing leaves. They will help treat your tree for pests or diseases before it spreads throughout your yard, preventing it from flowering again next year!

What’s the Size of a Full Grown Sweet Bay Magnolia Tree?

The size of a full-grown sweet bay magnolia tree is usually between 10–30 feet tall and 10–30 feet wide.

A mature tree can reach 35 feet in height and 35 feet in width.

Magnolia trees are among the most beautiful and beloved trees in the world. They can grow to be over 30 feet tall, with trunks that can be over 35 feet in diameter.

Sweetbay magnolia tree flower close up with waxy deep green leaves framing a white flower.

(Image: Hope Duckworth7)

The types of magnolias are divided into two large categories: shrubs and trees. The shrub form is more common, but it’s also more difficult to maintain because they have lax branches and tend to have lower branches that are difficult to prune. Trees are more common because they’re easier to maintain, but they also tend to be less fragrant than their shrub counterparts.

Sweet Bay Magnolia Tree Facts

The Sweet Bay Magnolia is a fast-growing, long-living tree. It has an upright growth habit and can reach heights of around 35 feet. The leaves are dark green, with five to seven lobes. The flowers are fragrant and white, with five large and ruffled petals.

The fruit is a round berry that turns black when ripe and burst open to spread the seeds.

Choosing Between Sweet Bay or Swamp Magnolia Tree

Choosing between a Sweetbay tree and a swamp magnolia tree is an important decision to make. The two species can be grown side by side, but they do have their differences. Sweetbay trees are medium-sized and usually bloom in the spring before the leaves emerge. They are also known as bay laurel trees because they resemble bay leaves. They also bloom around this time, but their flowers are white instead of pink, like those of sweet bay trees.

Swamp magnolia trees have a stronger fragrance than Sweetbay trees, but Sweetbay trees are more resistant to disease and pests. Swamps attract mosquitoes and other insects that can carry diseases, so you may want to choose swamp magnolia if you live in an area where these bugs tend to thrive.Both species have similar care requirements: they need full sun exposure and regular watering during dry spells during the growing season (spring through fall).

If you live in an area that experiences drought or cold temperatures during the winter months (November through March), you may want to consider planting both species together.

The Southern magnolia tree is the larger of the two varieties. This tree reaches 90 feet in height, and its branches spread out from its main trunk like a fan. The leaves are large, dark green, and leathery, with an oval shape. They’re also deeply lobed and have serrated edges.

The sweet bay tree is smaller – only reaching about 35 feet in height – and has thinner limbs that taper off at their ends. Its leaves are smaller and more pointed than its cousin’s, but they’re still fairly large and dark green.

Scientific Name for Sweet Bay Magnolia Tree

The sweet bay magnolia tree3 is a deciduous, coniferous tree in the magnolia family. The tree is often called sweet bay magnolia, sweet bay, or simply Magnolia virginiana in the United States. However, it has also been known by other names, including Magnolia tagliabuana and M. soulangeana.

Can You Transplant Sweet Bay Magnolia Tree?

The answer is yes; you can transplant sweet bay magnolia trees. Transplanting a tree is not as difficult as it sounds, but there are a few things you should know before you start. Transplanting a tree is a great way to refresh your yard or garden and make room for something new. It also allows you to experiment with different varieties of trees and shrubs.

The best time to transplant a sweet bay magnolia tree is in the morning before high temperatures have stressed the plant.

Sweet Bay Magnolia Tree Lifespan

The Sweet Bay Magnolia Tree is a beautiful tree that can live up to 80 years. The tree’s lifespan depends on how well it’s cared for and how often it receives water.

Close up image of a Sweetbay Magnolia tree with its white flower and green, long, and narrow leaves.

(Image: J E Theriot8)

With the right conditions, sweet bay magnolias4 are tough and adaptable. They are far less demanding than other magnolias. For example, they can be grown in a wider range of conditions. Even in cold climates, it does better if protected from freezing winds and given winter mulch.

Compared to other evergreen trees, the sweet bay is more prone to wood rot, so inspect the tree before buying and look for branches that are flaking or missing bark. With care, your Sweet Bay Magnolia will bloom and be a joy for many, many years to come.

Frequently Asked Questions About Sweet Bay Magnolia Tree

What Is the Sweet Bay Magnolia Tree Zone?

A magnolia sweet bay tree is a hardy tree that grows in USDA hardiness zones 5 through 9. They’re native to the southeastern United States but can also be grown in warmer climates if you live farther north or south.

When & Where Can I Plant a Sweetbay Magnolia?

The best time to plant a sweetbay magnolia5 is in early spring when the weather is still cold but conducive to growing plants outdoors. You’ll need plenty of space for your tree – an area at least 20 feet long will be adequate.

If you’ve chosen to place your sweetbay magnolia where it can get some sunlight, ensure you have enough room for its canopy to reach 20 feet above the ground. To encourage its growth, water regularly during the first three months after planting and give it fertilizer every two weeks during its first year of growth.

What Is the Sweet Bay Magnolia Tree Size and How Wide Will a Sweet Bay Magnolia Grow?

When you’re planning a garden, it’s important to figure out the sweet bay magnolia tree size and the size of the space you have. To do this effectively, you need to know how wide your plants will spread across the ground.

What Is the Sweet Bay Magnolia Tree Height?

The sweet bay magnolia tree height is about 35 feet and can grow at least 35 feet wide as well. This means that the sweet bay magnolia’s branches would reach about 35 feet above ground level in a garden with a foot of space between each plant.

Is Sweetbay Magnolia a Tree or a Bush? Can You Tell By Looking at Sweet Bay Magnolia Tree Pictures?

Sweetbay Magnolia is a tree. While it’s important to know the difference between a bush and a tree, it’s also important to note that, in some areas of the country, even trees can be called bushes. The words “tree” and “bush” are often used interchangeably in different parts of the country. For instance, in some parts of Texas, you may hear someone refer to a tree as a “cactus,” while in other parts of Texas, you may hear someone refer to a tree as an “oak.”

In general, though, Sweetbay magnolia is considered a tree because it grows taller than 6 feet (1.8 meters) and has trunk-like branches that spread out from its main stem (most trees do not have these). When you look at sweet bay magnolia tree pictures, you’ll realize it has leaves that resemble those of other trees. It has five broad leaflets on each leaf, and its leaflets are arranged in pairs along the branch.

What Is the Most Beautiful Magnolia Tree?

Magnolia denudata is a species of magnolia that is native to Asia and often considered the most beautiful. It is also called the “Chinese magnolia,” and it is a member of the magnolia family. The tree grows to be about 40 feet tall and has a similar diameter, making it one of the tallest flowering trees in its genus.

This plant has an oval-shaped leaf with an entire margin, long petioles, and large elliptic or triangular leaflets on either side. Its flowers are small in size and are white or creamy yellow. The flower clusters are arranged in panicles that grow from the top down or the bottom up, depending on whether or not they’re leaning against another tree or shrub.

The most beautiful part about this tree is its appearance when it’s in bloom during early springtime. The flowers stand out against their dark green leaves, which gives them an almost glowing appearance against their surroundings!

What Are the Most Common Sweetbay Magnolia Problems?

The Magnolia tree is beautiful, but it can also be a problematic one. The main problem with magnolias is their susceptibility to disease caused by a fungus that affects the roots and fruit. If you have a magnolia in your yard, ensure your lawn is free of dead grass and weeds so that this fungus does not spread.

Also, do not allow the soil around your magnolia to dry out completely. It would be best to plant mulch around it to help keep moisture in the soil. Finally, try to maintain proper watering practices for your magnolia by ensuring that you water it regularly throughout the summer months.


1NC Cooperative Extension. (2022). Magnolia virginiana. NC State Extension. Retrieved July 19, 2022, from <https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/magnolia-virginiana/>

2University of Florida. (2018, August 9). Sweetbay Magnolia. UF | IFAS Gardening Solutions. Retrieved July 19, 2022, from <https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/trees-and-shrubs/trees/sweetbay-magnolia.html>

3Sweetbay. (2022). Magnolia virginiana L. Retrieved July 19, 2022, from <https://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/pubs/misc/ag_654/volume_2/magnolia/virginiana.htm>

4Augusta Georgia. (2022). Sweetbay Magnolia. Augusta Georgia Recreation & Parks. Retrieved July 19, 2022, from <https://www.augustaga.gov/1635/Sweetbay-Magnolia>

5Wikipedia. (2022, April 21). Magnolia virginiana. Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved July 19, 2022, from <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnolia_virginiana>

6Rachelgreenbelt. (CC BY-SA 2.0). Resized. NC State Extension. Retrieved from <https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/magnolia-virginiana/>

7Hope Duckworth. (CC BY 4.0). Resized. NC State Extension. Retrieved from <https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/magnolia-virginiana//>

8J E Theriot. (CC BY 2.0). Resized. Flickr. Retrieved from <https://www.flickr.com/photos/jetheriot/7238184048/>

9Species Information Image: Magnolia flower, plant, pollen, and blossom Photo by Kenneth Baucum. (2021, June 8) / Unsplash License. Cropped and added text, shape, and background elements. Unsplash. Retrieved January 18, 2024, from <https://unsplash.com/photos/a-close-up-of-a-white-flower-on-a-tree-b_Ry_vHqHTQ>