Propagating magnolias: propagation by cuttings, layering etc.


For me plants are some of the most exciting living beings, even though they live in slow motion. They have fascinating abilities and just so much potential! That's why I studied organic farming. However, since plants are rather thin on the ground in my city, I often spend time hiking in the nearby mountains at the weekend. In the future I would love to run a farm myself.

Favourite fruit: strawberries and gooseberries
Favourite vegetable: courgettes

There are several options for increasing the number of magnolias in your garden. Let us show you how to best propagate magnolias.

red magnolia seed on pod
Learn all about how to propagate magnolia in this article [Photo: Kenneth McIntyre/]

A real eye-catcher and a beautiful tree, the magnolia (Magnolia) is predestined for propagation trials. Even the tree’s fruit look temptingly artistic. Perhaps you even want to plant a small avenue or hedge of magnolias.

Buying magnolias is expensive, but you can also multiply the beautiful tree yourself in many ways. We have summarised how to do this for you here.

Propagating magnolias from seed

In autumn, magnolia trees bear extravagant fruit. These bright red fruits swell out of the large infructescence, and look as if someone has polished them to a high gloss. With a little help, these fruits can be grown into young magnolia plants. Since magnolia seeds only germinate, if they have experienced a prolonged cold period, you cannot plant the fruit in a pot. One option is to simply leave the fruit outside over the winter, and then sow in the spring. The second option is to put the fruit in the freezer for two to three months. If the fruits have had a sufficiently long period of cold weather, you can soak them in warm water to remove the pulp. This reveals the black or brown seeds.

Prepare a container with suitable soil and plant the seeds. They can be lightly covered with soil and should always be kept moist. It also helps to put a transparent plastic bag over the pot. The container with the seeds is now best put outside in a bright place. If there are still occasional sub-zero temperatures outside, you should find an unheated place without frost for your budding seedlings. Now, germination can take several months.

single dried magnolia seed pod
Cover the black or brown seeds with the appropriate soil and keep them moist at all times [Photo:Dario Lo Presti/]

The beauty of growing from seed is that you can immediately can grow several plants and observe the growing process from the beginning. However, it can take many years before a self sown magnolia begins to bloom. You will need to stay patient for up to ten years. In addition, the success rate of propagation from seed is quite low.

Magnolia propagation from seed summary:

  • Expose the fruits to frost, either outside or in the freezer, for roughly 3 months
  • Soak fruit in warm water to be able to remove fruit pulp more easily
  • Sow the black or brown seeds in prepared soil and cover with more soil
  • Put the pot in a bright and frost-free place, preferably in the open air
  • Germination can take several months

Propagating magnolias from cuttings

Magnolias do not like being cut, as we have learned. However, it is still worth taking a cutting from them. Why not take the opportunity if you plan to prune your magnolia this year anyway? You can easily find a branch that is suitable for a cutting. It should still be young and green and cut to a length of about 15 centimetres. Now, place the cutting in slightly acidic potting soil. If you keep the soil nice and moist, you may soon see the cutting take root and grow. It is best to leave the container with the cutting outside in a bright place, but protect the soil from direct sunlight and heat. Unfortunately, magnolia cuttings do not succeed quite as reliably as those taken from currants (Ribes) or rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), yet this method can still be worthwhile.

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Magnolia propagation from sinkers

The right time to propagate magnolia through sinkers is immediately after flowering. To do this, select a branch that is young and elastic, and can be bent down to the ground without breaking. The closer it grows to the ground, the easier it is to bend downwards. Now select a point on the branch where the future plant should take root. Now scratch here with a sharp, disinfected knife at an angle to the branch (not too deep!). Do this several times and on all sides. Now make a small hole a few centimetres deep in the soil and place the scratched area of the sinker into it. Next, fill in the hole again, so that the sinker is covered with soil in all scratched places, the tip of the branch should still be uncovered. You can put a stone on top to weigh it down so that the whole branch does not spring back up. It may well take a year for the sinker to take root. Only then, can you cut the connecting point between the mother plant and the sinker, and repot the new cutting.

Tip: You can save the hassle of repotting by planting part of the branch straight into a pot filled with soil instead of in the ground. This way, you will not have to dig up the little plant and will spare its delicate roots.

Summary magnolia propagation from sinkers:

  • Select and elastic branch that can be bent to the ground
  • Slightly score the branch several times in one place
  • Dig a hole in the ground or in a prepared pot
  • Place the scored part of the branch in the hole and cover with soil
  • Use a stone as a weight
  • When the cuttings take root after about a year, separate them from the mother plant

Propagating magnolias by air layering

Air layering is the fourth and perhaps the most demanding method of magnolia propagation. The good thing is that you can obtain a relatively large plant from the mother plant with this method. Here, too, the optimal time is immediately after flowering. First select a shoot. This should be about one to two centimetres thick near the base. This part will later become your new plant. Now take a sharp and disinfected knife and carefully remove a two-centimeter strip of bark around the branch. Only remove the bark, the water-conducting wood should be damaged as little as possible. Now generously wrap damp moss around the spot. To keep the whole thing nice and moist, you should now put a plastic bag over it. It will now probably take three to five months for roots to develop. Then you can remove the bag and cut the branch from the tree. Now you can plant the branch and its roots in a prepared pot with soil.

air layering magnolia stem with moss
During air layering you cut off nutrient supply, but not water supply – keeping the shoot alive and encouraging it to grow roots [Photo: JaturunThakard/]

In order for your homegrown magnolia to develop into a magnificent magnolia tree, it is recommended to provide the plant with nutrients through compost or with a slow-release fertiliser after a while, such as with our Plantura All Purpose Plant Food.

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Conclusion: the best way to propagate magnolia

Magnolias can be propagated either from seed, by cuttings, through sinkers or by air layering. In order for you to choose the most suitable method, we have summarised the most important information for you here.

Propagating magnolia summary:

  • Propagating magnolia is quite a lengthy process – all methods require several months to a year
  • Propagation methods: from seed, by cuttings, via sinkers or by air layering
  • Propagation via sinkers or air layering is the most successful; sinkers are the easiest to make
  • The best time for propagation is always in the spring immediately after flowering (with the exception of sowing, of course)

Learn how best to plant magnolias after successful propagation in our special article.

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