Magnolia Companion Plants: What Grows Good With Magnolia Trees

A japanese magnolia tree blooming in the spring over tulips
Image by Darryl Brooks

By Jackie Carroll

Magnolias have a large canopy that dominates the landscape. You can’t help but focus your attention on their huge spread of glossy green leaves, fragrant white flowers, and exotic cones that sometimes fill with bright red berries. If you’re wondering what you can plant with these beautiful trees, we’re here to help.

Magnolia Tree Companions

Selecting magnolia companion plants can be a challenge. If you have an evergreen variety, anything you plant under the tree must tolerate the deepest shade. Deciduous varieties have the additional challenge of managing the large, leathery, and sometimes crispy leaves that fall from the tree. If you’re up to the task, deciduous varieties allow you to plant some early spring-flowering plants that like partial or filtered sun beneath the branches.

What Grows Good With Magnolias?


There are companions for magnolia trees regardless of the type. Let’s take a look at some options.

Camellias are lovely shrubs with flowers that echo the shape and texture of magnolia flowers, but in a smaller size and wider range of colors. The blossoms appear in late fall or early spring, depending on variety, in shades of white, pink and red. They need light shade. The leaves scorch when they get too much sun and they don’t bloom well when they get too much shade. Plant camellias near but not directly under a magnolia.

Bulbs make ideal magnolia tree companions. Plant them along the edge of the canopy, or a little further in if you have a deciduous magnolia. Bulbs look their best in groupings. Choose a mixture of spring, summer and fall bulbs so that you always have something in bloom. Daffodils and dwarf irises are among the first to bloom, and a mix of bright yellow daffodils and purple dwarf irises never fails to make you think of little girls in their bright Easter dresses. You can find daffodils in pink and white as well as the traditional yellow.

Most summer- and fall-blooming bulbs are going to need a lot of sunlight. Many of them grow well in containers, so you can shuffle them around as the seasons change to help them catch just the right amount of light. Calla lilies look great in pots. Picture them in front of a mound of elephant ears. You can plant the elephant ears under the outer branches where they can enjoy half shade and half sun.

A mixed planting of ferns and hostas looks lovely under a magnolia tree, and they do well on just a few hours of morning sunlight. Foliage plants can completely transform the area by giving it a lush look. Grass won’t grow under a magnolia tree, but you can depend on shade-tolerant foliage plants to serve as ground cover.

When choosing shade plants compatible with magnolias, look for those with white or light-colored variegation. Light colors stand out under a tree while dark colors fade in the shade. For example, white callas seem to shine on the fringes of the shade, but you may not even notice deep purple ones. Keep this in mind when choosing flowers.

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