When most people think of magnolias, the common evergreen Southern Magnolia comes to mind. Because there are several deciduous magnolias that are smaller and more versatile in the landscape, and they should be used more often. There is a deciduous magnolia for almost any site or need.
The Saucer Magnolia is the most familiar deciduous magnolia. The large pink to lavender buds open to show white throats and can reach up to 8 inches across. The flowers, which prompt many to call the Saucer Magnolia a tulip tree, come before the leaves and are a striking contrast against the smooth, graceful, gray trunks. The Saucer Magnolia is a small, low-branching tree, growing to 30 feet.
If you need an even smaller tree or a large shrub, the Star Magnolia is one of my favorites. The white star-like flowers are smaller, but numerous and very fragrant. The Star Magnolia grows to a height and spread of 15 to 20 feet and is attractive as a specimen or in a shrub border. Grown most often as a multi-stem shrub, these can be grown as a single stem specimens with a little effort.
For a damp or shady spot, the Sweet Bay Magnolia is a good selection. Native throughout the East Coast, it ranges from a small deciduous tree in its northern limits to a large evergreen tree in the deep South. The creamy flowers have the typical aromatic citrusy magnolia scent and will provide blooms in the shade where many plants do not.
With the exception of the Sweet Bay, magnolias require rich, moist, but well-drained soil, and do best in full sun. Spring is the best time for planting. Water deeply, and mulch well at planting. As with any large shrub or tree, the plant will need to have supplemental irrigation during the first 2-3 years or so when rainfall is insufficient. Once the plant is established, avoid disturbing the roots and pruning is usually only needed to remove dead, damaged, or diseased wood.