Transplant Magnolia Soulangeana


Can I transplant a 3yo magnolia soulangeana tree?
how, when is the best time if it is possible?

Or can I transplant a branch? If so, how and when is it the best time to do it?


Thank you for contacting Toronto Master Gardeners about transplanting your Saucer Magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana).

Magnolia roots circle or girdle the trunk and root ball. Roots grow horizontally just under the surface of the soil and spread out wider than most trees. The texture of the roots is soft and rope-like without fine feeder roots. If you dig closely around the trunk, the majority of the root system will be lost. This sudden removal of the majority of the root system could result in transplant shock and possibly the demise of the tree. Magnolia trees grow quickly and at 3 years old, your tree may be too large to transplant. If the trunk is 4 inches (10 cm.) or less, there’s a better chance of a successful transplant. Magnolias do not respond well to be moved in the fall, so early spring would be best.

There is a practice of root pruning which takes place over a year or two. Using a sharp spade cut a circle about 12 inches (30 cm.) deep around the tree. The diameter of the circle is outside the original root ball and dependent on the size of the tree. The cutting encourages a finer root system to establish closer to the trunk.  Digging the tree up afterwards may reduce transplant shock. Below is a link describing this process:

Transplanting and Root Pruning Trees & Shrubs

This process may or may not work. The University of Florida published a PDF research project on this topic entitled “Effect of root pruning prior to transplanting on establishment southern magnolia in the landscape”. It’s quite detailed but worth a “google” to read.

You asked about another way of propagating your magnolia. The University of Arkansas has a website with detailed information to magnolia queries. Below is a quote from a October 2005 question:

“Magnolias can be started from seeds, cuttings or layering. You should be seeing mature, ripe seed pods now. The cones containing the seeds will begin to darken and dry, and the emerging red seeds will be visible. Try to harvest as soon as they are ripe, and begin the process as soon as possible. Don’t store the seeds for later use. Take the seeds and remove the outer pulp. To help break the hard outer seed coat, lightly rub the seeds between a sheet of sand paper. Then place the seeds in a plastic bag filled with moist peat moss or potting soil. Place that in your refrigerator for several months, then pot up and wait for growth. The combination of scarification (the abrading of the outer seed coat) and stratification (the cool, moist storage period) should result in seedlings. Of course, this happens naturally outdoors. You can create a “nursery” bed outside, and plant numerous seeds in the ground, and then wait for them to grow next spring. Cuttings are best taken in June to July from new growth that has gradually hardened off. An easier method than cuttings is to layer some of the lower limbs of the tree. Take a low hanging branch and lightly wound it on the bottom and mound soil over it. Weight it down, and wait until next spring. By then it should have sprouted roots.”

Propogating Magnolia – University of Arkansas

Depending on the size and reason for transplanting your Saucer Magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana), there is always the option of purchasing a new nursery grown plant. They are grown in preparation for transplanting and have a good chance of survival. Best of luck with your magnolia!