Many magnolia varieties exist, and each year brings new ones. Yet, some types remain popular even decades after their introduction
The main difference between Little Gem Magnolia and Teddy Bear Magnolia lies in their size and foliage. Little Gem Magnolia is smaller, growing up to 20-25 feet tall, with narrow, glossy green leaves and a compact, upright growth habit. It’s well-suited for smaller spaces or as a hedge plant.
Teddy Bear Magnolia, on the other hand, is slightly wider, reaching 16-20 feet in height, but is notable for its dense, upright conical shape and larger, lush green leaves with a velvety bronze underside.
Both are evergreen and produce large, fragrant white flowers, but the Teddy Bear’s leaves and overall form give it a distinct, plush appearance, resembling a teddy bear.
|Magnolia Teddy Bear
|Magnolia Little Gem
|USDA Hardiness zone
|15-20 ft (4.5-6 m)
|15-25 ft (4.5-7.5 m)
|10-12 ft (3-3.6 m)
|8-10 ft (2.4-3 m)
|5” long and 3” wide
|5” long and 2” wide
|yes (late summer, fall, early winter)
|Full sun, partial shade
|Full sun, partial shade
|One time per week in a drought
|One time per week in a drought
These two magnolia varieties differ notably in their growth habits, despite both being medium-sized and pyramidal in shape.
The Little Gem typically reaches 15-20 feet in height, and under ideal, warm climate conditions, it can grow up to 25 feet. Its width generally does not exceed 10 feet, giving it a more elongated, narrower form.
In contrast, the Teddy Bear usually doesn’t grow taller than 20 feet, but it can spread out to 10 or even 12 feet in width. This means it has a broader, more expansive pyramidal shape.
Additionally, the growth rates of these trees are slightly different, with the Little Gem growing somewhat faster than the Teddy Bear.
Based on these characteristics, if you’re looking for a tree with a wider canopy for shade, the Teddy Bear is the better choice. Conversely, if your priority is a quickly maturing, beautiful flowering tree, the Little Gem would be more suitable.
The blooming patterns of the Little Gem and Teddy Bear magnolias are similar yet have several key differences.
Firstly, the flower color varies slightly between the two. Both have white petals and similar flower sizes, around 8 inches in diameter. However, the Teddy Bear’s blooms are a creamy white, whereas the Little Gem’s flowers have a more grayish-white hue. This difference is subtle but becomes apparent upon closer inspection.
Secondly, their flowering periods differ. Both magnolias bloom initially in spring, followed by a pause during the summer heat when they shed their flowers. The Little Gem starts its second bloom in late summer, extending through fall and sometimes into early December. In contrast, the Teddy Bear has a second bloom in early fall only.
Additionally, the Little Gem’s blooms last longer during both its first and second flowering phases, offering a more extended blooming period compared to the Teddy Bear.
Finally, the Little Gem generally produces more flowers than the Teddy Bear. While the difference is not drastic, it is noticeable.
Read also: How To Care For Magnolias
The final distinction between these two magnolia varieties lies in their leaves, with each type exhibiting unique characteristics that contribute to differing foliage appearances.
The Teddy Bear magnolia has leaves that are about 5 inches long and 3 inches wide, with an oblong-oval shape. In comparison, the Little Gem’s leaves are slimmer, measuring 5 inches in length but only 2 inches in width. The broader leaves of the Teddy Bear tend to have a slightly more attractive appearance.
Another notable feature is the fuzz on the underside of the leaves. The Little Gem possesses a very fine, light brown fuzz that is almost invisible and can only be felt by touch. On the other hand, the Teddy Bear’s leaves have a more noticeable, almost fur-like fuzz with a much deeper brown color.
This results in a striking contrast for the Teddy Bear, between the vibrant green on the top of the leaf and the rich brown underneath. The Little Gem lacks this dramatic effect. Additionally, the leaves of the Teddy Bear are a shade darker, giving them a more robust appearance.
Let’s explore what the Little Gem and Teddy Bear magnolias share in common.
Both varieties are known for their delightful scent, a key reason many homeowners choose magnolias. Their fragrance, which is sweet and strong, can be sensed from a distance and attracts bees and other insects, bringing life to the garden. The Little Gem has a slightly longer blooming period, offering a more extended duration of its pleasant aroma.
Little Gem and Teddy Bear magnolias are not overly demanding. They thrive in USDA hardiness zones 7 to 9, with some nurseries suggesting zone 10a, although this is less certain. Both types need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight daily, though in zone 7, up to 8 hours is beneficial. The Teddy Bear can tolerate slightly less light than the Little Gem. They both flourish in full sun, enhancing leaf color and bloom abundance.
Once established, these magnolias can withstand some drought, but regular watering is essential, especially during the first year after planting and in summer droughts. Watering once or twice a week with at least 1 gallon of water is recommended, increasing to 2-3 gallons in severe drought. In spring and fall, natural soil moisture usually suffices unless conditions are unusually dry. Avoid watering in winter to prevent root rot.
Both magnolias adapt well to various soil types. However, the ideal soil is a loose, nutrient-rich substrate that retains moisture without waterlogging.
Both magnolias are generally hardy, but they can encounter issues like verticillium wilt, which affects branches and leaves. Sterile tools and proper planting in sunny, well-aerated locations help prevent this. Fungal infections, visible as leaf spots, can be treated with fungicides. Pest issues, particularly scale, require regular horticultural oil sprays, with stronger insecticides for more severe infestations.