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Gardenia vs Magnolia: 6 Key Differences

Magnolias and gardenias both stand out as exceptional ornamental plants, each with their own allure. The distinct beauty of a tree blossoming with sizable flowers is indeed captivating.

The primary distinction lies in their blooms. Magnolia flowers exhibit a diverse palette of colors and forms, varying with species and cultivar. In contrast, gardenia blooms are limited to shades of white or yellow. Additionally, magnolias typically surpass gardenias in size.

Magnolia Gardenia
Hardiness zone 4-10 7-11
Mature height 8-70 ft 4-12 ft
Mature width 4-45 ft 4-12 ft
Growth rate fast medium, fast
Light exposure full sun, partial shade full sun, partial shade
Soil moist, drained moist, drained
Soil pH 5.0-6.0 5.0-6.0
Watering 1 time per week in a drought 1 time per week in a drought
Diseases fungus fungus
Pests insects insects
Magnolia vs Gardenia

Magnolia and Gardenia

Their blooms are different

The diversity in magnolia species far exceeds that of gardenias. This is primarily due to the extensive cultivation of magnolias, leading to a vast array of varieties. In comparison, gardenias have around  200 varieties, offering a decent but more limited selection. Magnolias are available in various colors and sizes, enhancing their appeal.

A prominent example is the Magnolia grandiflora, also known as the southern magnolia, native to the United States. This variety is renowned for its striking white blossoms. The ‘Little Gem’ variant of Magnolia grandiflora is compact, with dark green leaves that persist through winter and a columnar form, adorned with white flowers.

Magnolias are not only varied in color but also in floral shape. For instance, Magnolia stellata features long, slender petals that give its flowers a star-like appearance. The ‘Jane Platt’ variety is notable for its exquisite light pink flowers.

In contrast, gardenia varieties predominantly feature white flowers of varying sizes, though some have different hues. Despite this, gardenias retain their charm.

The Gardenia jasminoides, or Cape jasmine, is a favored gardenia species, known for its rose-like white blooms. ‘Golden Magic’ is a remarkable gardenia variety, starting with white flowers that transition to a bright yellow, reaching up to three inches in diameter.

Gardenias typically flower in late spring or early summer, distinguishing them from magnolias, which bloom in late winter or early spring. However, with proper care, magnolias can be encouraged to bloom again.

Gardenias are smaller than magnolias

Generally, gardenias are smaller compared to magnolias. While there are gardenia species reaching heights of up to 48 feet (15 meters), the varieties commonly found for sale typically grow no taller than 6 feet (1.8 meters).

Most gardenias are shrubby in nature, averaging around 4 to 6 feet (1.2 to 1.8 meters) in height. However, there are also gardenias available in the market that can grow up to 12 feet (3.6 meters) tall, resembling small trees.

In contrast, magnolias are significantly larger. They can easily attain heights between 8 and 10 feet, with some species, like the Magnolia grandiflora, reaching up to 90 feet (27.5 meters) tall and spreading about 45 feet (13 meters) wide.

teddy bear magnolia care

Teddy Bear Magnolia

There are also dwarf varieties of magnolias, such as the Magnolia × soulangeana ‘Lilliputian’, which grows to a modest 4 feet in height.

Besides size, gardenias and magnolias also differ in their growth rates. Gardenias, being mostly shrubby, tend to grow more slowly, averaging about one foot per year. Magnolias, on the other hand, can grow an average of 2 feet or more annually.

Not all magnolias evergreen

All gardenias are evergreen, meaning they retain their foliage throughout the year. While they do shed some older leaves (typically those 2-3 years old), the majority of their leaves remain intact.

Conversely, not all magnolias are evergreen. Some species are deciduous, losing their leaves at the end of the growing season. In these types of magnolias, new leaves emerge in spring from the buds.

Examples of evergreen magnolias include:

  • Magnolia grandiflora
  • Magnolia amazonica
  • Magnolia hodgsonii
  • Magnolia nana
  • Magnolia delavayi

On the other hand, examples of deciduous magnolias are:

  • Saucer magnolia
  • Magnolia stellata
  • Magnolia denudata
  • Purple Lily Magnolia
  • Magnolia loebneri ‘Leonard Messell’
white magnolia tree

Royal Star Magnolia

A unique feature of deciduous magnolias is their flowering pattern. They often bloom before the leaves unfurl, creating a spectacular display of flowers on bare branches.

Additionally, there are semi-evergreen magnolias, such as Magnolia virginiana. This type sheds its leaves in colder climates (in hardiness zones 6 and above), but in warmer regions, the foliage persists through winter.

Magnolias are hardier

Gardenias thrive in climatic zones ranging from 8 to 11. Some species can withstand temperatures as low as 15 °F (-9 °C). The ‘Kleim’s Hardy’ variety is notably cold-resistant and can be cultivated in hardiness zone 7.

On the other hand, magnolias can be grown in a wider range of climatic zones, from 4 to 10. Their frost tolerance varies among species. Magnolia stellata and Magnolia x soulangiana are among the most frost-resistant, with some varieties able to grow in zone 4.

Magnolia champaca, known for its preference for warmth, is one of the most heat-tolerant magnolias and can be grown in areas north of zone 10. It retains its foliage throughout the winter, maintaining its beauty year-round.

Thus, magnolias are generally better equipped to handle more extreme temperature variations than gardenias, allowing for a broader cultivation range.

Magnolias are more expensive

Magnolia Tree Care

Magnolia crassipes

Magnolias tend to be pricier than gardenias, with their cost ranging between $30 to $100. Varieties of magnolias with unique flower colors, like the ‘Blue Opal’, are often at the higher end of this spectrum, sometimes costing as much as $200.

In contrast, gardenias are relatively more affordable. Their prices start at around $19 and can go up to $50. These figures are averages, and prices can vary, but generally, gardenias are less expensive than magnolias.

Gardenia can be a groundcover

Gardenias offer the unique feature of having creeping varieties, such as the Gardenia jasminoides ‘Radicans’. This particular variety serves well as a groundcover, beautifying the soil around homes with its attractive white flowers.

The Gardenia jasminoides ‘Radicans’ typically grows to a height of only 2-3 feet, but it can spread outwards to 3-4 feet or more, responding well to pruning. It’s a relatively hardy plant, adaptable to growing in zones 7-10.

At the same time, magnolias can only have a tree or shrub form.


Based on the information in this article, it’s clear that gardenias are well-suited for smaller spaces near the house. They can be cultivated as shrubs, either individually or in combination with other plants, and can even be used to form low hedges.

Magnolias, on the other hand, are more impressive as standalone plants, thanks to their larger size and the variety of flower colors available across different types. To fully appreciate the beauty of a magnolia, ample space is required to allow it to grow and flourish.