How To Prune Magnolia Trees [And When To Do So]

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Magnolia trees can reach heights of 80 feet or more in perfect growing conditions. They’re often grown as ornamental trees. Pruning them can help maintain their shape and keep them from being overcome with diseases. If you are considering growing a magnolia tree for the first time, you may be wondering when and how often to prune the tree. In this post, we’ve researched the best pruning tactics to get the answers for you.

It’s best to prune evergreen magnolia trees in the middle or late spring after their blooming season (which is mid-summer and late autumn). On the other hand, deciduous magnolia trees should be pruned in late winter or early spring to trim down the previous year’s growth. Magnolias can be trimmed for aesthetic purposes or to remove diseased or dead branches.

Here are the steps to prune your magnolia tree:

  1. Disinfect your pruning shears.
  2. Remove any deadwood at the tree’s trunk.
  3. Inspect the branches for disease.
  4. Cut off branches that are too long.

There are different factors to consider when it comes to how and when to prune your magnolia tree. Throughout this post, we will discuss these factors and other variables related to growth rate and maintenance. Continue reading to learn more about magnolia tree pruning and more!

Magnolia flowers blooming gorgeously on a park, How To Prune Magnolia Trees [And When To Do So]

When To Prune Magnolia Trees

A park with magnolia trees with a pathwalk and street lamps

While pruning magnolia trees can help to keep them at a preferred shape, it isn’t necessarily a task that must be performed for the trees to remain healthy. Most arborists recommend trimming magnolias only as needed, as this plant does not heal as well as other plants do –meaning that too much trimming can harm the tree. As mentioned above, the best time to trim magnolias is after they bloom, and when doing, so you only want to trim a small amount of the tree. Here are a few items to note when it comes to pruning your Magnolia tree.

Regular Pruning

It’s not a good idea to prune magnolia trees regularly, as they can develop water sprouts. Water sprouts are vertical shoots that spring up alongside the branches of the tree. The sprouts drain energy from the tree and take up a lot of nutrients. The branch tips of a magnolia tree grow back, creating the sprouts. If your tree has ice or wind damage, it’s definitely worth pruning. But the tree doesn’t need a routine pruning regimen.

Prune To Shape Young Trees

A young magnolia tree can benefit more from pruning than an older tree –though it should still be limited. If you find that your young magnolia tree has many damaged, dead, or crossing limbs, you should prune it to help keep the tree healthy. Remember, magnolia trees heal rather slowly, so pruning them while they are young can help the limbs avoid attaining bigger wounds later on in the plant’s life.

Controlling The Tree’s Size

If you find that your magnolia tree is overgrown and in need of a bit of rejuvenation, the best time to do a major pruning is during the mid-summer. Pruning the tree in the early spring or late winter can cause the magnolia to bleed more — meaning that you will find a lot of sap flowing from the tree if you prune during this time. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, the dried sap on the tree’s bark can take away from the tree’s appeal, making it a bit unsightly. When you do prone the tree, be sure to make the cut all the way back to the side of the limbs and the main trunk to prevent water sprouts.

Steps To Prune Magnolia Trees

Things you’ll need:

  • Pruning shears
  • Trash bags
  • Paper towels
  • Soil
  • Water

Assemble all of your pruning materials

Double-check to make sure that you have all of your pruning materials available and place them near the tree. This includes trash bags, paper towels, as well as your pruning shears.

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1. Disinfect your pruning shears

Always disinfect your pruning shears before applying them to your tree. The easiest way to do this is by taking a cotton swab and dousing it in rubbing alcohol. Rub the swab over the shears and give them a few seconds to dry before pruning the tree. You’ll also want to disinfect the shears after your pruning session.

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2. Remove any deadwood at the tree’s trunk

Start pruning by cutting off any deadwood on the tree. You should recognize the wood easily, as it will be brittle and lighter colored than the rest of the wood. Deadwood typically won’t have any flowers or leaves growing from it. It’s best to use lopping shears to remove the deadwood if the branches are over an inch thick. Either way, the deadwood should be cut off from the tree regardless of the branch size.

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3. Inspect the branches for disease

Next, inspect the branches of the magnolia tree for any signs of damage or disease. Typical signs include drooping branches, discolored bark or leaves, and decaying wood on the side of the tree. If the damage is only located on a few branches, only remove those branches down to the trunk.

You’ll also want to check for any signs of fungus on the base of the tree near the grass. Look for mushrooms, strange growths, or areas where the soil is especially thinned around the tree. If you notice any disease-ridden areas around the tree, you can apply neem oil or a fungicide to the area.

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4. Cut off branches that are too long

Use a small hand or electric saw to cut off any branches over two inches in diameter. When cutting the branches, be sure to cut at least 16 inches away from the trunk and about one-third of the way through the entire branch. You’ll also want to make an additional cut at the top of the tree about one inch from the edge.

Be careful not to cut any healthy branches from the tree accidentally; only stick to ones that show signs of damage or disease. It can even help to place a piece of tape on the damaged branches before cutting them so that you can remember which ones need to be removed.

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Quick tips for pruning Magnolia trees

Always prioritize diseased and dead tree branches over healthy branches that may need a trim. Oftentimes, removing the healthy branches from your magnolia tree can do more damage than good. Also, never trim more than one-third of the entire tree at once, or you will find that your tree may struggle to thrive the next blooming season.

It’s always better to be conservative when trimming magnolia trees, as they are super-sensitive to pruning. Trimming too much can make the tree more susceptible to disease and reduce the tree’s blossom capability even temporarily. It’s best to use conventional tree pruning shears for small cuts on the magnolia tree. For larger branches, lopper shears will work best in addition to a hand or electric saw.

Do not prune your magnolia tree in the early spring or winter, and make sure to stick to a post-bloom pruning regime if you prefer to keep your tree in a certain design. If your magnolia tree has developed a disease, be sure to treat the disease effectively before pruning the tree again, or you’ll risk exacerbating its condition.

Magnolia Tree Tool Care

Since magnolia trees are extremely sensitive to pruning, it’s best to make sure that you are taking good care of your pruning tools. Here are a couple of ways to do this:

Sharpening

Ensure that you are making precise cuts on your magnolia tree, always keeping your pruning shears and loppers in the best working condition. Use a sharpening stone or electric sharpener to sharpen them before each pruning session (or check to see if they are already sharp enough beforehand). When working with electric saws, always keep replacement blades on deck just in case you damage one of the blades during pruning. You can also have your tools professionally sharpened at a local hardware store.

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Cleaning

Not only should your pruning tools be as sharp as possible, but they should also be sanitized before and after use. You’ll be surprised by how many newbie gardeners neglect to properly sanitize pruning tools and end up paying the price later on. It may seem like an inconvenience, but the fact is that tools can easily become contaminated when they make contact with bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other common microorganisms found in or around trees. Not to mention that these microorganisms can live on trimming tools for weeks and months.

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When you don’t clean your tools, you re-introduce microorganisms to trees and plants with each pruning session. So be sure to keep a good supply of 70% rubbing alcohol and or liquid bleach to keep your tools properly sanitized. Also, be sure to dilute the bleach with at least eight parts of water when cleaning your tools to prevent metal corrosion.

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Can You Cut Back Magnolia Trees?

Yes. If your magnolia tree is growing too much, you can definitely trim it down or cut it back to help reshape it or keep it from spilling out to the sidewalk or sides of your garden. Start by taking a good look at your magnolia tree at a distance of about 20 feet. Look at the top of the tree and the sides to determine areas that may need to be scaled back. Note these areas.

Begin trimming by cutting any young branches from the lower parts of the tree. Also, look for small branches that may grow at odd angles or crisscrossing with other branches on the tree. Next, take a look at more well-established branches that are extending farther than other branches. Remove these branches using an electric or hand saw. After you have finished your trimming session, step back from the tree and look at it again to inspect the final result.

Do Magnolia Trees Bloom Twice A Year?

Yes. However, it depends on the variety of the magnolia tree. These trees can bloom anytime between February and June. Evergreen southern magnolia trees are known for their bi-annual blossoms, which occur in the late spring and summer.

Can You Keep A Magnolia Tree Small?

Absolutely. Magnolia trees don’t reach their full potential until they’re around 10 years old. If you prefer to keep your magnolia tree in more of a bush-like state, you can simply keep it trimmed. Keep in mind that this will require vigilant pruning, which is not always easy. It’s best to start by deciding on a shape and sticking to a regular pruning regimen to keep the tree small. You can also plant the tree in an area away from direct sunlight to help stagnate its growth a bit.

Wrapping Things Up

In comparison to other trees, Magnolia trees don’t require major pruning sessions to thrive. Exceptions that would require pruning include damage from storms, wind, or branches that have grown too long or have become invasive. We hope that this post has provided you with the information you were looking for concerning how and when to prune your magnolia tree.

Before you go, be sure to check out our other posts:

How Long Do Magnolia Trees Live?

16 Types Of Magnolia Trees

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