How to Prune a Magnolia Tree: Your Step-by-Step Guide

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How to Prune a Magnolia Tree: Your Step-by-Step Guide

If you’ve got a magnolia tree in your yard, you’re already winning in the garden game. Those magnificent blooms and glossy leaves can make your garden a dreamy, picture-perfect oasis. But to keep your magnolia in tip-top shape, you need to know when and how to prune a Magnolia Tree the right way. Fear not, dear gardener, we’ve got your back! In this step-by-step guide, we’ll walk you through the whens, hows, and what-nots of magnolia tree pruning.

When to Prune a Magnolia Tree

Timing is everything when it comes to magnolia pruning. You don’t want to risk trimming off those gorgeous blooms unintentionally. The ideal time to prune your magnolia tree is between mid-summer and early autumn to prevent sap bleeding. Also, make sure to cut back to natural forks to avoid leaving stubs.

Preparations: The Tools You’ll Need

Before you embark on your magnolia pruning adventure, you must gather a few essential tools. Here’s what you’ll need:

  1. Pruning Shears: Opt for a pair of high-quality hand pruning shears. They should be sharp and ready to tackle branches of various sizes.
  2. Loppers: For those thicker branches, loppers are your best friends. They provide the extra oomph you need to cut through larger sections.
  3. Pruning Saw: When the branches are too hefty even for loppers, a pruning saw comes to the rescue. Choose one with a sharp, curved blade for efficient cutting.
  4. Gloves: Protect your hands with a sturdy pair of gloves. Magnolia trees can be quite thorny, and gloves will save your fingers from unpleasant surprises.
  5. Safety Goggles: Don’t forget your safety goggles. It’s all fun and games until a branch smacks you in the face.
How to Prune a Magnolia Tree: Your Step-by-Step Guide

How to Prune a Magnolia Tree: Step-by-Step

Okay, now that you’ve got your tools ready, let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of magnolia pruning. We’ll walk you through the process step by step:

Step 1: Inspection Time

Take a good look at your magnolia tree. Identify any dead, damaged, or diseased branches. These need to go first. After disinfecting your shears and saw, remove them as close to the main trunk as possible (about an inch away from the trunk) without damaging the tree’s collar.

Besides cutting out affected branches, you might also have to consider using a fungicide or neem oil for treatment. Typical magnolia ailments comprise verticillium wilt, fungal leaf spot, or algal leaf spot.

If you spot cankers or signs of disease on your magnolia’s main trunk, you might need to remove the tree completely, but first, consult with an arborist.

Canker on Magnolia tree
Canker on Magnolia tree

Step 2: Thin It Out

Magnolia trees tend to get pretty dense. To allow more air and sunlight to penetrate, thin out the interior branches. Remove any crossing or overcrowded branches. This step helps reduce the risk of diseases and encourages healthy growth.

Remember! Removing larger, healthy branches can hurt your tree. Stay clear of pruning those.

Step 3: Shaping Up

If your magnolia has grown a little unruly and lost its shape, it’s time to bring it back in line. Gently trim the younger, side-shoots to maintain your desired shape. Magnolias look fantastic when they have a natural, full, and rounded form.

Step 4: Cutting the Right Way

When you make a cut, do it about a quarter of an inch above a bud or branch junction. This encourages healthy new growth. Make sure to cut at a slight angle, which helps water runoff and prevents disease from settling on the cut.

Step 5: Step Back and Assess

Every few minutes, take a step back and assess your progress. Ensure you’re achieving the desired shape and that you’re not going too crazy with the pruning. Remember, less is often more with magnolias.

How to Prune Wall-Trained Magnolias

When it comes to wall-trained magnolias, the timing is key. You’ll want to do the pruning in the summer, which is after the magnificent blooms have graced your garden. This timing reduces the risk of accidentally trimming off those beautiful flower buds.

Focus on removing any stems that are making a beeline for the wall. We don’t want any plant hugs with the bricks. On the flip side, those branches growing away from the wall should be shortened to just one or two leaves.

  1. Tying and Training: Regularly tie new growth to your trellis or wall to keep the tree’s shape. As the branches grow, secure them in the direction you desire.
  2. Remove Unwanted Shoots: Wall-trained magnolias can send up lots of unwanted shoots from the base. Prune these out regularly to ensure your tree is using its energy wisely.


Once you’ve given your magnolia tree a much-needed haircut, it’s time to focus on aftercare to ensure its health and happiness:

  1. Mulch: Apply a layer of mulch around the base of your magnolia tree to help conserve moisture and deter weeds. This also keeps the soil cool, which magnolias love.
  2. Water: Magnolias typically don’t require a lot of water once they are older, but in the first 2 years, make sure to give them a deep soak to keep their roots happy about twice a week.
  3. Fertilize: A slow-release, balanced fertilizer in spring can give your magnolia an extra boost.
  4. Keep an Eye Out: Regularly inspect your magnolia tree for signs of disease or pests. If you spot any issues, deal with them promptly.
  5. Patience: Remember, magnolias are slow growers, so don’t be discouraged if it takes some time for your pruning efforts to show results.

In conclusion, pruning your magnolia tree doesn’t have to be a daunting task. With the right timing, tools, and a bit of know-how, you can keep your magnolia healthy, happy, and ready to grace your garden with its stunning blossoms. So, grab your shears and get to work, and remember that a little pruning goes a long way in maintaining the beauty of your magnolia tree. Happy gardening!

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I cut the top off my magnolia tree?

Pruning a young magnolia tree keeps it healthy and boosts flower production, but older magnolias can’t bounce back from pruning and may suffer fatal damage. So, reserve pruning for mature magnolias as a last-ditch effort when absolutely needed.

When is the best time to prune a magnolia tree?

Trim magnolia trees between mid-summer and early autumn to prevent sap bleeding, and make sure to cut back to natural forks to avoid leaving stubs.

Can I prune a magnolia tree during its blooming season?

Yes, you can prune your magnolia trees during blooming, however, you probably don’t want to cut down potentially beautiful flowers.

Can I propagate magnolia trees from the cuttings during pruning?

To propagate magnolia trees from cuttings, start in summer after bud setting. Use a sterilized knife or pruner to cut 6-8 inch growing tips of branches, placing them in water as you go. Strip lower leaves, make a 2-inch vertical slice at the stem’s end, dip it in hormone solution, and plant in moist perlite-filled planters.