How to Trim a Magnolia Tree [5 Essential Pruning Tips]

Magnolia trees rarely require pruning apart from removing diseased branches and dead limbs. In fact, most magnolias hate pruning and want to be pruned as little as possible. Evergreen magnolias often don’t need to be pruned at all. However, deciduous magnolias can benefit from late summer or early fall trims. To prune deciduous magnolias, first, get sharp and clean pruning shears. Remove dead branches first, followed by diseased branches. Finally, remove any branches that don’t match the tree’s shape.

How to trim a magnolia tree

5 Steps to Trim a Magnolia Tree

An evergreen magnolia tree doesn’t really need trimming. However, deciduous varieties benefit from regular pruning every year. Be sure to opt for light pruning over heavy pruning as much as possible. Southern magnolias don’t tolerate much pruning. Going overboard with pruning can harm most types of magnolias. If you are going to prune though, here are the best ways to go about doing so.

Clean and Sharpen Your Pruning Shears

Prune magnolia trees with shears that have been well-maintained and are clean. Dull shears are poor tools for pruning southern magnolias. They risk tearing branches instead of cutting them. If your branches tear during pruning, this can open wounds in your tree that increase the risk of infection and insect infestation. Even weak limbs will need sharp shears for a clean cut.

  • Sharp shears are best for clean cuts.
  • Dull shears can damage your tree, increasing the risk of plant disease.
  • Keep your shears disinfected to reduce the spread of disease between plants.

Dirty shears can also carry disease and detritus that can sicken your attractive tree. Just like a surgeon wouldn’t use a dirty scalpel, you shouldn’t use unclean shears. Use rubbing alcohol to douse the blades of your shears after use. This will kill harmful bacteria that can infect your magnolia tree.

Check for Signs of Disease

Removing diseased wood should be your highest priority when pruning a magnolia. Signs of disease include fungal leaf spots, wood rot, and cankers. Failing to remove diseased wood can lead to root rot and your whole tree dying.

  • Diseased branches should be your first pruning target.
  • Diseases can cause extensive issues in magnolia trees.
  • Remove diseased branches by clipping them off where they meet the parent branch or trunk.
  • Do not leave “coat hanger” branch stubs.

Since magnolias are enormous, a dead tree would need to be removed by tree surgeons. Tree surgeons specialize in precision tree removal to avoid causing damage to buildings. This is a useful service but it is still expensive and dangerous. It’s best to save your mature magnolia tree from disease so you don’t have to rely on this option.

Remove Dead or Damaged Branches

Damaged limbs are the next highest priority for heavy pruning. Limbs with severe damage will limit tree growth and can injure healthy branches when they fall off. Be sure to check limbs for storm damage every year since storms are the most common source of injury for magnolias.

  • Remove any dead or damaged branches from your magnolia tree during pruning.
  • Dead and dying branches can easily become infected with disease or rot, which will spread to the rest of the tree.
  • Dead branches can break unexpectedly in windy conditions and may damage healthy branches when they fall.

Dead wood needs to be removed quickly to protect your plant from rot and disease. Carpenter ants, termites, and other tree pests begin by attacking the dead portion of the tree. If you don’t remove dead branches, you put your magnolia’s health at risk. When pruning, keep in mind there are several reasons to never use pruning paint after removing a tree limb.

Protect Healthy Branches

Southern magnolia tree branches are fairly delicate and prone to damage. Even under ideal conditions, healthy branches can be easily killed or broken. Be sure to carefully remove branches in such a way that they don’t hit healthy branches. It helps to remove branches in sections, beginning furthest from the trunk and working back toward the trunk. This way, a heavy branch won’t fall onto healthy branches below.

  • Healthy branches can be easily injured by the fall of pruned branches.
  • Use great care to keep healthy branches safe during pruning.
  • Remove large branches in sections to prevent heavy limbs from damaging your tree as they fall.

Bark damage should be avoided at all costs as well. Damaged wood can die easily and lead to structural issues for your magnolia. Be sure to get a friend to help you prune so that the two of you can guide pruned branches safely out of the tree canopy.

Avoid Shaping Your Tree

You may be tempted to trim your tree into an attractive shape but you absolutely should not. Magnolia trees do not take well to needless trimming. You can cause severe damage to mature trees by over-trimming. Save arrangements like the conical shape, rounded shape, or pyramidal shape for other deciduous trees.

  • Avoid pruning to “shape” your tree.
  • Shaping your magnolia tree with shears can hamper your tree’s growth or kill it outright.
  • The only safe way to shape a magnolia is to use guiding wires from the time of planting.

If you don’t want your magnolia to grow into its natural shape, you can shape it as a seedling using wire guides when you first plant it. This is a much kinder and gentler method of shaping that magnolia varieties respond to well.

When Should You Prune a Magnolia Tree?

Evergreen magnolias don’t need to be pruned. However, if you are going to prune an evergreen magnolia, this job is best done in late spring. Deciduous magnolia trees can be pruned anytime from late summer to late winter. In general, you want to wait for the tree’s dormant season before pruning.

  • Evergreens don’t need to be pruned at all. However, they can be pruned in late spring
  • Deciduous magnolia varieties are best pruned in late summer or fall.
  • You can also consider pruning during the winter dormant season.

It can be harder to tell which limbs need pruning during the dormant period when your magnolia has no leaves. However, it is safe to prune during this time because the tree will experience less shock from losing limbs while dormant. If you’ve marked diseased limbs in the fall, you can safely remove them in winter when your magnolia’s branches are bare.

Can You Cut Off the Top of Your Magnolia Tree?

You can’t cut off the top of a magnolia tree without causing severe damage or killing it. Much like trimming a pine tree that is too tall, it’s essential to never cut the top off your magnolia tree. Doing so will leave an open wound on the top of your tree that will not heal well. This can lead to severe plant diseases and even death.

  • Never cut the top off a magnolia tree.
  • Cutting the top off a magnolia will invite plant disease or even kill the tree.
  • If a tall magnolia tree is posing a hazard to your home, it should be removed entirely.

If your magnolia tree is too tall, you can remove it. This may be necessary if the tree is interfering with power lines or other important structures. However, do not trim a tall magnolia tree for cosmetic reasons. Most likely, you will kill your tree.

How Do You Prune an Overgrown Magnolia Tree?

It’s best to exercise extreme caution in trying to prune your magnolia tree. Magnolias don’t take kindly to pruning, so it should be avoided unless absolutely necessary. However, if you do choose to prune, here are the key tips to remember:

  • Southern magnolias rarely need pruning.
  • An evergreen magnolia tree doesn’t require any pruning.
  • Limit your pruning to dead, dying, and diseased branches.
  • If you do prune your southern magnolia, do so in late summer, fall, or winter.
  • Only prune your evergreen magnolia in late spring.
  • Always use clean and sharp pruning shears.
  • Be careful not to damage healthy branches when pruning.
  • Never cut the top off a magnolia tree.

Try to avoid pruning your magnolia tree as much as possible. If pruning is necessary, make sure to use clean, sharp shears. By removing only dead or diseased branches, you will encourage your magnolia to thrive for years to come.

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