General gardening topics

Pruning magnolias – How and when to prune magnolias

Last updated on March 22nd, 2022

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If you have Magnolia trees, you know just how stunning they are when they are in their prime, but like all trees, Magnolia’s can benefit from pruning although it is not essential. Whether this is your first Magnolia or you are a seasoned gardener just making sure you are doing things correctly, we will explain how and when to prune Magnolias in this guide, keeping things simple and easy to understand.

There are different types of Magnolias and you need to know which variety you have so that you can figure out the correct time and method to use for pruning.

Pruning deciduous Magnolias

Deciduous Magnolias very seldom need pruning, but on occasion, you will have to get out your pruning secateurs and get to work.

Pruning deciduous magnolias

Prune young plants to create the perfect well-balanced shape

When you first plant the Magnolia you can use this opportunity to shape your tree by cutting away any weak branches or badly placed growth that might one day block your view, cause the tree to be a little lopsided, or otherwise cause problems. You can also snip back very long shoots that are too heavy.

Prune to remove water shoots and deadwood

A deciduous Magnolia benefits better from routine pruning only, insofar as you are removing water shoots and any deadwood. Water shoots are long vertical shoots and they are not what you want. In fact, if you have a mature Magnolia and you heavily prune it, it can induce water shoots and cause your tree to die back so it’s important to not drastically prune Magnolias if you can avoid it.

When you prune your deciduous Magnolia, in an effort to constrict its size, you need to focus on maintaining a balanced, open crown for the tree. You can do this by finding outside shoots or stems along the trunk. Again, this might be something you see as necessary but it shouldn’t be something you do heavily all at once. Instead, stage this type of pruning over the course of several years so that you don’t stress your tree if it is well established.

Rejuvenation pruning

Rejuvenation on the tree should be stretched over the course of three years. Magnolias are stunning but they are also slow to recover so you want to reduce the stress you place on your Magnolia as much as possible.

During your routine, limited pruning you can prune the branches back until they maintain a natural fork shape, and this will help to avoid the larger, unsightly stubs you might notice on neighbouring plants.

Pruning evergreen Magnolias

If you have an evergreen Magnolia, such as Magnolia grandiflora, you should not have to prune young trees beyond shortening the length of your longer branches, and removing the lower branches if you prefer a bare stem to form more of a tree shape rather than a big bush.

This showy hardy tree is one that spreads quite effectively and if not pruned it will reach heights and spreads of up to 8 meters so it's something you want to plant in an area that can support a large tree.

This Magnolia can tolerate hard pruning in the event that your Magnolia really needs a heavy renovation because it has grown too large for the space. With this, you can cut back your Magnolia to the point of the main framework, however, just like the deciduous Magnolias, it is recommended that you spread this type of hard pruning out over the course of several years rather than doing it all at once to give your tree ample time to recover if possible.

When to prune Magnolias

When to prune deciduous Magnolias

With deciduous Magnolias, like Magnolia Grandiflora, you only want to prune them between the middle of summer and the beginning of autumn. If you prune at the end of winter or the beginning of spring it can result in bleeding cuts that will damage the Magnolia and take a substantial amount of time for recovery.

When to prune evergreen Magnolias

With evergreen Magnolias, you can prune a free-standing tree in the spring as soon as the growth begins. If you have a specimen you have trained up against a wall, you can prune it in the summer.

How to Prune Magnolias

Once you have figured out when to prune and to what degree, the process of pruning your Magnolias is quite simple. Take a large set of pruning secateurs, or loppers if you are pruning thicker branches, basically an appropriately-sized sharp gardening tool you have that is appropriately sized to the thickness of your Magnolia branches.

Be sure that it is sharpened and blades replaced if necessary. Then cut at a 45° angle so that any water will fall directly off the branch. Remove any debris after you have finished pruning. If you are doing a heavy pruning that you are spacing out over several years, you can always add some feed after pruning to help your Magnolia rebound. 

How to Prune Magnolias

Overall, pruning your Magnolia is not nearly as an involved process as with other plants given that it doesn’t need to be done with the same regularity. Occasional pruning can help your deciduous or evergreen Magnolia rebound after severe damage, and create the perfect shape when you first plant your tree.

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