How to Prune Magnolia Trees?

How to Prune Magnolia Trees?

Magnolia trees are easy to maintain and rarely require pruning. When they do, it’s usually to remove dead or damaged branches. So with magnolia in your garden, you can enjoy the exquisite beauty of nature without too much hassle.

Is It Necessary to Prune Magnolia Trees?

Unlike the trees that require regular pruning to thrive or others that can tolerate severe trimming, magnolia is a low-maintenance plant that generally doesn’t like pruning. So before you reach for the pruning shears, pause and rethink if your magnolia tree really needs this intervention.

How to Prune a Mature Magnolia Tree?

When pruning a mature magnolia tree, be sure to prune it lightly. Magnolias don’t like excessive pruning and don’t respond well to it. Mature magnolia trees should be pruned only if necessary, to remove dead or diseased branches, or to correct the shape and structure of the tree.

If the tree is old, diseased, or stressed, excessive pruning can cause further harm. Neglected trees could require significant corrective pruning which can be challenging and may need professional assistance.

When to Prune Magnolia Trees?

For magnolia trees, timing is everything. When is the perfect time to prune them? Basically, from late spring to early autumn.

Every gardener knows that the ideal pruning time for most trees is late winter or early spring. In this period, trees are still dormant which reduces the stress of pruning and minimizes sap loss.

However, magnolia trees are a little bit different. They are resilient beauties with their own set of rules when it comes to pruning. Understanding and accepting these rules will make your magnolia flourish and keep revealing its stunning blooms every year.

Why Not Pruning Magnolia in Late Winter?

Magnolia’s unique pruning schedule is based on several factors:

  • Blooming Cycles

Beautiful, often large, fragrant, tulip-like, magnolia flowers are the main feature of this tree. Their blooming cycle is of utmost importance for choosing the best time to prune.
Magnolias generally bloom in early spring before the leaves emerge. If you prune them in late winter or early spring, you risk accidentally cutting off the buds formed in the previous year. You may reduce or even destroy the flowering for that season and deprive yourself of enjoying the beautiful magnolia blossoms.

  • The Best Season for Healing

Magnolias may need time to heal from pruning cuts. That’s why it’s crucial to prune them at a time when they can heal quickly.
Deciduous magnolias are usually pruned in late summer which allows them to heal before the dormancy period.
Evergreen magnolias are usually pruned in late spring during the active growth period which allows the tree to recover quickly and further develop its lush evergreen foliage.

  • Disease Prevention

Many fungal and bacterial diseases that attack magnolia trees occur and spread more easily in wet conditions, which are typical for late winter and early spring. By pruning your magnolia in dry periods, from late spring to late summer, you minimize the risk of exposing fresh cuts to pathogens when they are most active.

What Are the Signs Your Magnolia May Need Pruning?

The main signs that your magnolia tree needs pruning are:

  • Dead or dry branches
  • Branches with signs of disease
  • Damaged branches
  • Suckers (shoots from the base)
  • Water shoots (shoots from branches)
  • Branches that cross over each other
  • Branches that rub against each other
  • Too dense canopy
  • Overgrown canopy

How to Prune a Magnolia Tree: A Simple Step-By-Step Guide

Keeping your magnolia in top shape is not hard. After all, magnolia is not a needy plant and doesn’t require much care. Follow this simple step-by-step guide to pruning to help your magnolia tree thrive. General rules for keeping your magnolia happy and well-maintained are:

  • Prune in adequate time, when the magnolia finishes its blooming
  • Before pruning, identify dead, damaged, diseased, crossing or rubbing branches
  • Remove dead, damaged, and diseased branches
  • Remove branches that are crossing or rubbing each other
  • Remove suckers and water shoots
  • If a canopy is too dense blocking light and air circulation, thin it out
  • If needed, lightly prune to maintain the natural shape
  • Do not remove more than 15% of the canopy per year
  • Use clean and sharp tools
  • Make clean cuts just above the bud or where branches join
  • Angle the cut to prevent water from collecting
  • After pruning, water the tree and mulch it to maintain moisture

How to Prune Deciduous Magnolias

  • The most important thing about pruning a deciduous magnolia tree is timing. The best time to prune is between summer and early autumn after magnolias finish blooming. Make sure you don’t accidentally remove buds for the next year’s bloom.
  • In young deciduous magnolia plants, prune any weak growth or branches that ruin their natural shape.
  • Mature plants often grow vertical shoots, known as water shoots. They should be cut back to the trunk or branch.

How to Prune Evergreen Magnolias

  • Evergreen magnolias can tolerate more pruning than deciduous ones, but excessive trimming can be stressful to the plant and affects its flowering.
  • Young evergreen magnolia trees usually do not need pruning.
  • Evergreen magnolias can be pruned for size-control and landscaping purposes which is less common for a deciduous variety.
  • The ideal timing for pruning evergreen magnolias is late spring or early summer when there is no more danger of late frosts.

How to Prune Wall-Trained Magnolias

  • Magnolias can be easily grown against the wall or a trellis. To do it properly, it’s important to understand their natural growth habit. This understanding should guide all pruning decisions
  • When pruning a wall-trained magnolia, focus on maintaining the desired shape against the support structure. Cut off stems facing towards the wall and shorten those growing away from the wall to one or two leaves.
  • All the branches should be tied to the wall or trellis and the ones that cannot be easily tied should be pruned. The goal is to keep the plant flat. Use soft ties or garden twines to secure the branches. Be careful not to damage the bark.

What Are the Common Pruning Mistakes with Magnolia Trees?

To ensure a stunning and robust magnolia tree in your garden, keep away from things that can seriously damage it. Follow these simple tips to avoid the most common mistakes:

  • Prune at the right time of the year
  • Avoid shocking the tree with over-pruning
  • Do not cut healthy growth
  • Know where the buds are to avoid cutting them
  • Maintain the tree’s natural form
  • Never top the tree to reduce the height
  • Prune young magnolias very lightly


Why isn't my magnolia tree flowering?

Magnolia trees may fail to flower due to many reasons. Here are some of the common ones:

  • Magnolia flower buds are formed in autumn, preparing for blooming next spring. Pruning in autumn or winter can cut off the flower buds causing the tree not to flower.
  • Some magnolia flower buds are frost-sensitive and may die due to severe cold.
  • Flower buds can also perish because of the insect called thrip.
  • Magnolias like moist, well-drained soils. If the soil around the dries out too much in summer, it may avoid producing flower buds to stay alive.

Should I deadhead a magnolia tree?

Deadheading or removing spent flowers is a common practice for many flowering plants as it stimulates new blooms. However, magnolia trees do not require deadheading nor it is advised as a regular care. They naturally shed their spent blooms.

Should I cut brown leaves off the magnolia?

Yes, removing brown leaves from the magnolia tree is highly recommended. By pruning dead foliage, the tree can focus its energy and resources on healthy growth.

How often should magnolia be pruned?

Magnolia tree requires minimal pruning. It doesn’t have to be pruned every year, but every couple of years, dead, diseased, and damaged branches should be removed to maintain the natural shape.

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