Image by Liz West
By Susan Patterson, Master Gardener
Magnolia trees and the South go together like cookies and milk. There are over 80 species of magnolias. Some species are native to the United States while others are native to the West Indies, Mexico and Central America. Magnolias can be evergreen or deciduous and can bloom in early spring or in summer. Knowing how to trim magnolia trees is important in order to maintain their continued health in the landscape.
Magnolia Tree Pruning
Although pruning magnolia trees is not necessary, young trees can be shaped as they grow. Trimming a magnolia tree when it is young will also improve the health of the tree and encourage more blooms. Mature magnolia trees do not recover from pruning and can sustain fatal wounds. Therefore, magnolia tree pruning on older specimens should only be done as a last resort when necessary.
When to Prune Magnolia Trees
Knowing when to prune magnolia trees is important. Young evergreen magnolias are best trimmed in mid to late spring only when needed. Shorten long, young branches and remove lower boughs if you desire a bare stem. Some evergreen magnolias are trained to a wall and should be pruned in the summer.
Young deciduous magnolias rarely require pruning apart from removing weak or damaged branches or long vertical shoots. Deciduous magnolias should be pruned between midsummer and early fall.
Over pruning, even on a young tree, can cause stress. With any magnolia, it is better to aim on the side of pruning too little than too much. Light trimming a magnolia tree is always preferable.
How to Trim Magnolia Trees
Once you’re ready for pruning, it’s a good idea to understand how to trim magnolia trees. Always trim trees with clean and sharp pruning shears or loppers. Be very careful when pruning magnolia trees not to tear or injure the bark.
Remove all dead, diseased or otherwise injured branches first. Remove any branches that are not in line with the tree’s natural shape. Remove branches that are crossing or rubbing and cut off any suckers. Also, be sure to stand back and assess your work each time you make a cut.
Remember to always cut branches off just outside of a branch collar, never remove more than one-third of the tree each season, and avoid pruning a mature magnolia unless absolutely necessary.