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You don’t need to expend much effort to prune a magnolia tree as they require only light pruning. In fact, overpruning is one of the most common problems with magnolias and can lead to them not developing flowers.
When to prune a magnolia tree?
Keeping the magnolia tree healthy
At times, parts of your magnolia tree may become diseased and even die. Cut off the diseased or dead branches, leaving only the living, healthy, green parts behind.
If the branches of your tree have grown close together and are impeding the air circulation throughout, remove a few of them to make more space within the tree. Look also for water shoots, vigorous vertical shoots that take unnecessary energy to grow, and cut those back too.
Reducing the magnolia tree’s size
Sometimes magnolia tree growth just takes off, resulting in a tree that could be taller or wider (or both) than you wish. Once you’ve pruned off the bits of branches and stems that you don’t want, you need to work to keep the tree to the right size. Make sure that the crown of the tree (that’s the branches at the top of the tree) is open and balanced in size and shape.
Make sure to spread this amount of pruning over several years as magnolia plants don’t like a lot of sudden change.
Renovating an overgrown magnolia tree
An untended magnolia tree may become overgrown and misshapen. Getting it back into shape is a task also best done over a few years. Keep in mind that you may need to cut all the way back to the main framework of the tree, drastic though that may be. Some stems may die after a bout of heavy pruning, so remove those too.
Timing of pruning
Deciduous magnolia trees
These trees lose their leaves in the winter, and very rarely need pruning. If you must, prune them only between mid-summer and early autumn. Any earlier or later and the cuts may bleed sap plus you may remove the growth that produces buds leading to your magnolia not flowering.
Evergreen magnolia trees
If your evergreen tree is free-standing, feel free to prune it in spring. Leave any trees that you’re training to climb a wall until the summer when they’re more established for the year.
How to prune a magnolia tree?
Pruning a magnolia tree is straightforward.
Always do this first step: Sanitise your pruning secateurs or shears before you start. And do so throughout the pruning task. You don’t want to pick up any disease spores from one part of the tree and transfer them to another part. After all, you’re working to keep your magnolia healthy.
Find the branch you want to cut. Make a cut at a 45° angle so any water/sap will fall directly to the ground.
Place the cut branch on the ground until you’ve finished and then carefully collect them all up.
If you’re reshaping or renovating your tree, stand back occasionally and look at the tree from a distance and from all sides.
Whatever level of pruning you’re doing, always look for and remove water shoots as they drain the tree’s energy unnecessarily.
Remember that deciduous trees only need and like a light pruning. Space significant pruning plans out over a few years as they don’t respond well to hard pruning. If you plant them as a hedge, you can just prune and shape them lightly after flowering.
Consider adding some magnolia tree feed after you’ve finished pruning to help the tree rebound from the shock.