magnolia trees

When to Prune Magnolia Trees

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These ornamental trees are often grown in pots to decorate patios and entrances but make an excellent statement tree planted straight in the ground. Deciduous and evergreen magnolias are available, with the former more commonly found in the UK.

Magnolia trees are popular among gardeners wishing to add height interest to their outdoor space. Magnolias are valued for their large flowers and are a striking sight in full bloom. Depending on the cultivar of the tree, flowers can be pink, white, purple, red or yellow, with some varieties producing double blossoms. The flowers on most magnolia trees are star-shaped or bowl-shaped, similar to tulips.

How Often to Prune Magnolia Trees

Magnolia trees benefit from routine pruning annually. Dead branches, suckers and watersprouts should be removed throughout the year as they appear. But for general trimming and tidying-up, once a year is more than enough.

You might find deciduous magnolias hardly need to be pruned at all but it’s still worth giving them a yearly lookover to check for any diseased branches you may not have noticed. Many magnolias are sensitive to pruning, so only get the shears out when necessary.

Prune After Planting

Pruning magnolia trees after planting allows you to cut away weak or damaged branches. Doing this lets the tree put all of its energy into growing young branches rather than trying to repair old ones.

Planting time is ideal for promoting your preferred shape for an attractive tree. Remove branches that are overly long or not in line with the tree’s overall shape.

Evergreen magnolias may need the lower branches cut back after planting. Not only does this produce a neat pyramid shape, but it also encourages upward growth.

What Time of Year is Best for Pruning Magnolia Trees?

The best time of year to prune a magnolia tree depends on whether it is a deciduous or evergreen variety.

Deciduous Magnolias

Deciduous varieties are best pruned between mid-summer and early autumn. At this time of year, the tree’s sap flow is reduced, so the cuts won’t bleed as much sap as they would in early spring or late winter.

Evergreen Magnolias

On the other hand, evergreen varieties respond best to pruning in spring, at the beginning of the growing season. Wall-trained specimens are best pruned in summer.

How Hard Can You Prune a Magnolia Tree?

Magnolia trees don’t respond well to heavy pruning. Avoid pruning more than is necessary for the tree’s health and overall shape. Hard pruning mature magnolia trees stresses them, encourages water shoots to develop, and reduces flowering for up to 2 years.

To minimise the stress placed on the tree, try to prune it over several years, taking a little off each time. Ensure damaged branches get pruned back to a natural fork in the tree. Doing this maintains a neat shape and encourages healing.

When a Magnolia Tree Needs Pruned

Knowing when to prune magnolia trees is important to their general care. As mentioned above, magnolia trees should ideally only get pruned when it’s essential for their health. Magnolias are ornamental trees, so appearance is also important – but be mindful not to harm the tree’s health for the sake of how it looks.

To Remove Dead or Damaged Branches

Removing branches that are diseased, damaged or dead is an essential part of tree maintenance. Routine magnolia tree pruning should include cutting back overlapping or crossing branches that rub together, damaging the tree.

To Remove Suckers and Watersprouts

Don’t wait until the annual prune to remove suckers and watersprouts from your magnolia tree. Suckers and/or watersprouts can be a sign that the tree is stressed (perhaps from drought, storm damage or over-pruning.) It’s best to remove them as quickly as possible to help stop them from spreading to other parts of the tree.

To Maintain Size and Shape

Whether you prefer your magnolia tree in a neat pyramid shape or simply need to prevent it from outgrowing its spot, pruning magnolias is sometimes necessary for the tree’s appearance. You might need to thin out stems, remove larger branches or cut back lower boughs. Aesthetic pruning is best carried out over several years to prevent the tree from becoming too stressed.

In the absence of damaged or weak branches, pruning magnolia trees isn’t strictly required. The key to a healthy magnolia tree is to go easy with the pruning shears. Only cut branches where needed, and spread significant pruning over a few years.