Pruning A Magnolia Tree: Expert Trimming Options

If you’ve ever wondered how to trim a magnolia tree, then keep reading, as I will be sharing some useful information regarding the topic.

For those who don’t know, the magnolia is a flowering tree that is mainly found in the Southern parts of America, although some species of cold-hardy cultivars can be found in the Northern parts.

About Magnolia Trees

They are very easy to recognize, thanks to their very broad leaves. Magnolias are evergreen trees, which means their foliage remains green and fresh all year round, regardless of the season.

They are popular for producing nice-smelling white blossoms which can grow up to 12 inches in diameter. They are pretty tall trees that can reach as high as 90 feet at full maturity. Sometimes taller. They also have circumferences of about 12 feet.

In Mississippi and Louisiana, larger sizes of magnolia trees have been recorded. This doesn’t come as a surprise since the climates in those areas are perfect for magnolia tree growth.

The magnolia tree is known to grow wild in certain areas, and they do very well in warm climates. They are also popularly used as an ornament in gardens.

How To Trim A Magnolia Tree

Keeping a magnolia as an ornamental tree will require careful maintenance and pruning to maintain it’s a beautiful shape.

Proper trimming will also keep the tree from overshadowing other plants in the garden.

The tree grows slowly, but over time the branches and limbs will spread out and shade the other plants around, depriving them of sunlight in the process.

Trimming and Shaping a Magnolia

The magnolia tree is cone-shaped, this is their natural figure. However, some factors can influence its shape.

Such factors include the amount of sunlight the tree receives and other environmental elements. Altering factors can cause the magnolia tree to grow in quite awkward shapes.

In the case of a young magnolia tree, it can be trained easily into a shape the owner prefers. This will be harder to accomplish with older trees as their branches have already matured and have taken a more permanent shape.

To trim a magnolia tree, all you need are the same tools you would use to trim just about any other tree of similar height and size. These tools include pruning shears, lopping shears, and a handsaw that is used for cutting thicker branches.

Before you trim, make sure the pruning tools you are using are properly sterilized. This will ensure the tree is not infected during the process.

Also, after you have pruned one magnolia tree with a set of sterilized tools, be sure to sterilize them again if you want to prune another tree. Diseases can be passed using cutting tools as a channel.

As you prune the magnolia tree, start by removing the dead and diseased branches first. You’re not doing this just for the sake of good looks, but also for the sake of the overall health of the tree.

When you are done with taking out the decayed or dead branches, you can proceed to trim the limbs into the shape you desire.

You can achieve this by trimming the limb at the base area, use 45° cuts as much as you can. As you cut, be careful not to leave stubs behind or rip I the bark of the tree, to is bad for its health.

Magnolias are quite easy to maintain and do not require any major pruning, besides for the sake of creating or maintaining its shape. Just be sure to remove dead and decayed limbs while you’re at it.

Young magnolia trees can handle a prune better than the older trees. Remember I pointed out that magnolias grow slowly, so an older tree would not have the time to heal from the pruning wounds. Slow healing of the wounds would mean being infected.

Young magnolia trees can indeed recover from prunes faster than older trees, but this doesn’t mean you should prune them recklessly. Prune carefully, as the main aim here is to form tour desired shape and encourage new growth and better flowering.

This must be done at the right season in the year and with the right tools.

When To Prune A Magnolia Tree

If you’re dealing with magnolias that bloom early in the spring, then the ideal time to trim them is just after the bloom is complete. This should be around late in the spring or early in the summer (depending on the climate zone of course).

If you prune late in the season, you will be left with lesser blossoms the following season. This however does not apply to cut off dead or decayed limbs, which should be cut off as soon as possible to maintain the tree’s health.

Other Considerations: Growth Rate

The magnolia tree is a slow grower and it usually doesn’t flower until after the first 10 years of being planted.

So if you plan to grow a magnolia tree from scratch and watch it reach its full potential, then be prepared to wait for a very long time, I’m talking decades!

Additional Varieties

There are many species of magnolia trees. Most of them require minimal trimming, except for the sake of removing old dead limbs. The deciduous species should only be pruned due to a high risk of damage.

Below, I will list out some of the most beautiful and fresh-smelling magnolia trees you can find. These include –

  • Sweetbay magnolia
  • Wilson’s magnolia
  • Purple-red magnolia
  • Port Wine magnolia
  • Laurel magnolia

Tools and Supplies You Will Need To Trim A Magnolia Tree

To properly prune your magnolia tree, you will need the right set of tools as well as supplies. Allow me to list them out below.

A step ladder: This will be used to climb up the tree to reach branches that are far away from arm’s length. Make sure the ladder is strong and sturdy on the ground as there will be a lot of hand and body movements.

A sturdy ladder will give you the balance you need as you handle the cutting tools high up the ground.

Hand pruner: These tools resemble a regular pair of scissors, only that they are much larger. They are very sharp and can print branches of up to 2 centimeters thick.

They will come in handy when you come across smaller manageable foliage that needs to be cut off. They are quite easy to carry up the ladder, just place them in your pocket or your small tool bag.

Pruning loppers: This tool will also prove to be useful when trimming your magnolia tree. They are almost the same as hand pruners (or pruning shears), the major difference being the size and length of the handles. Pruning loppers have much longer handles than pruning shears.

They can be used to cut magnolia limbs of about 2 inches in diameter.

Hand saw: Not all magnolia tree branches can be cut using hand pruners or loppers, the thicker branches will require a more powerful tool. This is where the handsaw comes in.

You can use it to cut magnolia tree branches that are a lot thicker in diameter and length.

Make sure your handsaw is properly sharpened before you start trimming your magnolia tree. If the blade of the saw is blunt, then you will not be able to achieve any smooth cuts, you will only be left with jagged edges around the pruned branches.

Be warned that rough cuts lead to bad injuries on the tree. Such injuries attract pests that will attack the tree and infect it. Once it is infected, it can spread to other healthy trees.

Always use a sharp saw to trim the branches of your magnolia tree.

Safety Precautions When Trimming Magnolia Tree

As I have mentioned before, a magnolia tree can grow up to 90 feet in height, so climbing up and trimming it is no joke.

Before you start trimming, be sure you have created a safe environment for the job.

Clear out the surrounding spaces at the bottom of the tree. Make sure there is no one on the ground as you cut, this precaution should be taken to prevent falling magnolia tree branches from hitting a passerby. Such an accident can cause injuries or even lead to death.

Make sure you are putting on the right protective gear before you climb. You will need a hard helmet to protect your head in the event of a falling branch, or if you accidentally fall off the tree.

You will also need a pair of gloves, as well as rugged work boots.

If you would be cutting the branches with a chainsaw, then put on a pair of goggles to protect your eyes.

Lastly, you may not be the right person for the job, unless you have the required experience and expertise. Other than that, contact a reliable tree trimming service to trim your magnolia tree for you.


So, that’s how you trim a magnolia tree. Follow the above-listed tips and be safe as you trim.

Take care!

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