Magnolia Tree Dead Branches: 15 Causes & Saving the Tree

Magnolias represent Southern charm with their exquisite blooms and pleasant fragrance. However, these stunning flowers can also face a variety of challenges.

If your magnolia tree branches are struggling with leaves turning brown or showing signs of distress, there could be several possible reasons.

Here’s a comprehensive guide to help you diagnose, treat, and revive a dying magnolia tree.

Key Takeaways

  • Regularly inspect and maintain your magnolia tree to prevent and treat potential issues early.
  • Consult experts when in doubt, and always use tailored treatments based on specific problems.
  • Protect magnolias from physical damage and extreme weather conditions, and be cautious with herbicides.
  • Ensure proper watering, pruning, and nutrient balance for the overall health of the magnolia.

Issues with your magnolia tree can be alarming, but if know what symptoms to look for and what can be done to remedy the problem, there’s no need to panic. Check out my comprehensive guide, Magnolia Tree Diseases, Pests, and Problems, today to learn more.

1. Verticillium Wilt

Verticillium wilt is caused by a soil-borne fungus, leading to the wilting and eventual death of magnolia branches.

This pathogen affects the vascular system of the magnolia tree, restricting water and nutrients. Symptoms include yellowing leaves, followed by the leaves turning brown and wilting.


Unfortunately, there is no cure for verticillium wilt. Prevention is key. Avoid planting magnolias in the same spot where previous trees had the disease.

Regularly clear away debris that falls around the tree to minimize pathogen growth.

If you suspect verticillium wilt is causing the brown leaves, consult your county extension office for guidance.

2. Cankers

Cankers are sunken patches on tree branches caused by fungal or bacterial infections. They might look like dry, sunken patches of bark, sometimes oozing a sticky substance.

If left untreated, they can choke off the vascular system, leading to branches dying above the site of infection.


To manage cankers, prune away the infected tree branches using sanitized shears.

Always disinfect your shears by soaking them for five minutes in a solution of one part 70% isopropyl alcohol and one part water.

Also, remember to disinfect the shears between cuts to avoid spreading the pathogen.

3. Borers

Borers are insects that tunnel into the branches and trunk of the magnolia tree. As they chew through the tree, they disrupt the flow of nutrients, leading to branch death.

The magnolia tree branches, especially of mature magnolias and the Southern magnolia, are susceptible to these pests.


If you notice leaves turning yellow or wilting or small exit holes in the bark, borers might be the culprit.

Regularly inspect the entire tree, especially during the active borer season.

Pesticidal treatments are available, but it’s always best to consult with an arborist or a county extension office to identify the best course of action.

4. Magnolia Scale & Other Pests

Magnolia scale is one of the most common tree pests, often appearing as white, pink, or brown bumps on magnolia branches. These pests suck sap from the tree, weakening it over time.

The honeydew excreted by these pests can also attract other insects and cause a sooty mold to form on magnolia leaves.


Control of magnolia scale requires a two-pronged approach. Firstly, introducing beneficial insects like ladybugs can help naturally control the scale population.

Secondly, using horticultural oil or insecticidal soap during the dormant season can help reduce the pest population.

Remember to always consult professionals when the infestation seems widespread.

5. Disease

Magnolia trees can fall prey to various diseases. Among the most common are leaf scorch, leaf blight, and Phyllosticta leaf spot.

Leaf scorch may cause magnolia tree leaves to exhibit a browning at their edges, especially during the hot summer months or due to drying winter winds.

Leaf blight, often caused by the fungus Phytophthora, leads to a sudden browning and death of leaves, while Phyllosticta leaf spot causes brown to red spots on the leaves.


Regularly inspecting the health of your magnolia is essential.

For diseases like leaf blight caused by Phytophthora species like P. cactorum and P. cryptogea, avoid overwatering, and ensure proper drainage around the tree to deter soil pathogens.

Fungicides like this one can help, but they’re more effective as a preventive measure.

For issues like leaf scorch, ensure consistent watering during hot spells, and consider a shaded planting location or use of shade cloth during peak summer.

6. Drought Stress

Magnolia trees, particularly the Southern Magnolia grandiflora, love moist but well-drained soil.

Drought stress can cause branches to die and magnolia leaves to turn yellow and eventually brown.

Extended periods without sufficient water weaken the tree, making it more susceptible to other issues.


Monitor the soil moisture levels, especially during hot, dry periods. Soak the soil around the magnolia tree deeply but infrequently to encourage deep root growth.

Using mulch around the base of the tree can help retain moisture. If you notice leaves turning brown during a drought, increase your watering frequency.

7. Winter Damage

While magnolias are hardy, they can experience winter leaf scorch, especially when subjected to cold, drying winter winds.

This causes a red or brown discoloration on the edges of the magnolia leaves. Frost damage can also occur, leading to dead or dying branches.


If an unexpected late-season frost is predicted, you can throw a sheet over a small tree or set up a patio heater near the plant (taking care to avoid direct contact or running such devices unattended).

Planting your magnolia in a sheltered location, away from harsh winter winds, can also help.

If frost damage is observed, prune away the dead foliage only after the last frost to give the magnolia time to recuperate.

8. Root Rot

Root rot, often caused by the Phytophthora pathogen, is a serious concern for magnolias. When the plant roots are persistently moist, it creates an environment for pathogen growth.

Infected magnolias may display wilting, yellowing leaves, or even branches below the site of infection turning brown.


Root rot is caused mostly due to overwatering or poor drainage in the soil around the magnolia tree. Ensuring the area around the tree drains well is critical.

If you suspect root rot, reduce watering, and consider replanting the magnolia in a raised bed or another well-draining location.

Avoid planting deciduous magnolias or any magnolias in spots known to have had plants affected by this disease.

9. Nutritional Deficiency

A magnolia tree displaying yellowing leaves or slow growth may be suffering from a lack of essential nutrients.

Such deficiencies can cause the magnolia tree leaves to turn yellow or exhibit red or brown discoloration. Healthy soil is pivotal for the growth of a mature magnolia.


Begin by having the soil tested, perhaps through your county extension office, to determine which nutrients are lacking.

Based on the results, apply the appropriate fertilizers. Ensure you follow the recommended guidelines for application to prevent overfeeding, which could exacerbate the problem.

10. Sunlight Issues

Magnolias thrive in full sun to partial shade.

If a magnolia is planted in a location with either too much shade or exposed to the scorching sun without adequate water, the magnolia leaves may show signs of scorching, turning brown at the edges.


Evaluate the sunlight conditions around the tree. If the magnolia is receiving too little light, consider pruning surrounding trees or shrubs to let in more sunlight.

For those in intensely sunny locations, ensure consistent watering, and perhaps introduce shading during peak sunlight hours to prevent the leaves from turning brown.

11. Poor Pruning Practices

Pruning is essential for the health of your magnolia. However, poor pruning can cause branches to die or expose the tree to pests and diseases.

Using dirty shears can introduce pathogens at the site of the cut.


When pruning, always use sharp and clean shears. Disinfect the shears by soaking them for five minutes in a solution of one part 70% isopropyl alcohol mixed with one part of water to avoid spreading diseases.

Prune during the dormant season, and make clean cuts, ensuring you don’t leave stubs that can be entry points for pathogens.

A lady using hand pruners to trim a magnolia tree.

12. Extreme Weather Fluctuations

Sudden temperature swings, especially during the transitional seasons, can be hard on magnolias.

Frost after a warm spell can cause branches to die, leaves to wilt and drop, or sunken patches on tree branches.


Monitor the local weather forecast, especially during spring and fall.

If a sudden frost is predicted after a warm spell, take protective measures like covering the magnolia or using outdoor heaters judiciously.

If damage occurs, wait until the threat of further frosts has passed before pruning damaged areas.

13. Physical Damage

A magnolia tree might suffer physical harm due to various reasons: storms breaking branches, being bumped by cars or yard equipment, children swinging from branches, or construction damaging the plant roots near the plant.

This physical trauma can cause branches to die or show sunken patches on tree branches, especially if the damage creates an opening for pathogens or pests.


Ensure the tree is planted in a safe location, away from frequented pathways or areas prone to yard equipment damage.

Educate children about the importance of not swinging or climbing on the magnolia tree branches.

When doing yard work or construction, create a buffer zone around the tree.

For any damage, prune away the affected areas cleanly with disinfected shears, and monitor the tree for signs of infections or pest invasions.

14. Natural Aging and Senescence

Like all living things, magnolia trees go through a natural aging process. As the tree matures, some branches might start dying off.

This natural decline can be confusing as the magnolia tree might look like it is dying in certain parts even when overall health is good.


Recognizing the difference between natural aging and a health problem is vital. Regularly monitor the entire tree.

If only one part of the tree shows signs of decline while the rest remains healthy, it might be natural aging.

Regularly prune away dead or dying branches to keep the tree looking its best and to prevent them from becoming entry points for pests and diseases.

15. Transplant Shock

Transplanting a magnolia, especially a mature magnolia, can be stressful for the tree.

The tree might exhibit signs like magnolia leaves turning yellow or wilting or branches dying due to the sudden change in its environment.


When transplanting, ensure minimal root disturbance, and water the tree well before and after the move.

Use root growth stimulants to help the magnolia establish faster in its new location.

For the initial weeks post-transplant, monitor the soil moisture closely, ensuring it remains moist but not overly wet to prevent root rot.

How To Revive a Dying Magnolia Tree

It can be troubling to notice your tree’s rapid decline, but with the right care and measures, it’s often possible to breathe life back into it.

Here’s a comprehensive guide to help revive a dying magnolia tree.

1. Evaluate Entire Tree To Identify the Problem

Before diving into solutions, understanding the root of the problem is crucial. From the base of the tree to the tips of its branches, look for signs of diseases, pests, or physical damage.

Are the magnolia tree leaves turning yellow? Are there brown leaves scattered around the tree?

Document your findings, take photos, and if unsure about what you’re seeing, consult a local nursery or tree expert. They might be able to diagnose the issue based on your observations.

2. Treat Pests and Diseases Promptly

If you notice pests or pathogens affecting your magnolia, time is of the essence. The longer you wait, the harder it may become to treat and the more damage they can cause.

Identify the specific pest or disease. Treat with appropriate insecticides, fungicides, or other remedies.

If uncertain about what to use, consult with your local nursery or county extension office. Always follow the label directions for any treatments.

3. Have Soil Tested Before Fertilizing

Overfertilizing or providing the wrong nutrients can be just as harmful as not fertilizing at all. If your magnolia appears malnourished, don’t just throw on fertilizer.

Have a soil test conducted. This will pinpoint any nutritional deficiencies, allowing you to apply the correct type and amount of fertilizer.

The health of your magnolia can significantly benefit from this tailored approach.

4. Maintain Consistent Watering

Magnolias are particularly sensitive to water fluctuations. Overwatering can lead to root rot, but too little water can cause leaves to wilt and drop.

Establish a regular watering schedule. Use a moisture meter (find it here) to keep the soil around your magnolia consistently moist.

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During extremely dry periods, soak the soil around the tree deeply. However, avoid letting water stand for prolonged periods as this can promote soil pathogens.

5. Prune Damaged or Diseased Branches

Dead or damaged branches can be gateways for pests and diseases. Regularly inspecting and pruning can boost the health and appearance of your magnolia tree.

Use sharp shears, and always disinfect the shears between cuts to avoid spreading diseases.

Remove dead foliage and branches below the site of infection, ensuring clean cuts close to the trunk or main branch.

6. Do Not Use Herbicides in the Area

Magnolias are quite sensitive to herbicides. Even unintentional drift from nearby applications can harm them.

Exercise caution when using herbicides near the plant. If your neighbors are spraying, kindly inform them of your magnolia’s sensitivity and request them to be careful.

Consider setting up physical barriers during applications to prevent drift.

7. Check Tree Frequently

Regular checkups can help spot problems before they become severe. From pests to early signs of disease, catching these issues early can make a significant difference in outcomes.

Inspect your magnolia every few weeks. Look for signs of distress like yellowing leaves, cankers, or pests. Addressing these signs promptly can save a lot of time and heartache later.

8. Consult an Arborist if Needed

Sometimes the problems with a magnolia might be beyond a layman’s understanding or capability to fix.

If you’re unsure or feel the tree’s health is declining rapidly, it’s time to call in the experts.

Consulting an arborist can provide specialized care. They can diagnose intricate problems, offer solutions, and even provide services like deep-root fertilization or targeted pest treatments.

Closing Thoughts

Magnolia trees are beautiful additions to any landscape, but like all living things, they can face challenges.

By understanding the possible reasons for the decline and taking proactive steps, you can ensure the magnolia tree remains a healthy and vibrant part of your garden for years to come.

We’ve covered a lot here, but there’s so much more to learn. Be sure to read these guides next: