Pruning Magnolia Trees Step by Step for Healthier Growth

Contemplating a magnolia tree at the peak of its blooming is a truly captivating experience, showcasing the breathtaking wonders of nature.

Whether you have an evergreen magnolia that maintains its leaves year-round or a deciduous magnolia that sheds in the colder months, knowing when and how to prune can be key to the tree’s health and beauty.

Key Takeaways

  • Magnolias benefit from pruning to maintain their shape, encourage growth, and remove damaged wood.
  • The best time to prune evergreen magnolias is early spring, but for deciduous varieties, late winter or early spring is preferable.
  • Proper tools, including pruning shears and a saw, are essential for effective magnolia tree pruning.
  • Post-pruning care is vital to ensure the tree remains healthy and well-hydrated.

Don’t let the care of your magnolia be a guessing game! Discover how straightforward tree care can be and learn some pro tips in my comprehensive guide, Magnolia Care and Maintenance.

Why Prune Magnolia Trees

Magnolias, like other trees, benefit from regular pruning for several reasons:

  • Shaping and training: Pruning allows you to shape the tree, encouraging a structured growth pattern. This can create a more aesthetically pleasing shaped tree.
  • Controlling growth: Sometimes, a magnolia might grow too large for its location. Pruning can keep a magnolia in check, ensuring it doesn’t overshadow other plants or structures.
  • Encouraging growth and blooms: Strategic cuts can stimulate growth in certain areas, encouraging more flowers to bloom the following season.
  • Removing dead or damaged wood: Over time, dead branches or injured branches can accumulate. Pruning ensures that the magnolia remains healthy, and free from diseased or damaged branches.

When To Prune Magnolia Trees

The best time to prune a magnolia tree largely depends on its variety.

For evergreen magnolia trees, the best time to prune is in the early spring, just before the new growth begins. This allows the tree to heal rapidly and grow strong after the cuts.

For deciduous magnolia trees, which lose their leaves in winter, late winter or early spring is preferable. This is just before the new growth starts, ensuring that the tree has enough energy to seal the wounds and sprout new branches.

Goals When Pruning Magnolia Trees

The primary goal when you prune your magnolia should be to maintain its health. This means removing any weak or damaged branches that might be susceptible to disease or pests.

Furthermore, if your magnolia tree is young, you’ll want to prune for shape, guiding the tree to grow in a desirable direction.

For mature magnolia trees, the goal might be to maintain their size and shape, removing lower branches if they interfere with pathways or structures.

Can You Keep a Magnolia Tree Small?

The short answer is yes, to some extent. While magnolias can be controlled with pruning, they are naturally large trees.

Regular pruning from when the tree is young can control its size, but it will always seek to grow.

Thus, if space is a concern, consider planting dwarf magnolia varieties that require less space and need little pruning.

A lady using hand pruners to trim a magnolia tree.

Pruning Tools & Gear Needed To Prune a Magnolia Tree

Before you start pruning, ensure you have the right tools. For smaller branches, hand-pruning shears should suffice. For larger branches, you might need lopping shears or a pruning saw.

It’s also a good idea to wear protective gloves and safety glasses to protect yourself during the process.

How To Prune an Evergreen Magnolia Tree

Evergreen magnolia trees are a delightful presence in many gardens, offering year-round greenery as opposed to their deciduous counterparts.

Understanding how to prune an evergreen magnolia can ensure your tree remains healthy and vibrant.

1. Choose the Right Time

Because evergreen magnolias are sensitive to pruning, the best time to prune evergreen magnolia trees is in the late winter or early spring.

This timing reduces the chance of injury due to frost and allows the tree to heal before the growing season.

However, if you notice diseased, damaged, or dead branches, it’s important to remove them immediately, regardless of the season.

2. Use the Right Tools

Pruning requires specific tools to ensure clean cuts and to protect the tree from further harm.

For smaller branches, hand-pruning shears work best. If you’re tackling larger branches, lopping shears or a pruning saw might be more suitable.

Always ensure that your pruning tools are sharp and clean. This will help in making precise cuts and preventing the spread of diseases.

3. Start With Damaged and Diseased Branches

Before you shape the tree, start by removing any branches that look diseased or damaged. This not only helps improve the appearance of your evergreen magnolia but also ensures better health.

Additionally, remove branches that are crossing over each other or growing inward. This promotes better air circulation and sunlight penetration.

4. Prune for Shape and Size

Mature magnolia trees typically require little pruning for shape, but if you wish to maintain a particular size or shape, now’s the time to do it.

Look for any branches that seem out of place or disrupt the tree’s natural form. When cutting, always make your cuts just above a leaf node or back to a fork in the tree. This encourages healthier new growth.

5. Maintain the Tree’s Height

If you want to keep a magnolia at a specific height, you may need to trim the top. Never remove more than a third of the tree’s height in one session.

For larger branches or when reducing the tree’s size significantly, it’s best to consult with a professional arborist to avoid causing undue stress to the tree.

6. Aftercare

Once you’ve finished pruning your evergreen magnolia, clear away all the cut branches and debris. Leaving them could invite pests or diseases.

After tree pruning, it’s beneficial to give your magnolia some extra care. Water it thoroughly, and consider applying a balanced fertilizer (this one is excellent) to support its recovery and promote robust growth.

How To Prune a Deciduous Magnolia Tree

Deciduous magnolia trees are renowned for their breathtaking blooms in the spring. Unlike evergreen magnolias, deciduous magnolias lose their leaves in winter, offering a different kind of beauty.

Here’s a guide to prune deciduous magnolia trees effectively:

1. Timing Is Essential

The best time to prune a deciduous magnolia is during late winter or early spring before the bloom cycle begins.

However, it’s crucial to avoid pruning when frost is expected as this can injure young branches. If there are diseased, dead, or damaged branches, you should remove them immediately, irrespective of the season.

2. Select the Appropriate Tools

Your tools for pruning are as crucial as the technique. For younger trees or small branches, hand-pruning shears are perfect.

On the other hand, for larger branches or mature trees, you might require lopping shears or even a pruning saw.

It’s essential to ensure your tools are sharp and sanitized to facilitate smooth cuts and to prevent any potential spread of disease.

3. Begin With Problematic Branches

Before you shape your deciduous magnolia, first address any branches that are diseased, weak, or damaged. This is fundamental to the health and aesthetics of your tree.

Also, remove branches that are crossing over other branches or those growing toward the tree’s center. This will encourage better air circulation and prevent future growth issues.

4. Pruning for Shape

Deciduous magnolia trees, especially when young, can benefit from shaping. When you prune for shape, visualize the natural form of the magnolia and work to enhance it.

Always prune just above a leaf node or back to a natural fork in the tree, fostering healthy new growth. If you’re unsure about a cut, it’s best to err on the side of caution; you can always prune more later.

5. Addressing Tree Height

If you wish to manage the size of your tree, be cautious when pruning the top of a deciduous magnolia.

Deciduous varieties can be a bit more forgiving than evergreens but still approach the task with care. Never remove more than one-third of the tree’s overall height at once.

6. Post-Pruning Care

After you’ve completed pruning your deciduous magnolia tree, clear away all the cuttings and debris. This step is essential to prevent pests and diseases that might target fresh cuts.

To aid recovery, ensure your magnolia is well-watered, and consider applying a balanced fertilizer to bolster its growth and health.

After-Pruning Care

Once the pruning process for either evergreen or deciduous magnolias is complete, it’s crucial to ensure that the tree receives proper care to recover swiftly and flourish in subsequent seasons.

Here are some steps and tips for aftercare:

Clean the Area

Begin by clearing away all the pruned branches and debris. This keeps the area tidy and eliminates potential homes for pests or diseases that could affect the tree.

Inspect your tree closely to ensure no injured branches or areas are overlooked.


Post-pruning, your magnolia will benefit from deep watering. This settles the soil and provides the necessary hydration that aids in healing the cuts and fostering new growth.

If you pruned in summer, be especially vigilant as the tree might require additional water to combat the heat and stress from pruning.


Mulching helps to retain soil moisture, regulate soil temperature, and suppress weeds. Lay an even layer about 2-4 inches deep, starting a few inches away from the tree’s trunk and extending to the tree’s drip line.


After you prune your magnolia tree, providing it with a balanced fertilizer can be beneficial. The nutrients support the tree in recovering from the pruning and prepare it for vigorous growth in the upcoming seasons.

However, ensure the fertilizer is suited to magnolias as an unsuitable mix might do more harm than good.


Fresh cuts on your magnolia tree can sometimes attract pests or become entry points for diseases. To protect the tree, consider applying a natural antiseptic to the larger cuts.

It’s generally not recommended to use tar-based sealants anymore as they can trap moisture and exacerbate decay.

Monitoring Growth

In the weeks following pruning, monitor the growth and health of your magnolia. This will help you spot any signs of stress, disease, or pest infestations early on.

If you notice unusual leaf drop, discoloration, or lack of new growth, these might be signs that the tree is stressed or facing some issues.

Seek Expert Advice

If you’re uncertain about the health of your tree post-pruning or notice any troubling signs, don’t hesitate to consult with an arborist or a tree care specialist.

Their expertise can guide you in ensuring your magnolia remains healthy and vibrant.

Closing Thoughts

Magnolias are a stunning addition to any garden or yard, and with the right care, they can thrive for years.

Remember that whether evergreen or deciduous, these trees require periodic pruning to stay healthy and look their best.

Armed with the right knowledge and tools, you can ensure your magnolia remains a dazzling centerpiece.

Now that you’ve tackled learning how to prune, it’s time to master more care aspects. Learn all about fertilizing magnolias and how to grow them in pots next: