Generally speaking, magnolias don't require frequent pruning or trimming to attain a pleasant silhouette. Light maintenance pruning or trimming on occasion helps avoid later structural problems or safety hazards and property damage. Use hand pruners on branches less than 3/4 inch in diameter and loppers or a pruning saw on those with diameters greater than 3/4 inch.
Types of Magnolias
Two types of magnolia trees grow widely in garden settings: deciduous and evergreens. Star magnolia (Magnolia stellata) and saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana) are excellent examples of deciduous types that bloom in spring. The southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) is evergreen and tends to bloom in the warmth of late spring into midsummer.
Pruning Time Frame
Feel free to trim off any dead, broken or diseased branches off any magnolia tree when you see it, regardless of time of year. To conduct more selective trimming or pruning to shape the magnolia, focus on trimming deciduous magnolia types in mid to late spring immediately after flowering ends. For evergreen magnolias, pruning can be done anytime from midwinter to late summer. Pruning in autumn generally is a bad practice since the wounds do not heal well before winter's cold and it disrupts the tree's natural hardening off process that occurs before winter dormancy.
Tips on Trimming
Using hand-held pruners, you can selectively reduce the length of branches and twigs and remove any dense clusters of twigs, buds or leaves. Don't haphazardly snip branches off, but aim to make the pruning cut 1/4 to 1/2 inch above a lower branch junction, bud or leaf. There's no reason to leave naked, protruding twigs after pruning the magnolia tree. When pruning occurs from late winter to late spring, there is ample time for the tree to sprout new growth from the cut area. These sprouts mature over summer and develop flower buds that rest dormant over winter and then open next year.
Properly spaced magnolia trees rarely need trimming or pruning since there is ample room for the plants to grow without encroaching on other plants, a building facade or walkway. The less you prune and trim branch tips each year, the more likely flowers will develop and open in subsequent years. However, pruning a long, slender branch usually causes two or more side branches to develop, making the tree bushier and fuller. Prune with restraint to help the magnolia tree become fuller in shape, but then allow branch tips to grow so lots of flowers appear later.
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