I have 3 Magnolia trees around my house. They have been growing for 6 years and need a good trimming. However, I can’t find anyone that knows how to trim them. One man said that it is best to let them grow and leave them alone…. that does not sound correct. Would you please point me in the direction that I need to go? Do you have any thoughts or considerations about pruning Southern Magnolia?
Port St. Lucie, FL
Assuming, which may get me in trouble, Lacy’s trees are Southern Magnolias; it sounds like they are growing very well. Congratulations. For most of South Florida, these beautiful trees are just slightly out of their element south of Orlando; most prefer a little more northern climate. Don’t tell me yours are beautiful, as growing things; some will perform well in unexpected locations.
I mostly agree with the recommendation to leave a Magnolia tree alone; they tend to “pout” when stressed, such as when transplanted or over-pruned. By pouting, I mean that growth or flowering will slow or stop, and leaves may drop; none of these conditions are desirable.
However, if there are good reasons to prune the tree, then after flowering is the traditional time to prune a Magnolia. There are only a few good reasons to prune a Magnolia, which include removing dead, diseased, and damaged wood, developing a single leader, or removing crossing or rubbing branches.
Southern Magnolias are glorious when grown in a proper form. This means the branches start at ground level. Magnolias should never be topped and should not be thinned or opened up so you can see through them in the name of hurricane pruning. The natural form is sufficient to stand under most conditions.
Of course, this means that the tree must be planted in the right place so that there is enough room for the mature size of the tree – height and width and that it is planted far enough away from a building not to be a hazard. Of course, if the tree is planted near a structure, walkway, or roadway, then pruning so that the proper clearance is maintained is critical if unsightly.
I have said it before, but it bears repeating, employ a certified arborist to prune trees correctly. Yes, many professionals can and do offer excellent tree care. However, those that have sought certification are trained and tested on the proper techniques for good tree pruning. The best way to find a certified arborist is to use the International Society of Arboriculture’s Trees Are Good website.
All that being said about the traditional use of Southern Magnolia as a stately specimen tree and pruning thereof. Recently I came across a planting that stopped me while walking the dog. There were magnolia blossoms on a shrub planted in a bed at the front of a house. A closer inspection told me the plant was indeed a Southern Magnolia, one of the dwarf cultivars like ‘Little Gem’. It was pruned to about 4.5 feet tall and blooming very well. I spoke with a homeowner who said his father planted it years ago, and they prune it several times a year to maintain its size. He said it was about 8 years old, and his father told him it might be short-lived. What an exciting idea! The non-traditional use of a plant with the knowledge that pruning may shorten its life produced a show-stopping display. This is a reminder to me to be bold in planting but also be realistic about the results.
Enjoy Southern Magnolia in its traditional uses and in new and innovative ways, and keep your thoughts on considerations about pruning Southern Magnolia.