When to prune magnolia to maintain the size and shape of this opulent ornamental

Pruning at the wrong time could spell disaster for your magnolia

Magnolia tree in english countryside
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you’re lucky enough to have a magnolia tree in your garden, you’ll know just how beautiful the pink goblet-shaped blooms of this tree can be. But if you want this romantic and opulent flower display to come back every year, you need to know when to prune magnolia.

Perfect for any garden, planting a magnolia tree makes a statement, and is one of the few plants that can increase the value of your property. While you may be inclined to whip out your pruning saw or secateurs to tidy up the branches of your magnolia tree, it’s important to understand that pruning at the wrong time could lead to damage and disease.

That’s why we’ve consulted with gardening experts to understand exactly when to prune magnolia, so you don’t run the risk of accidentally killing your stunning garden ornamental.

When to prune magnolia

‘Magnolias are some of the most well-known and loved spring flowering trees. The blooms are both pretty and edible, loved by pollinators and can be found in shades of pink, cream and pure white,’ explains Morris Hankinson, Director of Hopes Grove Nurseries.

Magnolia tree trained against wall

(Image credit: Getty Images)

‘Established Magnolia trees rarely need to be pruned unless you need to prune out any damaged, diseased or crossing branches,’ he adds.

In fact, magnolias are such slow growers that the only real reason you’d need to prune a magnolia tree - aside from pruning damaged or diseased branches - is to maintain its opulent size and shape.

And while the best time to prune magnolias is between late spring and early autumn, the exact time ultimately depends on the type of magnolia tree you have.

If you have a deciduous magnolia (i.e. one that loses its leaves every winter), you should aim to prune magnolia between mid-summer and early autumn.

If you have a free-standing evergreen magnolia (it keeps its leaves throughout the whole year), pruning it in spring is the best course of action.

Magnolia tree on street

(Image credit: Getty Images)

However, if you have a wall-trained magnolia, you should wait until it's finished flowering in the summer to prune it. And it’s essential that you do indeed prune a wall-trained magnolia here and there.

John Clifford, gardening expert at Gardenstone, explains, ‘This is needed so that the plant is better trained to climb against a wall, and helps to keep things neat and tidy.’

But while the window to prune magnolia is pretty wide open, it’s also important to understand when you shouldn’t prune magnolia. And you definitely shouldn’t prune magnolia during the winter months.

Morris explains, ‘Pruning Magnolia trees at the right time is essential because sap can bleed from the tree where it has been cut if done in winter or early spring. While sap bleeding isn’t usually harmful for the tree, it can be unsightly and you won’t want it over your clothing.’

Magnolia tree in english countryside

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Alongside this, open tree wounds struggle to heal during the winter months, which will make your magnolia vulnerable to disease.

It’s for that reason that you should also know how to clean your garden tools to reduce the spread of diseases or germs.

In fact, magnolias find the process of pruning extremely stressful, so even when you choose the perfect time to prune your magnolia, you should do this sparingly to avoid further damage.

Morris suggests, ‘Stage it over a few years to avoid putting any unnecessary stress on the tree as it can take some time to grow back and recover.’

Morris Hankinson of Hopes Grove Nurseries
Morris Hankinson

Morris Hankinson is the founder and managing director of Hopes Grove Nurseries Ltd, the UK’s only specialist grower-retailer of hedging plants. He established the thriving business in 1992, shortly after graduating with a Commercial Horticulture Degree from Writtle College, Essex.

What you’ll need


What month do you prune magnolias?

Ultimately, this all depends on the type of magnolia you have. If you have a deciduous magnolia, you can prune it anytime between mid-summer and early autumn. For free-standing evergreen magnolias, prune in spring. And for wall-trained magnolia, prune after its flowering is finished in the summer.

Magnolia tree in front of brick building

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Can magnolia be hard pruned?

As magnolias are slow growers, there’s rarely any need to hard prune a magnolia. In fact, magnolias find pruning very stressful, and hard pruning can affect how well the tree flowers and may inhibit flowering completely.

Because of this, it’s best to avoid hard pruning at all costs and instead focus on trimming small amounts every few years.

In fact, Pim Dickson, Mr Fothergill's horticulture expert, explains, ‘Apart from a light touch in shaping magnolia trees and shrubs, the only other pruning needed is to remove the occasional dead or diseased branch that might appear, most often through damage.

This will remove the risk of disease spreading and ensure that your magnolias will stay healthy and reward you with decades of stunning displays.’

What happens if you cut the top off a magnolia?

Nothing good will happen if you cut the top off a magnolia. As magnolias struggle with hard pruning, the whole tree will become weak and may even die as a result. If it does manage to survive, the subsequent growth will be weak and often look very strange in terms of its appearance.

Yes, knowing when to prune magnolia is key - but knowing when to stop pruning magnolia is also super important.

Lauren Bradbury

Lauren Bradbury is a freelance writer and major homes enthusiast. She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in English and Creative Writing from the University of Chichester in 2016, before dipping her toe into the world of content writing. After years of agency work, writing everything from real-life stories to holiday round-ups, she decided to take the plunge and become a full-time freelancer in the online magazine world. Since then, she has become a regular contributor for Real Homes and Ideal Home, and become even more obsessed with everything interior and garden related. As a result, she’s in the process of transforming her old Victorian terraced house into an eclectic and modern home that hits visitors with personality as soon as they walk through the door.