How to Prune the Tulip Magnolia
The tulip magnolia should not be confused with the tulip tree, which is a yellow poplar. The tulip magnolia is a small ornamental tree that grows to only about 20 feet in height. It is also called the saucer magnolia because of the shape of the petals on the flowers. The leaves are long, thick and leathery, approaching 6 inches long. The pink blooms may get up to 8 inches across and arrive in mid spring. The tulip magnolia is a deciduous variety, with moderate growth in a full sun location. Tulip magnolia is a multi-stemmed tree that should be trimmed to keep the older heavy wood from breaking.
Train the tree when it is young to the form you wish. Older plants do not recover from pruning wounds very well. At planting decide if you want one trunk or many. If training to a single stem, remove the other base growth.
Use a ladder to help you reach the higher areas of the tree. Have someone assist you when using a ladder for safety's sake. Take a close look at the tree before you prune anything to assess the natural habit and make a plan regarding which wood to remove. Trim the tulip magnolia after it has finished blooming.
Remove all the broken or damaged wood annually. Prune off the spent flowers to improve the appearance of the tree. Clear the trunk and lower stems of weak lateral growth. Prune the tulip magnolia from the top down so you can create a graduated shape.
Space the main scaffold branches at least 18 to 24 inches apart. Use a saw to remove any of the large wood that is closer than that or that is crossing other wood. Make any cuts 1/4 inch outside the branch collar, which is the swollen area where the secondary wood grew out of the parent wood.
Cut out any vertical growth and thin the canopy if necessary to increase light and ventilation. Keep the exterior shape natural. If you need to remove wood that is outside the lines of form, take it back to where the parent wood ends. Prune out any interior wood with an acute angle.
Limb up the tree if you need to for maintenance or to open up a walkway. The tree's limbs will begin to droop as it ages, which is attractive but may present difficulty for maneuvering. Use a saw for those thick lower limbs and make three cuts: a top cut, under cut and finally another top cut to sever the wood. This method keeps the limb from splitting