Ask a Question forum: Shaping young Star Magnolia

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Name: Lyn
Weaverville, California (Zone 8a)
Garden Ideas: Level 1 Garden Sages Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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RoseBlush1
Oct 19, 2013 3:33 PM CST
I planted a Star Magnolia in my front garden two years ago and have done nothing to shape it and allowed it to settle in.

This year, I think it is time to start the shaping process as the tree, which came in a 15 gal can, is now about 3 1/2 to 4 feet tall.

The leaves have already turned and are dropping, but I've noticed that the buds for next year's blooms are beginning to form where the leaves have dropped.

Should I start the pruning/shaping process now ... before the whole tree is fully dormant ?
Oh, and how should I proceed ?


Also, a couple of the branches almost touch the ground. Should I prune these branches off ? As I've seen the tree grow, it gets taller at the top of the tree, but those branches near the bottom of the tree are still touching the ground.

This is the first tree I have ever planted, so I would appreciate any guidance by other, more experienced gardeners.

Smiles,
Lyn
I'd rather weed than dust ... the weeds stay gone longer.
Name: Carole
Clarksville, TN (Zone 6b)
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SongofJoy
Oct 19, 2013 3:50 PM CST
Hi -- You need to be careful when pruning a Star Magnolia. The Star Magnolias usually have a good branch structure so it isn't necessary to remove too much when you prune. Remove only small twigs to shape as desired. You can prune off the lower branches to shape it away from the ground, if desired. It's best to prune them after they bloom. It also isn't necessary to prune every year.
The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched -- they must be felt with the heart. ~ Helen Keller
Name: Lyn
Weaverville, California (Zone 8a)
Garden Ideas: Level 1 Garden Sages Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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RoseBlush1
Oct 19, 2013 4:22 PM CST
Thank you for helping with the timing, but since I have allowed the tree to do it's own thing for a couple of years, it does have some odd branching. Maybe I should have done some shaping when I first got the plant from the nursery.

I'll try and get some good photos and revisit this thread, so you can see what I am talking about. I'm finding it difficult to describe.

Smiles,
Lyn
I'd rather weed than dust ... the weeds stay gone longer.
Name: Greene
Savannah, GA (Sunset 28) (Zone 8b)
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greene
Oct 19, 2013 4:48 PM CST
I was taught by an 98 year old neighbor to prune the star magnolia with a heavy hand. Open it up, remove any crossed branches, let the sun shine between the branches and prune it to allow the branches to go outward and upward, and tell the tree who is boss. (That's what he told me). I usually pruned just after flowering, and removed about 1/2 the growth; don't know if that is correct and by the book, but it worked for me for many years.
Sunset Zone 28, AHS Heat Zone 9, USDA zone 8b~~"Leaf of Faith"
Name: Carole
Clarksville, TN (Zone 6b)
Cherish today
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SongofJoy
Oct 19, 2013 5:31 PM CST
I'm sure there is more than one way to prune. I don't usually prune things with a heavy hand and have had good success. I never remove more than 1/3 of the growth in a pruning session and that works fine for me.

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched -- they must be felt with the heart. ~ Helen Keller
Name: Rick R.
near Minneapolis, MN zone 4a
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Sages The WITWIT Badge Garden Photography Region: Minnesota Plant Identifier
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Leftwood
Oct 19, 2013 7:01 PM CST
The big fuzzy buds you see are next year's flower buds. If you prune them off, you will have no flowers next spring. So, although you wouldn't hurt the plant, pruning at this time is not recommended because of this.
Name: Lyn
Weaverville, California (Zone 8a)
Garden Ideas: Level 1 Garden Sages Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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RoseBlush1
Oct 19, 2013 9:21 PM CST
Thank you all for responding.

I did go out and get some photos, but it was twilight and I didn't adjust the white balance correctly on my camera and the photos are kind of dark, but I think you can see where my question is coming from with the photos.

When I bought the tree, I saw that it seemed to have multiple "trunks" when it was in the nursery can, but didn't understand that the tree would not grow up and have those as the lower branches.



Thumb of 2013-10-20/RoseBlush1/6c2b40


Thumb of 2013-10-20/RoseBlush1/181e8f

I didn't notice that he had pruned out what I have learned is called the "leader" of a tree to make it branch out at the top. As the tree has grown it has created an awkward growth pattern.


Thumb of 2013-10-20/RoseBlush1/7eb67e


Thumb of 2013-10-20/RoseBlush1/ae0e08

This photo shows how the tree has grown at the top ... the leaves have just started dropping.



Thumb of 2013-10-20/RoseBlush1/d7d983

These photos are the best I could get of the whole tree tonight and are kind of from the same angle because of the sun.




Thumb of 2013-10-20/RoseBlush1/cf0965



Thumb of 2013-10-20/RoseBlush1/afc07e




Thumb of 2013-10-20/RoseBlush1/d7ab68




Thumb of 2013-10-20/RoseBlush1/f062cc

I really don't mind losing the blooms next year, if that is required to train the tree properly ... thanks for the heads up, Leftwood ... but I don't know where my pruning cuts should be for this tree. I've read conflicting information about pruning young trees. Some sources say to prune and train the tree when it is very young, while others say that the tree should be established in its location before any pruning or shaping is done. I made the choice to let the tree to become established, but it growing at a much faster rate than I expected. It must like this climate Smiling

Even if I don't touch the tree, now, I'd like to have a sense of what I need to do when I do work on the tree. So, again, any advice is very much appreciated.

Smiles,
Lyn

I'd rather weed than dust ... the weeds stay gone longer.
Name: Greene
Savannah, GA (Sunset 28) (Zone 8b)
Rabbit Keeper Critters Allowed Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages
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greene
Oct 20, 2013 11:23 AM CST
That's why my old neighbor told me to prune it the way he did. The Star Magnolia wants to be a bush - my neighbor taught me to prune it into tree form. I would also rather sacrifice one year's flowers to have the tree 'my way'. One thing I learned is that no matter how much I cut - up to 1/3 the total growth - the plant continued to put out new growth very quickly. You have a very nice plant there!
Sunset Zone 28, AHS Heat Zone 9, USDA zone 8b~~"Leaf of Faith"
Name: Carole
Clarksville, TN (Zone 6b)
Cherish today
Charter ATP Member Garden Sages Plant Identifier I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. I helped beta test the Garden Planting Calendar
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SongofJoy
Oct 20, 2013 12:26 PM CST
In the South we rarely prune it into a tree form. Love it as a bush. Lovey dubby

http://www.johnstowngardencentre.ie/magnolia-stellata--quots...
The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched -- they must be felt with the heart. ~ Helen Keller
Name: Neil
London\Kent Border
Forum moderator Garden Ideas: Master Level Tip Photographer I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Charter ATP Member Region: United Kingdom
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NEILMUIR1
Oct 20, 2013 1:14 PM CST
We were taught, and I have pruned many star Magnolia's to take out the dead, diseased, damaged and crossing. Then walk away and look at it. Then you can prune to take the branches outwards and upwards.
They are tougher than you think; so you can be a bit ruthless with them. My mothers one died right back due to the dry summer and the water ban. So I cut it right back and it has grown back, well.
Beautiful plant, but take don't take any nonsense from them, as they do grow fast here.
Regards from England.
Neil.
Name: Neil
London\Kent Border
Forum moderator Garden Ideas: Master Level Tip Photographer I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Charter ATP Member Region: United Kingdom
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NEILMUIR1
Oct 20, 2013 1:28 PM CST
We were taught, and I have pruned many star Magnolia's to take out the dead, diseased, damaged and crossing. Then walk away and look at it. Then you can prune to take the branches outwards and upwards.
They are tougher than you think; so you can be a bit ruthless with them. My mothers one died right back due to the dry summer and the water ban. So I cut it right back and it has grown back, well.
Beautiful plant, but take don't take any nonsense from them, as they do grow fast here.
Regards from England.
Neil.
Name: Lyn
Weaverville, California (Zone 8a)
Garden Ideas: Level 1 Garden Sages Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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RoseBlush1
Oct 20, 2013 4:46 PM CST
Thank you for letting me know that my plant will survive any pruning mistakes I might make.

It really doesn't matter whether I prune my star magnolia to be a tree or a shrub where it is sited, but I need a bit more specific advice.

If I wanted it to be a tree, how do I create the tree form, when the leader has been pruned out and there are four branches growing outwards and upwards at the top of the plant ?

Since it has multiple trunks at the base, would this plant be better trained as a shrub ? How do I do that ?

Right now, it looks totally awkward in it's growth, so I am pretty sure I need to do something before it gets much larger. Yes, I can wait until after it blooms, but I really don't have a clue how to make it look like it's not just kind of going everywhere.

Right now, it doesn't have any crossing branches or any signs of disease. Nor does it seem to have much twiggy growth. It seems that the branches are just getting thicker and longer and the plant doesn't have any shape to it.

Smiles,
Lyn
I'd rather weed than dust ... the weeds stay gone longer.
Name: Tara
NE, Florida (Zone 9a)
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terrafirma
Oct 20, 2013 5:12 PM CST
As it already has 4 branches growing outwards…Sounds like a "shrub" is what you may have. I'd love to see a picture of it…But without that, I'd say…Start pruning (pinching) from the top, down. Creating a "fuller" "shrub"…The "pinching", or 'pruning' back of each of these four, will increase the 'bushiness' of a shrub.
Name: Greene
Savannah, GA (Sunset 28) (Zone 8b)
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greene
Oct 20, 2013 6:15 PM CST
Sounds like @NEILMUIR1 learned the same ruthless pruning method that my neighbor taught me.
From the photos of the plant you provided, if you really want a tree form, I can see a possibility for one main stem. Those branches near the ground that point outward can go. Then step back and look at it. It's okay to do a little one day and wait a week and have another look. If you want the shrub form, take advice that @terrafirma offered and pinch back to make it a fuller shrub. Your choice.
Sunset Zone 28, AHS Heat Zone 9, USDA zone 8b~~"Leaf of Faith"
Name: Tara
NE, Florida (Zone 9a)
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terrafirma
Oct 20, 2013 6:30 PM CST
I may have jumped early…@greene , I agree,I can see, kind of, in the pictures you did post, a possible 'leader'. If it is a tree that you want…It looks like you could prune the lower branches, to maybe midway point, and let it go from there…It certainly does look like you have a couple of options.
Name: Greene
Savannah, GA (Sunset 28) (Zone 8b)
Rabbit Keeper Critters Allowed Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages
Herbs Region: Georgia Region: United States of America Native Plants and Wildflowers Dog Lover Composter
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greene
Oct 20, 2013 7:07 PM CST
I really am jealous - My own plant remained back in my old yard (before digital imaging); I miss my Star Magnolia so much! Guess I will have to go get a new one now. Heck, maybe I will get two and train one as a tree and one as a shrub.
Sunset Zone 28, AHS Heat Zone 9, USDA zone 8b~~"Leaf of Faith"
Name: Rick R.
near Minneapolis, MN zone 4a
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Sages The WITWIT Badge Garden Photography Region: Minnesota Plant Identifier
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Leftwood
Oct 20, 2013 7:11 PM CST
At that stage of life, your tree/shrub looks pretty normal. It will fill out on its own in time, but you would like to speed it along, there is nothing wrong with that. Minimally, to do this you can cut off the end bud on branches that you want to fill out. Cut just above the second bud. If there are two or more buds clustered at the end, treat them all as if they were all one bud. If it seems better (for structure or aesthetics) to prune deeper down the branch, that's not a problem. If the branch is so thick that there is no bud above which to make a cut, then prune down to where another branch diverges from the stem. Never leave a bare stick without a bud at the end.

This is what happened when said nurseryman cut the leader off....
http://garden.org/pics/2013-10-20/RoseBlush1/7eb67e.jpg
there were originally four buds at the top, starting at essentially the same place at the top of the stem. The nurseryman removed the central leader (probably to propagate a new plant) and the remaining buds grew in a diverging pattern. If it were me, I would remove one of these three branches completely, as that odd branching configuration will become more prominent with time. Then, if it looks good to prune back some of the other two branches to make it look better or more balanced, do so.

I don't think Tara meant to pinch the top parts first and leave lower pinching for another time (like next year). This will produce a branching mophead at the top, with lower branches looking spindly in comparison. In time, this leafy "mop" will grow thickly and shade lower parts more, exasperating the problem and making lower branches even more spindly. Any parts of the plant that you want to encourage growth must have sun!
Name: Lyn
Weaverville, California (Zone 8a)
Garden Ideas: Level 1 Garden Sages Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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RoseBlush1
Oct 20, 2013 7:15 PM CST
Since I don't care if it is a tree or a shrub, let me rephrase my question.

If this were your plant, how would you shape it ?

@greeene and @NEILMUIR1, would you take it back below where the top four branches have developed where the leader for a tree would normally be found ? or would you take off three of the branches and leave one as the leader and pinch it back to get it to develop branching for a canopy ?

I don't mind doing a hard prune, if I can see that it is going to shape the plant for the future ... tree or shrub.

@terrafirma , could you weigh in, too ?

I don't quite understand the botany of trees/tree-shrubs and how one prunes to get them to fill in.

I kind of feel like a bit of a pest, but it is the first tree I have planted *Blush*

Smiles,
Lyn
I'd rather weed than dust ... the weeds stay gone longer.
Name: Tara
NE, Florida (Zone 9a)
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terrafirma
Oct 20, 2013 7:26 PM CST
There are NO pests here!!!! Big Grin Personally, I wouldn't "take it back" at all…If it were mine, I would just "limb it up"…In other words, prune the lower branches coming off the main trunk. Leaving the upper branches to form a small tree. Then let it go from there and see what develops. Green Grin!
Name: Lyn
Weaverville, California (Zone 8a)
Garden Ideas: Level 1 Garden Sages Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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RoseBlush1
Oct 20, 2013 7:45 PM CST
@Leftwood ...

We cross-posted.

Thank you. I am beginning to see the light through my confusion.

I've been working outside all day, so I didn't get photos in better light .. sorry about that.

I just went out and measured the growth from the point where the leader was pruned out. The four branches go in four different directions. The growth to the top from that point is about 33 inches for all four branches. Yes, there is twiggy growth and other branching on all of them.

I think what you are saying, please correct me if I am wrong, is to allow one of those four branches to have apical dominance by reducing the height of two of the other branches and eliminating the smallest branch to create a "form" for the canopy as the plant grows.

Would you remove the branches that are close to the ground as they would eventually be shaded by the upper parts of the plant ?

I had been told that after flowering, I should cut each twiggy shoot back by two nodes to create a denser branching at the ends of those shoots so that I would have more flowers the following year. Is this correct information ? Since I haven't done anything to the plant except to allow it to become established, I have yet to follow this advice.

Smiles,
Lyn

>>>>as that odd branching configuration will become more prominent with time >>>

That's exactly why I have the feeling I need to do something to shape the tree/shrub.
I'd rather weed than dust ... the weeds stay gone longer.

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