Trimming Sweetbay Magnolia Trees

by Melissa
These trees have completely over taken the front of the house. I am not sure I want to take them out completely but do you know how much I can cut them back without killing them?
  15 answers
  • Oh how I love those native beauties! You usually prune any flowering tree or shrub after it flowers otherwise you risk losing next years blooms. I would not take out more 1/3rd of the branches at a time. Too bad you could not move the one closest to the house because that is too close. If you trim now you will lose some blooms but if you want to shape the tree now is the time to do it. Start with any unhealthy looking branch and then look for branches that touch or cross over and touch each other that may be crowding each other. To get it down to a smaller size, then wait until after they bloom next June and trim some more again. Good luck! and I am envious!
  • Douglas Hunt Douglas Hunt on Sep 27, 2014
    I agree with Renee about not removing more than one-third of the tree, but I really think you might want to make the leap and have professionals move them. They are never going to be happy if they are constantly being pruned to be kept well under their natural size, and you aren't going to be either.
    • Sheryll S Sheryll S on Sep 28, 2014
      @Douglas Hunt I so agree with you about moving them a good way out from the house, way out. You would not believe how huge one of my neighbors tree is.... it is really, really huge. And it always makes the street and a few over smell so wonderful each summer.
  • Jill Jill on Sep 28, 2014
    I agree with comments above. Ultimately, they should probably be moved or removed. But if you're determined to trim, trim as an arborist would. Keeping an eye for balance and shape, make your cuts at the joints. Try not to just hack a branch off mid-way. It's healthier for the tree that way. Even if you do end up going a little too far on one side, though, it'll fill itself in and balance itself out next season.
  • Julie Johnson Julie Johnson on Sep 28, 2014
    All of the above comments are good advice. If you choose to have the work done, make sure it is a certified arborist you are hiring. Calling oneself an arborist does not an arborist make! Every certified arborist has a certification number they should be able to provide. If you decide to tackle pruning yourself, this publication is helpful:
  • Debi Debi on Sep 28, 2014
    that's right no more then a third and after it blooms good luck and remember step back every so often so you can survey your work don't want to take off more on one side
  • Melissa Melissa on Sep 28, 2014
    Thank you for all the responses. I don't know why they would plant these trees so close to the house. Feeling overwhelmed with it. In the picture you can only see 2 but there is one more that sits as close to the house as these. All 3 will have to be removed.
    • Gloria Duy Gloria Duy on Sep 28, 2014
      @Melissa I feel your pain. I bought a house that sits on almost and acre. The previous owners had the house built and planted everything close to the house and garage. They also planted fruit trees right on the lot line, only about 4 feet apart. When we bought it the house was already 15 years old and things were too overgrown and some were being choked off. We have been pruning and cutting one tree to save another. And yet our massive front and side yard is empty! Frustrating!
  • Rachel F Rachel F on Sep 28, 2014
    These look like Crepe myrtle trees. If so, you can be fairly abusive in your cuts( some call it crepe murder) and they will put out new braches in the spring. But the blooms will be less. These often will sprout new trees from the seeds that fall, and I have grown many from seed.
  • Rebekka Rebekka on Sep 28, 2014
    I would take them out because they are covering up that beautiful house, but I think the answer would be 1/3 could be removed without killing your tree. I agree with Jill, but cut just above the crown at each joint.;_ylt=AuolbP0owNjOUhcTswH3XgybvZx4?p=how+to+properly+trim+a+tree&toggle=1&cop=mss&ei=UTF-8&fr=yfp-t-dummy_1&fp=1
  • Norma Jones Norma Jones on Sep 28, 2014
    My larger concern is the damage to the foundation from the roots! Heavy pruning before the tree is dormant can be damaging to the tree if you take more than 3'. Most people have no clue when planting that trees grow out in ALL directions, above and below the ground - even towards the house! If you could have them professionally moved away, it would be best, but if that is not economically feasible, at least get the one closest to the foundation OUT before your basement walls start leaking.
  • Thej Thej on Sep 28, 2014
    First-take out any branches that touch each other. You are trying to let air go through the branches and "lace it out" which will take out the fullness of the tree but still keep it's shape. Second-take out any branches that are fighting for the same space. Once you are able to see through the tree decide if you want to take off any height off the top. Once you "lace " out the tree and take out all the fullness, you may like it just as is. Think of it as the same way that one is supposed to prune roses!
  • Nancy Nancy on Sep 28, 2014
    If you must remove them, contact a garden centre; perhaps they will take them for the cost of removal. They are too beautiful to cut down.
  • Joanie1051 Joanie1051 on Sep 28, 2014
    I think I would take out the two closest to the house so the roots don't damage the house foundation and prune out about 1/3 of the branches of the one that appears to be on the other side of the sidewalk and see how it looks after that, like Thej suggested.
  • Rose Rose on Sep 29, 2014
    I would contact a professional. The one closest to the house may not be able to be moved. A tree spade can't be used that close to the house, So it will have to be hand dug. Success in moving it is low, in my opinion. Don't forget to get locate underground piping (water, gas, sewer) and any wiring. You may be able to get free advise from a professional.
  • Buster Evans Buster Evans on Oct 02, 2014
    Hi Melissa They are Beautiful Trees, and will be a continuous problem having to prune... I have a similar situation with a huge crepe Myrtle that mom and dad planted next to the old patio out front.. she has had me dig it up numerous times but the roots go up and under the patio.. we could remove a 2 or 3 foot tall bush and in a little while another would take its place growing back from its roots... Some have fussed at me that it now blocks the view of the house, but its more than I can deal with to keep it trimmed... Thankfully its several feet from the house and "Thriving" lol. If you can move the trees with a professional that would be great I would space them out to "FRAME" the house from the road to where they can add balance to the overall yard... I have never measured the amount of pruning I do as to 1/3 ,1/2 etc I have always cut off what I needed to cut, but only in or after October/november when the sap is down.. I know this differs from some opinions but never lost a tree from pruning...(dumb luck maybe mother nature feels sorry for me and lets me get by I dont know)... Either way you go ... whether you prune them WAY back or move them... I wish you the best... one last thought if you do decide to leave them and prune them you'll need to keep them pruned yearly to keep them from getting away from you again.
  • Ruth Wolery Ruth Wolery on Nov 11, 2014
    What nice gorgeous trees. If you can afford a professional to move them to a good new location, that would be best. You will enjoy them for years in a sunny spot what has space.