"Little Gem" blooms white and can be deciduous at the cooler end of its range.

How to Prune Little Gem Magnolia Trees

by Patricia H. Reed

Southern magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora) are grand trees in full bloom, but mature specimens top out at 60 to 80 feet tall, and can overwhelm a small yard. The cultivar "Little Gem" (Magnolia grandiflora "Little Gem") can give you the same classic evergreen leaves and fragrant white blossoms at about one-third the size in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 through 9. Though the plant starts flowering at about 3 feet tall and has a longer flowering period each year than most magnolias, it has a tendency to get leggy without pruning each spring.

Clean the blades of your pruning tools with household antiseptic cleaner to decrease the potential of transferring disease or fungus from the last plant pruned. Dry the blades with a paper towel.

Cut back any dead or broken branches, and any branch tips and buds in late spring after all danger of frost has passed. Make your cuts at a 45-degree angle 1/4 inch above a leaf, leaf bud or side branch.

Trim one-half the length of approximately one-third of the stems coming off the main trunk in early summer after the first flush of bloom. This encourages more branching for a fuller plant.

Clip off seed pods when flowers fade to encourage even more new growth.

Items you will need

  • Loppers
  • Bypass pruners
  • Household antiseptic cleaner
  • Paper towels


  • Use pruners for branches up to 3/4 inch in diameter and loppers for branches from 3/4 inch to 1 1/2 inches in diameter.
  • Magnolias are considered safe for planting in areas where kids and pets play.


  • Handle and store pruning equipment with care.

About the Author

Patricia Hamilton Reed has written professionally since 1987. Reed was editor of the "Grand Ledge Independent" weekly newspaper and a Capitol Hill reporter for the national newsletter "Corporate & Foundation Grants Alert." She has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Michigan State University, is an avid gardener and volunteers at her local botanical garden.

Photo Credits

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