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We bought a house a few months ago that has a magnolia tree in the front, as shown below:

enter image description here

As you can see, it's sort a mess, with long thin branches shooting upwards and down. If you get inside of it, it almost looks as if someone took an imaginary dome over it and just cut everything back indiscriminately. As such, the tree grows up to about a 5-6 foot height, and then at that point you just have a bunch of long, thin sucker-like branches coming off from every large branch. An example of this is shown here:

enter image description here

The top of the tree is the same, with the sucker-like branches extending 4-5 feet upwards with no other structure, as shown here:

enter image description here

Am I correct to believe this plant is not supposed to look like this? And if so, is it salvageable? How should we prune this to get it back to a regular shape? I'm okay if we need to do it piecemeal over the course of a few years.

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  • You bet that this can be repruned correctly! I am glad you are able to go 'underneath' the canopy to see the branching structure. I am thinking you could send me a video as you are pruning and I could give you immediate feedback. What to cut, how to cut, how to sterilize, and when to stop. Only 1/3 of the plant should be cut off at a single time. All plants even the lawn grasses need this.
    – stormy
    Commented Nov 2, 2019 at 19:37
  • Don't do anything with this tree until you see how well it flowers next spring. If it's covered in blossom, what you want to do is very different from if there are no flowers at all. If there are no flowers, pruning it at ground level with a chain saw might save you a few years of frustration trying to resuscitate it.
    – alephzero
    Commented Nov 2, 2019 at 19:39
  • @gammapoint 3+ years later, how is your magnolia? Did you prune it back? How'd it go?
    – MackM
    Commented Jan 11 at 20:42
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    I typically have just pruned the lower canopy so I can see the street from the house. Additionally, I trim the really tall shoots so it doesn’t get too big on the top. It’s not the best, but it’s manageable and doesn’t look too bad.
    – gammapoint
    Commented Jan 12 at 0:10

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