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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.

  • 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 Nov 2 '19 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 Nov 2 '19 at 19:39

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