Deciduous Early Development Part II: Magnolia

An infrequently used deciduous genus for bonsai, Magnolia nonetheless offers a unique, bold personality among our ranks of status-quo Tridents and Elms.

Most commonly used for bonsai is Star Magnolia, Magnolia stellata, among the Magnolia species options. The Star Magnolia is a modest shrub or minor tree rather than one of the massive flowering tree Magnolias that fill out the genus. The flowers have a cartoon-like quality, unexpectedly large and not in keeping with bonsai as usual, but beautiful. Usually the delicate flowers of stellata are white or tinged with pink.

Magnolia back buds fairly well. But keeping the internodes short on growing shoots is the key to unlocking an even buddier, bushier plant—mirroring the challenges Japanese Maple, from last week’s post.

And to repeat our theme for this series, we can keep internodes shorter by leaving more than we really want in the beginning years. This is is a powerful technique, all things being equal (like fertilizer, for instance).

A young Star Magnolia that has been let grow all season.

Pruning back in some areas and leaving other branches long allows for regrowth to be modest rather than overly vigorous, which otherwise brings the dreaded long internodes. If we create long internodes, the only way forward is by cutting the branch shorter or grafting. So, best to avoid them at the start.

Another example of Star Magnolia, before fall pruning. (Like the trees in the last post about Japanese Maple, these were pruned a bit earlier than usual in the fall.)

After pruning to expose a trunk line, and also leaving some strong growth in place to be cut back next year.

For a fuller explanation about keeping internodes shorter using this selective fall technique, please see the post Deciduous Early Development Part I: Japanese Maple.

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  1. Skip Serrano says:

    I’ve always wondered why bonsai artists have ignored this species to work with. I would love to see a common magnolia tree as a three foot tall bonsai; at full bloom.

  2. bonsainow says:

    Hi Mike, is this tree have similar growth pattern like Japanese maple? Beside early fall, are there other times to prune big branches? Thanks

  3. Ray says:

    Thanks Michael for timely post😎

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