Magnolia trees have a tendency to put out branches all the way to the ground. While this is perfectly fine, some gardeners prefer that their magnolia trees have a more traditional tree shape. Pruning your magnolia tree is easier than you might think.
A saw or a chain saw is all you need to prune and shape your tree. Cut off the branches right at the trunk. Avoid leaving little stubs on the trunk. Common wisdom use to be that you had to paint the cuts to protect them. Modern research shows that this traps diseases and insects inside the tree. It's best to leave the wound open to the air to callous and heal.
You can espalier a magnolia tree by pruning it to lie flat against a house or trellis. This allows the tree to take up less space in the yard, but also requires more work. Not only do you have to prune the branches, you must also prune the roots. The roots of the magnolia tree have a tendency to circle, or girdle, around each other and choke off nutrients. The first place to deal with this is before planting by cutting off the roots that are starting to curve.
If the tree is already growing, you will have to prune these roots with a stump grinder. Cut only roots that have surfaced and make sure you cut them at least three times the diameter of the trunk away. In other words, if the trunk is six inches in diameter, cut roots at least 18 inches away. Make sure you cut only roots that are starting to circle.