Crape Murder...avoid over-pruning these beautiful trees.
May 16, 2017
You may have noticed that crape myrtles are fully leafed out and beginning to bloom across the Metroplex. These beautiful small trees and shrubs are a highlight of Texas summers. But this is also the time when many feel the need to get out the pruners and chainsaws in order to control shrubs and trees that have grown out of bounds. Unfortunately, too many make the mistake of over-pruning crape myrtles by topping them.
Topping crape myrtles, crape murder as we like to call it, is often done to either cut back a variety that has grown too large for the intended space, or to try to get plants to flower more. In reality, a healthy crape myrtle will bloom heavily without any such topping. Plants are also often planted in too much shade, which will reduce or eliminate blooming - topping won’t solve that problem either. And once you top a crape myrtle, the beautiful bark and shape of the trunks is destroyed. It’s always best to plant the right sized plant for the space and allow it to mature to full size - and to make sure plants get enough sunlight to ensure good blooming.
Pruning crape myrtles should be an easy task because it should be minimal if done property. All you need to do annually s remove the dead seed heads from the previous year’s blooms. You’ll want to keep the crape myrtle’s natural, vase-like shape by only pruning those branches that cross over others, suckers from the bottom of the plant, and branches that are the size of a pencil or smaller.
The truth about crape myrtle topping:
It results in fewer overall blooms with more crowded dense foliage at the top of the plant.
It can delay flowering.
Extreme pruning also causes knots or “knuckles” where the branches are cut, which are unsightly. This causes dense clusters of weaker green shoots to emerge. Often these weaker shoots can’t hold the weight of the heavy flowers and may break off.
When it comes to additional pruning, consider the natural shape of the tree. A crape myrtles naturally grow with a cluster of main trunks that radiate from the base of the tree.. It’s best to keep it three to five main trunks depending on the size of the variety. Winter, when plants are leafless, is the easiest time to do this cleaning. Larger pruning tasks can be taken care of any other time of the year it’s necessary.
If you have a crape myrtle that is growing out of bounds or doesn’t look its best, consult a pro before you pull out those pruning tools. It’s possible that some strategic pruning done the right way could get your tree back to looking its best, without resorting to crape murder.