Avoid Crape Murder

Crape Myrtles are a vibrant summer staple here in the south. They thrive in our hot summers and need very little water to flourish. While Crape Myrtles do great in our environment they do require careful pruning. Read below to find out how to properly prune your Crape Myrtle.

What tools should you use to prune?

Always use a clean, sharp tool that is the correct size for the branch you are removing. Choosing the right size tool will allow you to make a cut that will cause the least damage to the plant. Make sure your tools have been cleaned to reduce the contaminates that you introduce to the tree.

 Pruning shears are for the small limbs under an inch in size. Loppers are for pruning branches an inch in diameter and use a serrated pruning saw on branches larger than 1- 1/2 inches in diameter.

When should you prune your Crape Myrtle?

Crape Myrtles bloom on new growth. Late winter or early spring before new growth emerges is optimal time for cutting back Myrtles as they are dormant so they are focused on growing roots and not actively producing new leaves or flowers. Cutting during this time also promotes faster, healthier regrowth come spring time. Do NOT prune them in the fall. Fall pruning of a Crape Myrtle can cause disease and damage over winter before the tree heals.

How do you prune?

Start from the bottom of the tree and work your way to the top. A Crape Myrtle is a multi-stem tree and only needs a few main trunks. An odd number of trunks is more appealing to look at so its best to keep the main trunks to 3 or 5. Keep the trunks that are growing strong, straight, and have plenty of room. When removing a trunk, cut it back as close to the soil as possible.

Depending on the location of the tree would determine your next cuts. If the tree is in an area that inhibits sight or is often walked under you should trim any branches that fall below 7 feet. Trim the branches back to the main trunk.

The top part of the tree just needs thinned aesthetically. Keep the top full in diameter but trim any branches that cross back and forth. Thin out any branches that are less than 1/4 inch in diameter.

A cut known as a heading cut controls how a plant grows and can improve the overall shape of the plant. These types of cuts are done to control the size of the plant and to increase density but should only be done on branches that are currently growing or one-year-old shoots or on a branch or stem back to a stub or to a lateral branch that is too small to become a terminal branch. Heading cuts stimulates regrowth very close to the pruning cut and can destroy the natural shape of the plant. This pruning technique is not to be used as a matter of routine on large branches. This is a common sight in the Metroplex with what we call “crape murder” where heading cuts have been made to reduce the size of crape myrtles. This is an outdated practice and should be avoided.

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