Crepe Myrtle Pruning

Crepe myrtle pruning involves more than just whacking a tree down to its bare trunk. Although this type of pruning has become popular, it creates an unnatural look and can lead to fungal infection. Naturally pruning crepe myrtle trees makes more sense and creates a more attractive specimen.

Pruning Crepe Myrtle Trees Naturally

Left to their own devices, crepe myrtle trees form a natural, upright vase shape. This type of growth creates a large, bonsai-like tree that exposes the beautiful textured bark of the tree and produces healthy branches capable of supporting growth and flowering. Topping a crepe myrtle by cutting all of its branches back to the trunk (sometimes called "crepe murder") creates thin, whip-like growth that bows over when blooms appear. This weak growth is susceptible to storm damage and creates an environment favorable to fungal infection. The following tips will help you avoid this ugly result:

  • Pick the right plant. Crepe myrtle trees grow in several different size ranges from dwarf (3' to 6') up to standard (15' to 25') heights. Choosing the right plant for your specific application will help avoid the need to later cut your tree "down to size." Proper species selection is the simplest way to keep your crepe myrtle trees looking sharp.
  • Timing your pruning. Late winter or early spring are the best times for crepe myrtle pruning. Your tree will still be dormant, but the worst of the winter weather will have passed. You may want to give your crepe myrtle a light trim (called deadheading) to promote a second round of blooming. Trimming spent blooms from your tree should be done as blooms fade, but not later than the beginning of August. If you wait too late to deadhead, your crepe myrtle may not have time to recover before winter sets in.
  • Stay sharp. Make sure your pruning tools are sharp and clean before pruning crepe myrtles. By-pass shears will give the best results, although a pruning lopper or saw should be used for branches more than 1" in diameter. Cleaning your pruning blades in a solution of bleach and water (4 parts water to 1 part bleach) between each plant will help stop the spread of disease between trees.
  • Start at the bottom. To begin pruning crepe myrtle trees, remove all suckers growing around the base of the tree. If these shoots are still soft and pliable, pull them up out of the ground or snap them off the base of the trunk. If they have hardened, cut them off flush with the ground or trunk. Next, remove all side branches from the main trunks up to about a third of the height of the tree.
  • Shaping you tree. In order to have plenty of light penetration and air circulation, limit the number of main trunks to three to five of the strongest. Next, remove any branches that are damaged, dead or diseased. Finally, remove any branches that cross each other or grow inward toward the center of the tree.
  • From a tree to a bush. If you have a crepe myrtle in the wrong place and don't really want to move it, you can cut it all the way back to about 6" above the ground. A healthy tree will submit to this severe pruning and respond by producing growth close to the ground. To keep the tree (excuse me, bush) at this size, prune it back to the same 6" level every late winter.
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