The controversy of pruning crape myrtle is heating up. Do you need to prune? Can you just let it grow? Read on my friends.
It’s the time of year when I find myself cringing when I drive around town. It’s begun. “Crape Murder” is running rampant through our neighborhoods. Where did it start? Who decided this was a good idea? If you get anything from this article: Do NOT cut your crape myrtles to nubs!
The process of turning the naturally beautiful vase-shaped growth of a crapemyrtle tree into a deformed stump with little nubs is a practice that has no scientific basis. In fact, the University of Florida writes, “Properly placed, crapemyrtle is a low-maintenance plant needing little or no pruning.” That pretty much says it all.
According to Professor Ed Gilman, little or no pruning is needed to induce blooming. Research shows that “topping” or cutting the branches down to hard sticks, does not increase bloom size or duration. Unless there is a safety issue with the tree, it should be left to grow in the natural shape. If a homeowner is feeling ambitious they can remove old seed heads and any sprouts coming up from the base, but that is really all that is needed. The rule of thumb: do not cut any branches larger in diameter than a pencil. Don’t believe me? Read Dr. Gilman’s full article HERE.
Look at how nice the natural vase-shape is on unpruned crapemyrtles!
And the naturally exfoliating bark is another quality we often forget about. Over time large trunks start to show this beautiful mottling pattern.
What do you do if you have crape myrtles that have been pruned incorrectly in the past? Go ahead and let them grow. Keep an eye on any suckers that come up from the base and remove them so that the growth focuses in the upper branches. Later in the summer if you notice there is an abundance of new stems coming from the large branches, you can reduce these down to just three or four per branch. These will become larger and stronger and develop into the new structure of your tree.
If you are considering planting a crapemyrtle in your yard seek out the best variety for your chosen space. Smaller varieties may fit your yard better than a very big form, and new varieties with dark leaves add interest beyond just colorful flowers. There are many options now available! If you need some help in selecting the best variety, my good friend Gary Knox has done the research to help and you can find your perfect crapemyrtle HERE.
This is the time of year to enjoy the cooler weather and let your plants rest. Just because the neighbors are conducting “crape murder” and pruning crape myrtle plants does not mean you need to do the same. Avoid the temptation to pick up the pruners or loppers and cut back your trees. You will be rewarded with a longer blooming season from your crapemyrtles and avoid those nasty cut-off sticks for the spring months.
This topic about pruning crape myrtle gets me so riled up that I write about it every year… I am tempted to start printing copies and hanging them on offenders doors.