I admit that I have been guilty of crape murder. Have you? When I first moved to the United States many years ago, I wasn’t familiar with a crape myrtle and didn’t know how to take care of it. Unfortunately, I saw the landscapers around town severely pruning crape myrtles, so I just copied them thinking this was correct. Then I wondered, why are the branches on my crape myrtles broken in the wind and always drooping with the weight of the flowers?
Fast forward many years, and some more education, I saw the error of my ways. If you are like me, you too may be copying what everyone else is doing, thinking this is correct. Pruning this way is called “crape murder!” Continually pruning like this develops “ugly knees” and is not a very attractive look for your tree.
I think we would all prefer to do “fun” stuff in the yard rather than create more work for ourselves. Crape myrtles will grow just fine with little to no pruning at all. The only pruning I do each year is by removing the suckers that always sprout from the base of the plant. I don’t even remove the spent flowers as they will eventually fall off.
Flower clusters on an unpruned crape myrtle will be smaller, but the number of flower clusters will be greater than a pruned crape myrtle, so the overall floral display in the landscape are the same.
If you feel the need to tidy up your crape myrtles, February is a good month to do it. Here are a few things to look for:
– Remove any suckers that have sprouted at the base of the trunk.
– Clip off the spent flower blooms.
– Remove any branches or suckers on the interior of the tree that may be rubbing on other branches, or just look unsightly.
The diagram below illustrates the possible pruning places (in red).
If you choose the minimal pruning method, then after several years, your trees should have well formed branches and look like this.
Tracy grew up in New Zealand and graduated with a Horticulture degree from The University of Georgia