Crepe Myrtle Pruning: How To Guide

  • By: Walker Dando
  • Date: Jul 25 2022

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Crepe Myrtle Pruning: How To Guide

Crepe myrtle pruning is a necessity. The crape myrtle, genus Lagerstroemia, is one of the most common trees used in landscape design in Northwest Florida because of their delightful appearance and because they thrive in hot and humid environments. They are a hardy species of tree, with a national origin in Southeast Asia, that features beautiful pink, red, lilac, or white flowery blooms. Their limbs shed bark annually to reveal a light color and smooth texture, adding to their beauty. Crape myrtles can mature at heights ranging from three feet (shrub) to over 35 feet (tree)!

Landscape maintenance companies love crape myrtle pruning, but, most companies use incorrect pruning methods, leaving botched trees with ugly, leafless limbs protruding from bases. Find out how to properly care for any crape myrtle from a company with the know-how to produce the most aesthetically-pruned trees, that will yield numerous blooms for your yard or garden.

crepe myrtle pruning with the best color

Why you should prune crape myrtle trees & shrubs

Most crape myrtles require pruning to promote proper growth over their lifetime. A well pruned crape myrtle will grow into a beautiful, canopied tree or shrub, depending on its species. The main benefit of pruning is that it promotes the growth of limbs and flowers. The most important advice for pruning is to avoid severe pruning, or “crape murder.” While pruning is necessary, it’s often done incorrectly. Don’t let a company that doesn’t care about your crape myrtles butcher and scar them year after year. Follow our step-by-step guide for proper pruning of your crepe myrtle trees.

well pruned crepe myrtle pruning tree

Properly Pruned Trees

crepe myrtle pruning topped tree

Crape Murder

When crepe myrtle pruning should be done

While annual pruning is a good rule of thumb to follow, time of year is also an important consideration when pruning your crape myrtles’ growing branches. The best time of year to prune crepe myrtles is in the late Winter, around mid-February. Crape myrtles bloom anywhere from the early Spring to late Summer. The best time to prune crape myrtles is in the late Winter because new growth does not occur as fast during this time and the growth of diseases, like powdery mildew, are less common as bacteria is less active in the cold.

Pruning Crape Myrtles The Correct Way

Step 1: Start at the bottom

The natural form of a crape myrtle tree shape is a few main trunks (3-5) that have no lower branches attached to them. The main branches growing from the few trunks should have thin branches growing from them. Essentially, the natural shape should go from less to more as it grows upward, creating the iconic canopy shape crape myrtles are known for. A tree with multiple trunks detracts from the natural style and leads to bad pruning of lower limbs. When you do need to prune a crape myrtle with too many trunks, it’s ideal to start at the bottom.

Prune a single trunk at a time, taking it to the ground level and making sure you are pruning the correct place. In this stage, you should also prune lower limbs to raise the canopy shape; to do this, trim branches that grow from the side of the main trunks up to about five to six feet. To ensure good pruning, cut at the base of the branch you are trying to remove. Also at this stage, trim any new suckers (new limb growth from the ground level).

crepe myrtle pruning lower limbs

Step 2: Remove internal limbs

Once you have fostered an attractive framework of your newly pruned crape myrtle, it’s time to focus on inward-growing branches. These branches often crowd the inner workings of the tree shape and will rub against one another. Be sure to keep any branch that grows directly from a main trunk. Thinning the amount of center branches will improve the air circulation of the tree, promoting new growth by providing more space. Remember to continue to prune to the base of where the branches grow to avoid unwelcoming cuts or a branch collar.

crepe myrtle pruning internal limbs

Step 3: Trim areas with weak growth

The last step in pruning your crape myrtle is to prune any minor tree branch that may limit new growth or that may be too long for your desired crape myrtle shape. Even at this stage, do not cut too many tree branches or seed heads. When too much of a crape myrtle is pruned, there will be less new growth of seed pods, leading to larger, but fewer clusters of flowers to bloom. Still, trim branches where one branch joins another to avoid any unwanted branch collar or protruding branches.

crepe myrtle pruning of weak growth

Prevent “Crape Murder” & Other Issues

Prune while young

Crape myrtles are wonderful small trees to manipulate while they are small. In the infant stage of a crape myrtle’s life, you should do initial pruning to limit trunk amounts and branches. While you cannot visualize the future canopy or flowers at this size, you can manipulate branches to grow correctly. The better the crape myrtle tree is pruned while young, the less work will be required as growth occurs over the next few seasons.

crepe myrtle pruning of young myrtle

Choose the right species for the location

As mentioned at the beginning of the article, crape myrtle trees can grow over 35 feet tall, depending on the species. One of the largest issues with these trees is that people often plant a large species in an area that only needs a shrub variety. One of the easiest ways to butcher a crape myrtle is to plant a tree variety in a flower bed that needed a shrub. This article, from Clemson’s Home & Garden Information Center, breaks down crape myrtle plants by species and size.

crepe myrtle pruning of misplaced tree

Avoid topping

“Topping” is a term used to describe the erroneous act of overly pruning a tree. When topping a crape myrtle tree, the trimmer will prune far too many branches, to the same height. Another example of topping would be where the trimmer leaves only a single trunk. When a crape myrtle is topped, it may even die. In most cases, the tree will grow back in an unhealthy way. Topped branches grow numerous extra branches that lead to intense crowding and thick, leafy limbs. Topped crape myrtles also produce fewer blooms, which is far from ideal and less sightly.

crepe myrtle pruning of a topped tree

Only hire real arborists

The best way to ensure your crape myrtles receive proper pruning is to hire certified arborists that have experience. Arborists, like our team at bhild, will grow your crape myrtles into beautifully-canopied trees, or shrubs, with numerous, gorgeous blooms. Call us today, or fill out our form here for a free estimate on tree services today!

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