January 10, 2013 Off

It’s time to prune your Crape Myrtle – Tips on pruning

By in Lawn Care

Why do homeowners and landscapers like crape myrtles?  Crape myrtles make beautiful flowers that last all summer, have gorgeous peeling bark, and are graceful all on their own.  Crape myrtles are the perfect plant for South Carolina and the southeastern states because this plant favors our hot, sunny climate.  Our area allows the plant to grow to tree-size proportions.  This plant should be planted in a large area, so there is room for it to grow and spread.  Once in the ideal location, these trees can develop naturally without the owner chopping off the top, which has become somewhat of a conventional routine for those owners of crape myrtles.

Crape myrtle Deutsch: Kräuselmyrte

Crape myrtle Deutsch: Kräuselmyrte (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are many reasons to prune your crape myrtle: space, misguided routine, etc.  Although severe pruning will not harm a healthy crape myrtle, many people believe that in order to encourage flowering, you must heavily prune.  That is simply not the case.  Although light pruning will yield larger flowers and excess blooms, heavy pruning is unnecessary because flowers form on new growth.  Because new growth occurs in the spring, it is best to prune in late winter or early spring to stimulate development.  To boost a second bloom, you should prune flowers directly after they wilt in the summer.


If you choose the right cultivar, or the size and shape, you may have little to no pruning to do, as it will not outgrow its boundaries.  There are many cultivars in different sizes and colors: the 3 to 6 feet is considered dwarf and the 4-15 feet is considered semi-dwarf.  These varieties make it easier to select the right size plant for your specific place.  ‘Acoma’ (white flowers), ‘Hopi’ (light pink), ‘Comanchee’ (dark pink), ‘Zuni’ (lavender) and ‘Tonto’ (red) are some of the crape myrtles that mature between 5 and 15 feet.  These types are also resistant to powdery mildew, a fungus that affects and distorts the leaves. ‘Hope’ (white), ‘Ozark Spring’ (lavender) and ‘Victor’ (red) are some of the compact crape myrtles between 3 and 6 feet. Unfortunately, the compact crape myrtles are affected by the powdery mildew.

The first step to developing tree shape is to remove all ground level growing limbs.  You should “limb up”, or remove lower, lateral branches, a little less than halfway up the height of the plant.  You should remove branches that are rubbing against each other and shoots that grow into the center of the canopy.  Remove lower branches as the tree gets taller.  Some basal sprouting may occur, whether or not the tree is being pruned, and should be pulled up when succulent.

Manageable height is something that will require moderate pruning, which is why it is important to consider space when choosing a cultivar.  Eliminate all twiggy growth back to lower growing side branches, which will help give the plant a constant appearance.

Once the crape myrtle becomes mature, the seeds will drop and the plant will bloom.  Therefore, it’s unnecessary to remove the seed heads in late winter or early spring before growth begins unless they are in reach.

If you have an old crape myrtle in a space meant for something much smaller, consider all of your options.  “Limbing” up can be a solution for a tree that is interfering with cars, people, and doors or windows of a single level home.  If the tree is too close or leaning on a building, you can remove one of the major trunks.  A couple of other options to resolve a problem myrtle in a spot where you would like a compact plant are:

  1. Choose a dwarf cultivar that will require little to no maintenance.  Dig up the problematic plant and replace with new cultivar.
  2. Each year, prune the stems back approximately six inches above ground each year.

It is important to immediately prune dead or defective branches.  Or else, pruning should include the removal of lateral branches, small twigs, or central branches in order to allow sun and air while the plant is dormant.

The best thing for you to do in any case is to plan before planting.  Creating the right environment for the right cultivar can save you a lot of time and effort in the long run.

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Written by Rich Regan - Blue Dot Landscaping - Visit Website

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