Pruning - Crape Myrtle
(October 2012) My husband and I are going to trim the crepe myrtles on Military Dr in NLR for the Amboy Neighborhood Association. When is the best time to trim crepe myrtles? Also, can the bushy ones be thinned down to three or four stalks and trimmed up like trees?
The best time to prune crape myrtles is before new growth begins in the spring—typically late February. It is preferable to trim a standard variety as a tree, instead of a bush, but it can take a few years to change.
(January 2012) I have several Crape Myrtles from three to six feet tall. They all froze last winter. I cut them down to the ground, as instructed by our local nursery owner, and they came back beautifully in the spring and produced beautiful flowers that lasted a long time in the late summer, with several different periods of bloom. When is the best time of year to cut them back again and at what height to achieve the same production and growth as last year?
If you have standard crape myrtles then try pruning them into a tree again. Choose three to five of the straightest and strongest sprouts and prune everything else out in late February to mid March. Then take off anything smaller than a pencil in diameter. Eventually they will grow back into trees, provided they don't get frozen again.
(October 2010) I need to know what to do about off-shoots from crape myrtles that will not kill the mother tree. I have a tree that is probably 30-40 years old and from its wandering root system, shoots appear every year and this year some are blooming. For years I have just cut them off, but wonder if there is a product that I can use to control them without harm to the main tree.
Continue doing what you are doing. There is nothing you could spray with that would kill the sprouts but not hurt the mother plant. Most of these suckers are attached to the mother plant. Some varieties are more prone to suckering than others, so just cut each season.
(February 2010) After several years of trimming my crape myrtles back, there is a large knot where the new growth comes out each year. Should I continue to trim as in the past or should I cut the tree below the knot or does it really make any difference? They are mature and the knots are about 5 feet high.
If you have those gnarly knots or knees, then you are not trimming your crape myrtles, you are butchering them. Cutting them back to those ugly knots or every year encourages loads of new sprouts which grow rapidly then fall over under the weight of the flowers. The key if you have standard crape myrtles is to allow them to grow into graceful trees. You have two options since you have the knots. You can either cut them out or gradually let them outgrow it, cutting off everything less than a pencil in diameter and thinning out the number of branches emerging from the knots to no more than three branches. For those starting with young crape myrtles, the best way to achieve a beautiful tree is to leave three to five main trunks, making sure that there is ample room between each trunk to achieve mature size and width. Let the trunks grow to a height of five to six feet before pruning and then start shaping them into a tree. Depending on the variety, your crape myrtle can be a ground cover Lagerstroemia ‘Razzle Dazzle’, a dwarf getting no more than 3-4 feet or a standard growing 20-30 feet tall. Know what you want before you buy them, and then allow them to grow into what they were supposed to be. An excellent database on crape myrtles—heights, colors, etc is on our extension website at: http://www.aragriculture.org/horticulture/ornamentals/crapemyrtle/pdf/detail_all.pdf
(March 2005) – Is it too late to prune crape myrtles? My neighbor pruned hers in November, and I just have not had time to get it done. The trees are ten feet or more in height, and I see them 3-4 feet all over town. Help!
You have probably all heard of the “rape of the crapes” or “crape murder”, and that is what I think is occurring whenever the plants are sheared back to three or four feet. If you are growing a standard crape myrtle, it has the potential to be a small tree, growing up to 20 feet or more. Let it grow up! They have outstanding peeling bark, and interesting branching patterns. If you don’t have room for it to reach its mature size, consider moving it to a location where it does. Blooming may not be as large per stem with taller plants, but you will have more blossoms and they won’t cause the branches to droop over, and you get the benefit of mature bark. To answer your question, it is not too late to prune crape myrtles, but please don’t butcher them. You do want to prune to make sure you have good branching structure, and that you keep a fairly open plant, but yearly shearing is not good!
(February 2008) I have heard your response on how to properly prune a crape myrtle, but I have one unanswered question. We purchased a house with several crape myrtles that have already been cut back to that loathsome four foot height. All small branches have been removed and each crape myrtle has about five main trunks. If I want to let them grow as you recommend, should I cut all the branches back to ground level in one fell swoop or will that kill the plant? I don't want the pollarded look at the four foot height, and I don't want to aggressively prune the crape myrtle every year. I suspect the plants are ten to fifteen years old.
It is February, so it is the proper month to prune a crape myrtle. Unfortunately, if you have a tree that has been butchered in the past, it is not a quick fix. You do have some options. One would be to do as you ask, and start over by cutting the plant to the ground. This will take time to restructure the tree. If you do this, choose three to five sprouts that appear, and prune out everything else. Gradually shape it into a tree. The other option is to cut out the knobs and then choose one sprout that appears from that point this growing season and grow it into a tree, or prune to the strongest branch that is growing above the knob and let it become a true branch, cutting out all the other twigs from that knob.
(September 2009)We set out crape myrtle trees this summer. When is the best time to trim the lower branches so that it will bush out more at the top? They have done very well.
Pruning lower limbs is not going to have much impact on branching at the top of the plants. Removing lower limbs gives you more of a tree like appearance, but to encourage better branching at the top, prune to buds on upper branches to encourage fullness. Pruning of crape myrtles should be done in late February to early March.
(Dec. 2009) I have what I think are several dwarf crepe myrtles in the flower beds around my home. They grow in a bushy mounded shape and I would like to prune them back some. (They are bare right now.) When is the best time to prune them? What is the correct way to prune them? I know how to prune my large tree-like crepe myrtles, but I have never pruned the dwarf variety.
Dwarf crape myrtles never produce beautiful bark like their tree-like counterparts, so correct pruning is not as much of an issue here. I still prefer to wait until late February to prune them for added winter protection, but you can prune them back by half or more every year. The key here is to encourage new growth, keep them in the height range you want and let them bloom on the new growth. With some of the newer varieties of dwarf crape myrtles they are grown as ground covers and spread wider than they do tall.
(Jan. 2010) We have a crepe myrtle that has not been trimmed for 20 years. It has branched out at least 20 feet wide with many stems (or trunks) some of which are four inches in diameter and the base is probably 30 inches in diameter. It must stand 12-15 feet tall. How do we trim it back? When do we cut back? Where do we start? Another crepe myrtle nearby is much smaller but is beginning to spread the same way. How should it be trimmed?
Crape myrtles come in a variety of mature sizes from ground covers to mature trees getting 25-35 feet tall. My preference is if you have the standard tree forms that you allow them to be trees. I like three to five main trunks and everything else pruned out. Then shape them with a good branching structure. Twenty feet wide is more a large bush. Thinning them out and reshaping may take time, but at least they aren't cut back to those ugly knobs every year. The best time to prune is late February to mid March after the bulk of winter weather has passed.
(Feb. 2010) We recently moved into a house with six well established crape myrtles in the front yard. The problem is that they have been whacked on pretty bad and have huge ugly knots. They have flowered well but still have knots that just look disgusting during the winter months. Should I get out the big saw and cut these trees back below the knots or are they supposed to be cut above the knots or what? I've watched your pruning video but nothing is mentioned about trees that a person "inherits" which have been butchered. I'm a newbie with these beautiful trees and would like to clean up the mess that has been made and give them a chance to start over. Can you possibly give me some very detailed instructions for how to make them look good again?
You have a couple of options. One is to cut off the horrid knots, and then when multiple sprouts begin growing this spring, choose two to three of the sprouts and prune all the others off. Then next spring, prune off anything smaller than a pencil in diameter and gradually grow some taller stronger branches. The other option is to leave the knots but choose three of the strongest branches that are growing from them, and prune off everything else. Eventually you can restructure them into beautiful trees which are as pretty in the winter as in the summer and fall, but it will take several years.
(September 2007) I need some help and information regarding our crape myrtle. Before we moved into our new home in September the builder planted a crape myrtle tree and it was blooming beautifully. The crape myrtle started to leaf out this spring and then we got hit with another hard freeze; the trees new growth was killed off. It finally started growing again in the spring from the bottom up, but it had a lot of dead branches on top. My husband cut the dead branches off, but since then the tree has not bloomed. Did he prune the tree incorrectly to discourage the blooms? We live in Bentonville.
You aren't alone in the damage to crape myrtles. They were damaged somewhat statewide, but annihilated in Northwest Arkansas. They were well ahead of their normal schedule due to the mild March, so the late freezes did even more damage. For now, you simply must be patient and gradually retrain them into trees. Many crape myrtles bloomed more sparsely than normal if at all this summer. What I like to see in a crape myrtle are three to five main trunks and branching beginning about five to six feet off the ground. Prune as needed next February.
(April 2007) I read all your wonderful info I could find on crepe myrtles, however, I didn't see this answer. It is now March and I have arrived home to find my crepe myrtles leafing out. I wanted to prune them back, but do I dare do it now with new growth on them? I need to as they are taking over our home.
While it is true that we like to get the crape myrtles pruned prior to new growth beginning, this year things got moving a little quicker than normal. You can still prune without impacting the first blooms by much, but do it soon. The later you prune a summer blooming plant like crape myrtle, the later your first set of blooms may be since they bloom on their new growth. Make sure you know why you are pruning and don't butcher them into ugly knobs. I have seen the worse forms of crape "murder" this year than ever. Let these wonderful trees produce large trunks and let them become trees if you have room for them to grow.
(June 2006) We moved here from Colorado and had a landscaper do some work in our yard last summer. I like the Crepe Myrtles and wanted some in my flower bed next to house. He said they would do fine there since they can be pruned back to whatever shape desired. Since then I have had neighbors say they do much better away from house so they can grow larger. The ones put in are not the small-type-bushes, they are the larger bushes. Should I move them away from house and give them more space in yard? Does it damage Crepe Myrtles to prune them back each year keeping them at a smaller size? Also, would it damage them to move them as they were planted July, 2005? Just not sure if these Crepe Myrtles will get too big in 3 to 5 years. There are 7 of them next to house. Any help you can give me will be much appreciated. I also learned to check out landscapers a lot better in future.
It is quite obvious from the butchered crape myrtles all over the south that crape myrtles can be severely pruned each year with no loss of life, but I am with your neighbors in that they will be more attractive plants if they are given space to grow and allowed to do so. Standard crape myrtles have outstanding bark if they are allowed to become trees and their floral display is nothing to sneeze at. There are dwarf varieties that can and often should take severe pruning each year, and they might be good replacements. Crape myrtles can be moved, and yours are still young. I would have preferred to move them in February, but it can still be done now, if you are prepared to water and allow them to wilt and look sad for a week or two. Crape myrtles aren't the only "trees" that some landscapers plant as foundation plantings. I cringe when I see river birch and Bradford pears planted next to a house--they are large trees at maturity!
March 2005 Can I cut back the forsythia after it blooms? And isn't it time to cut back the Rose of Sharon bushes, crepe myrtles and butterfly bushes?
Forsythia should be pruned after bloom. Remove one third of the old canes down at the soil line to encourage new growth. There is still time to prune Rose-of-Sharon, crape myrtle and butterfly bush, as all of these plants bloom on the current season growth. Try to do it soon since new growth is beginning.