QUESTION: How do I trim a crepe myrtle tree? I want to get a lot more blooms this year. – Mary W
ANSWER: Before we dive into how to trim a crepe myrtle, let’s discuss what you shouldn’t do first. Many times gardeners prune their crepe myrtle, assuming they’re doing the plant a favor. Instead, they’re committing what we call “crepe murder.”
Crepe murder is when you cut the bush back to where it looks like an overgrown stump. This is a negative thing because, not only does it ruin the aesthetics of your landscape, but it also stops the tree from forming the beautiful bark this variety of bush/tree is known for.
This type of hard pruning also brings about unwanted side effects when the plant blooms again. For instance, when the tree begins to grow back, the branches will be skinny.
Unfortunately, they won’t be able to support the new blooms and can easily break. If there’s this many negative side effects, why do people commit “crepe murder?”
In most cases, it’s because gardeners plant the wrong variety of crepe myrtle for the growing location. If you have an oversized crepe myrtle growing in a small location, move the plant to where it has more room to grow.
Then back up, and plant smaller varieties such as Hopi or Prairie Lace. These should fit better into tighter growing spaces and won’t need to be severely pruned to fit into a chosen spot.
Now that you know what not to do, let’s discuss how you can properly prune a crepe myrtle. The first step is to understand the purpose of pruning a crepe myrtle.
It isn’t to greatly reduce its size. You mainly prune crepe myrtles to shape them up or create breathing space in the middle of the plant.
The next step is to use the right pruning tools. Put the chainsaw away and only use hand shears, loppers, and a hand saw.
Hand shears help with cutting smaller pieces of the tree, loppers help by removing slightly larger limbs, and the hand saw is for the biggest pieces of the crepe myrtle you intend to remove.
Now that you have a vision in your mind and are working with the proper tools, ensure you’re pruning at the right time.
You should only prune crepe myrtle trees in late winter when there’s no leaves on the plant. This makes it easier to see what you’re doing.
It’s also a good time to prune because the plant produces from the new growth, and it should increase the number of blooms produced in the following year.
You’ll start pruning by trimming any suckers at the base of the plant. If you have any longer branches growing off the side of the main trunk, those should be removed as well to shape-up the crepe myrtle.
Next, remove any branches at the top of the tree that are growing towards the center, intertwined with other branches, or any dead branches.
After removing these trouble places, stand back and look at your product. Are there any branches that still seem odd and have an impact on the appearance of the tree? If so, remove them.
When removing branches, always cut back to the larger branch coming off of the trunk. Don’t leave little odds and ends branches sticking out all over your crepe myrtle. This will take away from the appearance of the plant.
The idea, when pruning a crepe myrtle, is to help keep the plant in its natural shape. This is not a time to create abstract art as this can have a negative impact on the look and overall health of the plant.
Now that you have a better idea of how to prune a crepe myrtle, do so with care. Ensure you are, in fact, helping your plant and not committing crepe murder.