Crape myrtles are shrubs or small trees with big showy clusters of long-lasting flowers. Native to China and Korea, these popular plants are strong growers in the U.S. in zones 6 through 9, living as far north as protected spots in Massachusetts.
Colors range from white to dark red, including shades such as pink, lavender, magenta, orchid, and purple. Crape myrtles (also spelled “crepe myrtle” or “crapemyrtle”) play many roles in the landscape, including street tree, hedge, shrub, and specimen.
The attractive plants range in size from 18-inch dwarfs to 40-feet upright or spreading trees.
How to Prune Crape Myrtles
Despite the all-too-common practice of heavy topping crape myrtles, the plants usually look and perform better with just light pruning. Since pruning encourages new growth, pruning in late summer or early fall will result in tender shoots just in time to be nipped by cold weather.
If you prune too late in the spring you will remove the flowering stems and the plant won’t bloom. That’s why late winter or early spring it the ideal time to prune crape myrtles; they produce vigorous shoots at just the right time.
For routine, light pruning remove branches that are crossing or rubbing as well as any dead or broken branches. Crape myrtles produce an abundance of suckers, which should also be removed.
Many gardeners grow crape myrtles as compact shrubs. To achieve this cut the stems back to six inches above ground level every year before growth starts in the spring. Annual removal of twigs with diameters less than a pencil will create a medium-size bush.
To grow a crape myrtle as an upright tree, start by removing all but three-to-five strong, well-spaced limbs that are growing from ground level. As the plant matures, remove the lower lateral branches, limbing up about one-half of the way up the stems.
As with routine pruning, remove rubbing and crossing branches. Also remove suckers and shoots that grow in the center. Continue to remove suckers and lower branches as the tree grows.
While it is not necessary to remove spent flowers, on some varieties doing so may yield a second or even third flush of blooms. If you do deadhead, make the cuts just above lateral branches.
Crape Myrtle Pruning Tips
When making pruning cuts, cut to side branches or to just outside the branch collar (the swollen area where the branch meets the trunk).
Always keep pruning shears sharp and clean. Cleaning shears with alcohol between plants helps prevent transmission of diseases from plant to plant.
Want to Learn More About Crape Myrtles?
If you select the variety of crape myrtle with the growth habit and size you want you’ll have less pruning to do. This site has pictures and information to help you choose.
Here’s some great info on the Characteristics of Crape Myrtle Varieties.
These sites have everything you need to know to grow crape myrtle:
Read all about Crape Myrtle Culture from The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.