How to Prune Crape Myrtles the Right Way and Avoid "Crepe Murder" - Joshua Tree Service

How to Prune Crape Myrtles the Right Way and Avoid “Crepe Murder”


Why Prune Crape Myrtles? 

Pruning crape myrtles isn’t just about aesthetics, though that is important too! Here are some of the benefits: 

  • Maintains a natural form: Proper pruning encourages a strong branching structure that can support the weight of blooms. This prevents weak, drooping branches.
  • Increases flowering: Pruning removes excess growth that can crowd out flower buds. This allows for better air circulation and sunlight penetration, both of which contribute to more blooms.
  • Reveals beautiful bark: Mature crape myrtles develop stunning, multi-toned bark on their trunks. Pruning allows this bark to be showcased in all its glory. 

When to Prune Crape Myrtles

The best time to prune crape myrtles is in late winter, just before new growth begins. This is typically from mid-February to mid-March in most southern regions. Here’s why late winter is ideal: 

  • Easy to see the branch structure: With the leaves gone, you can easily assess the tree’s framework and identify any branches that need removal.
  • Doesn’t affect blooming: Crape myrtles bloom on new growth, so pruning in late winter won’t sacrifice any flowers. 

Tools You’ll Need

  • Hand pruners: For twigs and branches less than ½ inch thick.
  • Loppers: For branches ½ inch to 1½ inches thick.
  • Pole pruners or pruning saw: For branches thicker than 1½ inches. 

How to Prune Crape Myrtles the Right Way

Here’s a step-by-step guide to pruning your crape myrtle for optimal health and beauty: 

  1. Reduce the Number of Trunks (if necessary): Crape myrtles naturally have multiple trunks, but you can limit them to improve form and prevent overcrowding. Choose 3-5 main trunks with good spacing and remove any extras by cutting them back to the ground.
  2. Remove Suckers: These small shoots that sprout around the base can become unruly if left unchecked. Pull them out now to keep your crape myrtle looking neat.
  3. Raise the Canopy: For a more tree-like appearance, remove any branches extending from the trunk below 5 feet (or higher for larger trees). This allows for air circulation and creates a more open feel.
  4. Thin the Upper Branches: Focus on removing inward-growing branches, rubbing branches, and dead branches. Make clean cuts just above an outward-facing bud or at the branch collar (the swollen area where the branch joins the trunk).
  5. Remove Seed Pods (optional): While not necessary, you can remove seed pods if you find them unsightly or if they weigh down the branches. However, leaving them on won’t affect flowering next year. 

Restoring a Butchered Crape Myrtle

If your crape myrtle has already been a victim of “crepe murder,” don’t despair! Here’s how to get it back on track: 

  • Severe Pruning: If the tree has been cut back to a nub, cut it all the way to the ground. It will grow back quickly. The next winter, select your desired number of trunks and remove the rest. Follow the pruning steps above in subsequent years. 
  • Hat-Racked Crape Myrtle: If the main branches have been pruned to the same height, follow these steps: 
    • Remove any “knuckled knobs” from the branch tops. 
    • Prune off all but a few select shoots that will become the new main branches. 
    • Repeat this process for 3 years, removing any unwanted side shoots. 
    • Train the saved shoots to grow upward and outward, eventually forming a beautiful tree. 

Avoid These Pruning Mistakes

  • Topping: This is the practice of cutting off the tops of branches to control height. It results in weak, unsightly growth and prevents the development of beautiful bark.
  • Pruning in Fall: Fall pruning removes new growth that could protect the tree from winter damage. It also leaves an unattractive, pruned look throughout the winter. 

Local Marietta, GA Tree Service

If you have questions or concerns about your trees in Marietta, GA, don’t hesitate to contact Joshua Tree Service. We offer a free consultation and can help you determine the best course.