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Southeast Gardening: Pruning Crape Myrtle Trees

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

Crape myrtles are trees, not overgrown shrubs that need to be pruned every year. Celebrate their natural habits by choosing the right variety.

Well-pruned crape myrtles are lovely year-round.
Overly pruned crape myrtles sprout new branches.

Summer flowers, autumn foliage, and satin-smooth bark make the crape myrtle a lovely feature in southern gardens - even on leafless winter days. However, too often the beautiful trunks are marred by severe pruning, resulting in unnatural and unsightly growth, clusters of branches all originating at the same level.

Oddly enough this work doesn't need to be done. We're busy enough, y'all! Don't do it!

Avoid chopping off any branch bigger than a pencil. Take a pencil outside with you as a gauge. A pencil is pretty small. Then remove unwanted branches at their base where they connect to the parent stem. This raises the canopy above a level that blocks windows or scratches cars and people. If sprouts occur around the cut, rub them off with your thumb before they grow so big that you need clippers. With training, a crape myrtle can be a graceful tree that is a perennial joy, not an annual chore.

The most common concerns include:

My tree gets too tall to see the blooms. Crape myrtles are available in sizes that mature naturally anywhere from 3 feet to over 25. Take out one that is too large and plant one that fits.

I thought I needed to prune my tree to make it bloom. Crape myrtles bloom on new growth, which they will have whether you prune them or not. If the tree is not blooming, there may be other causes such as too much shade or fertilizer.

Blooming branches lean over after a summer rain and hit passersby. The answer is not to cut trees down but to train them to be taller. Raise the canopy by removing the lowest branches as the tree grows taller. Cutting the tree down will only assure that the problem will repeat year after year.


See more Southeast gardening articles.