To Prune or Not to Prune?

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Crape Myrtle Pruning and Training

You’re driving through your neighborhood and there you see it…someone did a hacksaw job of their Crape Myrtle. We often refer to this as “Crape Murder.” So before you commit this terrible crime, consider following these simple steps to protect the health and beauty of your crepe myrtle. 

Do my crape myrtles require annual pruning? The short answer: it depends! In the first few years of growth, it may require some training and pruning each year to get the plant to the desired shape. This involves the removal of limbs that may be growing in an undesirable fashion, such as in the direction of a building or a walkway. Perhaps you have some limbs that crossover one another, if so, one or more of these should be removed. After the first 3-4 years, you should have the tree (or shrub) trained and the need for pruning afterwards should be minimal.

When do my crape myrtles require pruning? Anytime you see one or more of the following, you should prune your crape myrtles: 1) Dead and/or dying limbs should be removed completely. 2) Excessively vigorous sprouts growing straight up, which may be coming from the base of the plant or growing off major branches should be completely removed. We refer to these as “water sprouts” or “suckers.” 3) Any branches that may crossover one another or encroach on a structure should be completely removed. 4) Very occasional tip pruning (no more than 6 inches and should be done during the dormant season) to promote new growth, as needed.

So, you’re saying I don’t need to hack my crape myrtles back in the popular manner that I see them done every year? Short answer: yes! This type of pruning, commonly witnessed throughout the land, is detrimental to the long-term health and overall aesthetic look of crape myrtles. Over time, this yearly practice has been known to stifle blooming and is unnecessary. In addition, this practice increases the growth of the tree while many people do it hoping to control its size. Size control with crape myrtles is best handled through cultivar selections. If you need a crape myrtle for a small area, choose one of the dwarfing types.

Please contact Kenny Bailey, Extension Agent, at 910-321-6871 or via email at kenneth_bailey@ncsu.edu if you have questions about this article.

For more information about pruning crape myrtles, visit the following: Crapemyrtle Pruning

Crepe Murder

For more information on pruning trees and shrubs in general, visit: How to Prune Specific Plants