How NOT To Prune a Crepe Myrtle

I don't care what anyone else tells you, hacking a crape myrtle to stumps every year is wrong.  It produces unhealthy and weak branches, weakens the tree, lets in disease and stresses the tree, compounding any other issues further.  From an aesthetic standpoint, it also ruins the tree's naturally graceful form.
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First, let me show you some examples of the atrocious 'Crape Murder' I'm talking about, and how it ultimately leads to the tree's untimely demise.  Please make sure no children are watching, and sit down before viewing this graphic material.






You can call it 'pollarding' but pollarding is actually done by pruning the new year's growth to a few inches of the main stem, and cutting each branch individually with care.  I have even seen well pollarded crape myrtles in a few places!

What actually happens is this:  Landscapers go from house to house in late fall and shear the trunks, even including the current year's growth in the destruction, leaving awful looking stumps in people's yards.  I have talked with landscapers about this practice, and the ones I spoke to are aware of how it harms the tree, but homeowners complain if it isn't done, as if the landscapers were being lazy by neglecting to ruin a tree.  Misinformation is the culprit, not landscapers.

Here's an excerpt from my huge Southern Living Garden Book:
"DON'T COMMIT "CREPE MURDER"  Don't chop your large crepe myrtles down to ugly stubs each spring just because your neighbors do.  This ruins the form and encourages the growth of spindly, whiplike branches that are too weak to hold up the flowers... Don't leave big, ugly stubs."

From the UF/IFAS Extension website:
"Unfortunately, many homeowners and landscape professionals prune crape myrtle trees too severely. Topping--commonly called "crape murder"--can be very damaging and disfiguring to the tree.... Although topping may result in larger blooms, those flowers will grow on thinner, weaker branches that will droop--especially after rain--and may even break. Topping may also shorten the life of your trees."

I'm not out to judge or criticize those of you who still want to mutilate your tree each year, and some of my friends do it because it feels therapeutic.  I get it, and by all means, keep doing it if it makes you happy.  I just think its only fair to inform you that its harmful to the appearance and health of the tree, that's all.

I have started a Facebook page for people to rally together and spread information to the masses, so that one day the murders may end. I'll leave you with a final photo to show you what natural crape myrtles look like.



8 comments:

  1. I could never understand why they desecrated crepe myrtles in that way. Thanks for the lovely photo at the end

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  2. Oh the horrible sight! They should really stop torturing the plant like that.

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  3. Those poor trees. I don't think I've ever seen crepes in this sorry condition. Maybe I've just never noticed. I do try to trim suckers and new growth along the trunk, leaving the rest. These trees are so gracefully pretty and give so much beauty for quite awhile when in bloom.

    FlowerLady

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  4. People in NC are even worse about it. They amputate the tops of most any tree species (including conifers!) under the erroneous belief that it forces the canopy to spread out. Residential areas in NC thus contain many ugly maples, oaks and other species.

    But I really can't get upset about crape myrtles. They are an invasive exotic here in north FL, and the attention showered on them just lowers native plant species richness and diversity in Suburbia.

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  5. Hi Steve...I'm so glad you posted on this issue. People need to be educated on this outdated notion. The poor crepe myrtle trees in your photos...how sad!

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  6. I am guilty! Though, let's back up a bit...my crapes have never looked so horrendous as the ones in these photos! That is definitely crape murder. Mine receive a vigorous pruning once every two or three years. I once had older trees in a past garden and kind of got a knack for being able to tell when it needed to be done. Lots of work, definitely not therapeutic. Of course, when a branch is too large for the loppers, it is not touched. Perhaps what I'm doing is that pollarding you speak of. I'll have to google that term later to see. Maybe I'm not so guilty after all.

    By the way, I saw that Stapelia on May Dreams Garden this morning. I think it's a sign that I need to head to the garden center....

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  7. africanaussie and AaronVFT:
    I'm glad you agree... Its so sad. :(

    Flowerlady:
    Its great to prune them like you do, just pruning excess growth along the trunk. Crossing branches and V junctions should also be pruned. Sometimes I'll tip prune the blooms for a second flush too, but never more than that.

    Buford Nature:
    I can agree with you on the negative qualities of crapes, even if grown correctly. I would much rather see a native or at least something unique and interesting, but if people are going to grow them, don't turn them into the equivalent of a rusty car in the front yard!

    Susan:
    What gets me, is that people must not even notice that they don't do well! It is usually in commercial settings like the ones pictured, that look the worst. The landscapers, without fail, always cut them in a flat line with no attention to where the tree branches.

    Floridagirl:
    Its okay that you do it, since you probably do it right. I'm especially referring to the flat tops you see around town where they don't even bother to pay attention to the branching structure, and instead take the chainsaw across the trunks on a flat plane.
    Oh and the stapelia opened a new bloom today, and this one actually did stink since I had to crouch beside it to take bird photos. There were even flies! I wouldn't say it was nauseating though. Anyways, loved your poetic post today!

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  8. Amen! to this post. I spread the "stop crape murder" word as often as I can to anyone who will listen!! Such a beautiful tree with gorgeous branching structure when pruned properly and minimally!! (i.e. crossing branches, sucker). I have even gone so far as to cut a previously murdered crape off at the ground and started over. It works. Thanks for the great post!

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