Proper Pruning of Crepe Myrtles

Updated on May 19, 2018
MariaMontgomery profile image

Maria completed a master gardener training program and can instruct you on pruning your crepe myrtles.

Source

The Correct Way to Prune a Crepe Myrtle

Crepe myrtles are sun-loving ornamental trees and shrubs found throughout the southeastern United States and are beloved by everyone. Unfortunately, the proper pruning of crepe myrtles is seen less and less — more often seen are butchered myrtles. While most people prune their myrtles during winter, the butchering often begins before summer is over.

Crepe myrtle trees have beautiful spreading canopies and provide shade for an underplanting of impatiens and shade-loving bedding plants including perennials, foliage plants such as liriope and hosta, and a variety of ground covers. They also can be underplanted with sun-loving bulbs because the bulbs usually bloom prior to the trees getting their leaves.

Conditions for Pruning

Crepe myrtles lose their leaves in winter, so any necessary pruning should be done during late winter or very early spring. Note that I said necessary pruning, not butchering.

Here are four (and only four) reasons to prune a crepe myrtle tree:

  • to remove dead wood, more commonly called "deadwood;"
  • to remove limbs and twigs that are growing back toward the center of the tree;
  • to remove limbs that rub against each other; and
  • to remove small, low-hanging limbs that will one day hang out over a walkway, path, or lawn.

Crepe myrtles require careful pruning in order to prevent malformed growth.
Crepe myrtles require careful pruning in order to prevent malformed growth. | Source

When Can I Prune or Remove Dead Wood From My Tree?

Removing Dead Wood

Dead wood can be removed at any time of the year. Pruning of living material can be done in late winter or early to mid-spring after the danger of freezing temperatures has passed. Pruning encourages new growth, and pruning during a freeze should be avoided because:

  1. A freeze would kill any new growth.
  2. This plant blooms only on new growth.

To cut in late spring would be to remove flower buds. Crepe myrtles may also be pruned in summer after blooming is finished. In fact, by pruning immediately after bloom heads are spent, you can obtain a second bloom cycle.

A Torn Cut Invites Pests and Disease

This is not a crepe myrtle, but it is an example of damage from dull pruners and incorrect pruning methods.
This is not a crepe myrtle, but it is an example of damage from dull pruners and incorrect pruning methods. | Source

Pruning Tip

Cuts should be smooth and the bark should remain intact at the cut to avoid injuring the plant.

Which Limbs and Twigs Should Be Pruned?

Any limbs and twigs that are growing back toward the center of the tree should be removed, as well as any that touch other limbs. This is done in order to prevent damage to the bark which may be caused by the limbs rubbing against each other on windy days. If two limbs are allowed to continue touching or rubbing together, they will eventually "fuse" together.

If your crepe myrtles have any small limbs that will eventually hang out over a walk, path, or lawn as they grow larger, consider removing them now. This will prevent causing people to have to bend to walk under them, for example, when mowing grass. It is much easier, as well as less traumatic for the tree, to remove the limbs before they grow large.


Where to Make the Cut

The red line indicates where the cut should have been made.
The red line indicates where the cut should have been made. | Source

How to Trim Tree Limbs Without Killing the Tree

Cut at the Junction of Two Branches

My tree pictured above was badly damaged by a person who did not know how to prune anything. The red line drawn on the stump shows where the cut should have been made for that branch. If made at that point, it would heal nicely. If left like this, with the bark ripped away from the raw wood, it would have been only a matter of time before disease and pests invaded the tree. To prevent further damage, I had to clean up the "work" of someone else and make additional cuts at the proper place.

Cut at a Steep Slant

The cut should be made on a steep slant so that water will run off and not sit and soak into the raw wood which can cause rot and decay. This is why fence posts are pointed, sloped, or rounded.

Trim at the Correct Angle, But With Sharp Pruner Blades

While this is the correct angle to be used, the pruners needed to be sharpened to avoid tearing the plant tissue, and inviting disease and pests.
While this is the correct angle to be used, the pruners needed to be sharpened to avoid tearing the plant tissue, and inviting disease and pests. | Source

Another Invitation to Disease and Wood Rot

Stumps that are this high sometimes die back and can compromise the health of the entire plant. If left like this, any new growth would be poorly attached to the stump. It would also produce unsightly "knuckles." Remove stumps at ground level.
Stumps that are this high sometimes die back and can compromise the health of the entire plant. If left like this, any new growth would be poorly attached to the stump. It would also produce unsightly "knuckles." Remove stumps at ground level. | Source

What Is Crepe Murder?

"Crepe Murder" is the name given to the act of cutting crepe myrtle trees back to only a few tall stumps. After being cut back so severely, the new growth becomes tightly arranged and will produce knotty bumps. If cut back in this manner year after year, the tree will appear terribly deformed (as shown below).

Although leaves and blossoms will hide the damage on trees that have been butchered, you can easily pick out a tree that has received this treatment from one that has not. In winter while the trees are bare, they look hideous. When crepe myrtles that have been severely pruned finally put out new growth, they resemble short, squatty trees with butch haircuts.

Correcting Crepe Murder

The only cure for Crepe Murder is to cut a badly butchered plant to the ground and let it start over.

Incorrect Pruning

New growth on old stumps from improper pruning.
New growth on old stumps from improper pruning. | Source

Correct Pruning

A graceful canopy of a non-butchered myrtle.
A graceful canopy of a non-butchered myrtle. | Source

Standard Versus Shrub Crepe Myrtles

Crepe myrtles come in shrubs and standards. Shrub myrtles will grow to a height of several feet, but will never look like a tree. A standard is a crepe myrtle that will become a small ornamental tree, but small is relative — they are small only when compared to large, majestic trees such as oaks, or when butchered. The standards can grow quite large, so they should be planted with an eye for the future. Unless they have plenty of space, they will need pruning from time to time. As discussed above, there is a proper way to prune these trees and another way that will ruin the shape forever.

Why Purchase the Shrub Type of Crepe Myrtle?

People who want their crepe myrtle to stay small should purchase the shrub type and stay away from standards which are intended to become trees.

White Blooms of the Natchez Crepe Myrtle

Two Natchez crepe myrtles in full bloom. Note the lovely, broad canopy.
Two Natchez crepe myrtles in full bloom. Note the lovely, broad canopy. | Source

A Personal Favorite: The Natchez Crepe Myrtle

The Natchez is one of my favorite cultivars of crepe myrtles because of its spreading canopy, great height (for an ornamental), and large clusters of snow-white flowers. It grows to over 30 feet in height with a top spread of about 15-20 feet in diameter.

I installed two Natchez crepe myrtles in front of our home near Charlotte, North Carolina, where we lived for almost nine years. The canopy of the two trees grew together and provided nice shade for our front door. When they bloomed in mid-to-late May through June or early July, they were like two giant, graceful snowballs.

The Watermelon Crepe Myrtle

"Watermelon" crepe myrtle in full bloom.
"Watermelon" crepe myrtle in full bloom. | Source

Certain Species of Crepe Myrtles Have Beautiful, Peeling Bark

The bark of crepe myrtles varies; some have smooth bark, mottled bark, or exfoliating bark. The color of bark also varies among the different types of myrtles, and ranges from light sandalwood to silvery-gray and dark cinnamon. The color variations and peeling bark of crepe myrtles and other trees add textural interest to the winter landscape. The photo below shows the exfoliating, cinnamon-colored bark of the Natchez cultivar.

For a list of the names, flower colors, bark colors, height, width, and shape of crepe myrtles, Clemson University Cooperative Extension Home and Garden Information is a wonderful source.

Beautiful Peeling Bark of Crepe Myrtles

Lagerstroemia subcostata bark.
Lagerstroemia subcostata bark. | Source

Is It Crepe or Crape Myrtle?

Some people spell the word crepe with an "a" (crape), presumably because the first "e" is pronounced as an "a." This is an anglicized pronunciation of a French word. In the South, we spell it crepe—the same as in crepe paper. Gardeners debate among themselves about this ongoing distinction.

Do You Commit Crepe Murder?

Do you commit crepe murder?

See results

Happy Pruning to My Fellow Gardeners

Thank you for reading my gardening article. I hope you will take to heart the pleas of many gardeners not to commit "crepe murder." Please leave your comments to let me know you dropped by for a visit.

Questions & Answers

    © 2011 MariaMontgomery

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • MariaMontgomery profile image
        Author

        MariaMontgomery 4 years ago from Central Florida, USA

        @aaxiaa lm: I do too. I think it may be my favorite color for these trees.

      • aaxiaa lm profile image

        aaxiaa lm 4 years ago

        I love the watermelon one!

      • MariaMontgomery profile image
        Author

        MariaMontgomery 4 years ago from Central Florida, USA

        @Dusty2 LM: I wish people would call experts before doing that type of severe pruning. Unfortunately, lots of yard maintenance guys don't know any better, and actually believe they are supposed to do it. Imagine that! It makes me mad to think about it. But we can't control everything, right? Thanks again for your nice comment and the thumbs up on this, one of my favorite of my lenses.

      • Dusty2 LM profile image

        Dusty2 LM 4 years ago

        I love crepe myrtles and their fragrance. However, they must not like the climate here. I have tried to grow several crepe myrtles and all did not make it the second year after planting. Anyway, I really appreciate you sharing this lens as you provided some really good info on how to not butcher them. I liked seeing the photos of the healthy crepe myrtles but was saddened to see the butchered ones. Why don't people call the experts if they do not know how to properly prune a tree so they can be enjoyed like they were meant to be? Sorry; it just makes me sad to see trees improperly cared for! I appreciate you stopping by my ULTRA AeroGarden lens and giving it a "thumbs up". Thank You!

      • MariaMontgomery profile image
        Author

        MariaMontgomery 4 years ago from Central Florida, USA

        @SamiPearl: Do you know whether it is a shrub or a standard? If it is a shrub, I wouldn't prune it at that height. If it is a tree, I would prune only to achieve the shape I wanted. For example if there side shoots forming down low on the main trunks, I would remove them. If there are any branches growing toward the center of the tree, I would remove those. Other than that, I would just let it grow for now. Be sure to mulch it well to prevent grass and weeds from growing around and among the trunks, and to keep the soil cooler. Thank you for visiting my lens and for the squidlike. You may also enjoy my new lens, How to Get a Second Bloom Cycle on Crepe Myrtles. Let me know how your little plant gets along.

      • MariaMontgomery profile image
        Author

        MariaMontgomery 4 years ago from Central Florida, USA

        @Virginia Allain: Make 'em do it right! I've noticed a lot of those guys really believe that's the way it should be done. So I don't let them touch my myrtles.

      • SamiPearl profile image

        SamiPearl 4 years ago

        Do you have any specific tips for pruning baby (and I mean baby. I bought it for $10 3 falls ago now) crepe myrtles? So far I've just let it go because it's so tiny. It's about 3-4 feet tall now.

      • Virginia Allain profile image

        Virginia Allain 4 years ago from Central Florida

        We have a landscaping service as part of our community package in Florida. It's nice to have everything trimmed and weeded and taken care of. Unfortunately, it seems like they are doing it wrong in trimming our crepe myrtles. Auugh.

      • paperfacets profile image

        Sherry Venegas 5 years ago from La Verne, CA

        I love Crepe Myrtle bushes and trees. It should be the next tree I buy for the yard. Their color is fabulous.

      • MariaMontgomery profile image
        Author

        MariaMontgomery 5 years ago from Central Florida, USA

        @lionmom100: If you have the space, you must have at least one. The provide blooms for such a long period. Thanks for the nice comment and for the squidlike on this lens.

      • profile image

        lionmom100 5 years ago

        I love Crepe Myrtles, but do not have any. They seem to do fine in my area though and there are some beautiful ones about two blocks away.

      • profile image

        Aunt-Mollie 5 years ago

        I love these trees and they do love the Southern climate.

      • MariaMontgomery profile image
        Author

        MariaMontgomery 5 years ago from Central Florida, USA

        @anonymous: Thank you. You, too. Also, thank you for the squidlike on this lens.

      • profile image

        anonymous 5 years ago

        Nice trees. Have a great weekend.xxx

      • MariaMontgomery profile image
        Author

        MariaMontgomery 5 years ago from Central Florida, USA

        @KimGiancaterino: I wish that were the case around here about the crepe myrtles. Years ago, I had hybrid tea roses that hung over my neighbor's back yard fence. When I told him that I would trim them back a bit, he said, "Don't you dare cut those roses! They look just as pretty from my side as they do from your's." We both need more neighbors like that one, huh?

      • KimGiancaterino profile image

        KimGiancaterino 5 years ago

        We have 4 crepe myrtle trees in the front garden and I barely trim them. The gardeners in Los Angeles seem to have crepe myrtles down -- you seldom see butchered versions. However, we have crazy neighbors who don't tolerate any type of encroachment. Some of our other plants have been ripped out or broken off with bare hands. I planted the crepe myrtles far enough inside the garden that they shouldn't be a problem.

      • MariaMontgomery profile image
        Author

        MariaMontgomery 5 years ago from Central Florida, USA

        @JoshK47: Hello again, Josh! Thank you so much for the squidlike, comment, and angel blessing on my lens about how to prune crepe myrtles. That lens is on a topic very near to my heart.

      • profile image

        JoshK47 5 years ago

        Excellent information! Thanks for sharing! Blessed by a SquidAngel!

      • MariaMontgomery profile image
        Author

        MariaMontgomery 5 years ago from Central Florida, USA

        @tracy-arizmendi: Yes it is. Thank you for the squid likes on 2 of my lenses, and for your comment. Also, thanks for letting me know about double points for today. Guess I'm not paying attention.

      • tracy-arizmendi profile image

        Tracy Arizmendi 5 years ago from Northern Virginia

        Here in Virginia I see crepe murder all the time!!! It is just awful to see how many people butcher their crepe myrtles up here!!!

      • PapaKork profile image

        PapaKork 5 years ago

        I was doing it all wrong! I'm sure my crepe myrtle will appreciate this useful information the next time I prune!

      • profile image

        trendydad 6 years ago

        nice lens for proper pruning

      • profile image

        sheezie77 6 years ago

        Very nice post Thumbs up!

      • CoeGurl profile image

        CoeGurl 6 years ago from USA

        We had crepe myrtles when we lived in Tennessee. They are so beautiful. Thanks for this information on how to properly prune them.

      • cathywoodosborn profile image

        cathywoodosborn 6 years ago

        So glad I found this lens. My husband and I were talking about the need to prune our lovely Crepe Myrtle just a couple of days ago.

      • Countryluthier profile image

        E L Seaton 6 years ago from Virginia

        My trees sadly were getting butchered about the time this great lens on proper trimming was gettng published. The good news is one was missed and the others will be trimmed better in the future. Blessed by COUNTRYLUTHIER.

      • Mickie Gee profile image

        Mickie Goad 6 years ago

        My husband is threatening "murder" on my myrtles! Help! I am sending him this page so he can read it.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, dengarden.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: "https://dengarden.com/privacy-policy#gdpr"

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)