How to Prune Crape Myrtles Correctly

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With proper pruning, crape myrtles offer landscape interest year around in the south. Crape myrtles trimmed to encourage growth will reward with branches loaded with blooms ranging from white to deep red or vibrant purple. In the winter, the natural architectural shape of the bare branches and mottled bark will provide landscape interest. Prune too harshly and your crape myrtle will lose its shape and offer fewer blooms.

Things You'll Need

  • Pruning loppers
  • Pruning saw
  • Ladder

Plant the right crape myrtle variety for the style of growth you want. Varieties such as Hopi, Tonto or Zuni have a shorter growth habit. For a more tree-like crape myrtle choose Muskogee, Choctaw or Natchez; these can grow to over 35 feet. Choosing the right variety for your location is important because no amount of pruning will change a crape myrtle's ultimate growth habit.

Prune crape myrtles when the plants are bare, in late winter or early spring, before new growth begins. Use pruning loppers to cut back any suckers coming up from around the plant's base as well as any dead, crossed, or badly placed branches. Remove limbs that grow inward to open up the center of the plant and to allow for air circulation. Use a pruning saw to reach higher branches, making clean cuts at an angle. Pruning done too late, after the new growth has already formed buds, will delay flowering.

Avoid severe annual pruning. Crepe myrtles form new growth 3 to 4 inches below a cut. Severely cutting back thick limbs results in dense, unattractive growth at the end of the cut that resembles a pom-pom or broomstick. Landscapers refer to harsh pruning as "crape murder," according to the University of Georgia Horticulture Extension.

Cut back stems to increase flower production after the first flowers start to fade and the petals fall. By cutting off the seed clusters that have formed, the flowering plants will produce another crop of flowers and some will even grow a third batch if the seeds are cut off again. Each successive set of crape myrtle flowers will be smaller than the first.

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