Avoiding ‘Crepe Murder': A Modest Approach to Pruning Your Crepe Myrtles

Now is the Time to Prune your Crepe Myrtles

Crepe myrtles are popular in the Atlanta area, and we often get asked when is the appropriate time to prune these beautiful trees. Our good friends at Arbor-Nomics suggest that late winter is a good time to prune your crepe myrtles since the branches are bare and you’re not compromising new growth. In fact, pruning crepe myrtles now can help encourage new growth in the spring.

Many Atlantans take the wrong approach when it comes to pruning these lovely trees. Instead of simply thinning them out, they butcher them, or commit “crepe murder” as some have coined it. Cutting the branches down to stubs can diminish the beautiful mottled bark and result in an excess of weak, wispy branches that can’t hold the weight of the beautiful crepe myrtle flowers. Outlining your objective and using the proper tools and method will help you avoid making this mistake. 

Objective: We suggest a more modest approach when it comes to pruning crepe myrtles. Rather than cutting all the branches back to nubs, aim to shape the tree. As a general rule of thumb, most of the branches you remove should be no thicker than a number two pencil. Your main objective is to thin the interior branches to allow for better air and sun circulation. We also suggest pruning trees as part of Atlanta lawn care regimens for shaded lawns since your grass will benefit from the increased sun penetration. 

Tools: You’ll want a few different tools on hand when attacking this job.crepe myrtle pruning

  • Hand pruners work well to remove very thin branches and twigs.
  • Loppers work well to remove slightly thicker branches.
  • Pole pruners or saws are necessary to clip out of reach branches and to cut branches thicker than 1.5 inches. 

Method: To prune shrub crepe myrtles, shape them to your liking and prune them back a foot or two shorter than their desired height at full bloom, since they experience intense growth in the summer. Tree crepe myrtle varieties can be pruned following these steps to achieve an even cone shape:

  • Remove the suckers sprouting near the base of the tree or along the trunk.
  • Remove any twigs or branches in the interior of the tree canopy that are growing horizontally, toward the inside. You want to leave branches that are growing vertically or tending towards the exterior of the tree.
  • Clip longer, arched branches at the point where they’re no more than half an inch in diameter. This step will clean up the look of the tree, removing any dried-up blooms. 

You may be surprised to hear that you don’t have to prune your crepe myrtles, at least not every year. Most people prune for aesthetic reasons. They want their trees to look neater or they want to reduce their size. Pruning is certainly a good idea if you’re crepe myrtle is close to other trees or close to your house. It’s also wise to trim them back and remove any weak branches to prevent branches from breaking during storms. If your crepe myrtles are due to be pruned, thin them carefully, and don’t fall into the “crepe murder” trap. You still want a beautiful tree to enjoy in your Atlanta lawn in the spring!

Info for this Blog sourced from Arbor-Nomics

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