Crape myrtles or crepe myrtle are resilient trees that do well across the nation. They are best known for their brilliant blooms that herald in the summer and their low-maintenance demeanor. In most cases, this tree needs only the slightest pruning to keep it producing bountiful blossoms all summer long.
Just because these trees are straightforward to maintain doesn’t mean that it is always done correctly and that there is no risk to the trees if mistakes are made. Most professional landscaping companies know how to prune these trees back, but the average home-owner could go too far or prune at the wrong time leading to unintended tree damage. To make sure you are getting the most out of your crape myrtles, check out this pruning guide.
Is Fall a Good Time to Trim Crepe Myrtles?
Fall is not a good time to trim crepe myrtles as the plants need to focus on root development and bracing for the winter weather. Broken branches and flower clusters with powdery mildew or weak growth can be trimmed in late summer or fall after the bloom period. No heavy pruning should be done before the winter months, or you could perform crape murder which yields leafless branches and negatively impacts bloom production.
Crape myrtles need to be heavily pruned to keep the desired tree shape, but this should not be done in the fall. Severe pruning at this time of the year could result in diseased branches and slow the development of these tough trees. Light pruning can be done in the fall to improve air circulation and get crape myrtles ready for winter.
Is Pruning Crepe Myrtles Important?
There are several reasons why proper pruning of crepe myrtles is essential to healthy growth. In order for this beautiful tree to have a unique tree shape, mottled bark, produce seed pods, and still have full bloom production and bloom performance, it has to be a serious pruning project. Severe pruning of this beautiful tree is responsible for dead branches and lackluster bloom colors in the spring and summer.
The main reason to learn pruning methods is to grow a shapelier tree. Aesthetic pruning allows you to manipulate crape myrtles into a natural form that better fits your yard or property. Even if is only minimal pruning, these tough trees need to be trimmed in the right season to avoid mishaps.
|Single-Trunk Tree||Streamlined and fits most landscapes||Start early and choose one main branch to follow up. Remove excess branches and let larger branches grow two-thirds of the way up the tree before diverging|
|Multi-Trunk Tree||A common design that is easy to maintain and can fill in more space than a single trunk||Choose several of the larger trunk branches and prune them to grow straight and tall. Remove extra branches until you are ready for increased branch spacing|
|All Natural Tree||Occasional pruning is all that is needed, and bloom production is ample||Keep the natural shape but remove crepe myrtle suckers and obstructive branches|
To grow a single-trunk tree, you will need to regularly cut back all suckers and keep the main branch straight. All lateral branches should be chosen carefully, as strong branches will be needed to support all additional branches. Incorrect pruning of crape myrtle trees can lead to weak lateral branches and reduce bloom production.
Aggressive pruning of a single-trunk crepe myrtle can damage this hardy tree. It will be hard for the plant to get the nutrients it needs for growth, and may not produce many flowers in the summer. Based on the size of the lateral branches cut back, the tree will be able to regrow over several seasons but will have a hard time fighting off disease and reaching a greater height.
This tree pruning method can help your tree resist bad weather and ensures that one main branch is always producing flowers. With far more lateral branches than a single-trunk tree, these myrtles in summer produce colorful flower clusters that last all season.
This technique will also need more overhead pruning to clear out the interior branches that scrape and cross each other. Dead flowers and other debris can be cleared out before winter to help increase airflow and avoid mold and powdery mildew. There will be an even greater number of shoots and suckers that need to be periodically trimmed during the year with a multi-trunk design.
If seasonal pruning is not your thing and you don’t need your shrub to have a defined tree shape, then this might be the best pruning technique for you. All you need to do is shape it, so it doesn’t outgrow its area and remove dead flowers after the summer blooms. If you start out with this style of myrtle tree, you can always start shape pruning later and make it the way you want it.
All-natural pruning may be less work, but it can also cause problems in the areas of diseases and pests. When we prune, we are also looking into the interior of the tree to make sure everything is healthy. Neglecting to perform heavy pruning for several seasons could result in unknown health issues afflicting your trees. Even if you do not prune much, you should still check out your crepe myrtles regularly for signs of damage.
When Is the Best Time to Prune Crepe Myrtles?
The best time to prune crape myrtles is the earliest in the year you feel like trekking outside to do yard work. Usually, by late February or early March, the weather is reasonable, and you can spare a day or two to properly trim your myrtle trees. If you prune the trees at this time, then all the new growth will produce buds for flowers. The old branches that survive the winter give way to new blooms on the new growth, and winter pruning encourages that development.
You can continue to prune crepe myrtles all the way until late spring but try not to cut off any new growth. If you trim the new buds off before summer, you will not have any blooms. Remove suckers and shoots as well as weak branches with a diameter of less than a pencil anytime you see them start to grow. The dead flowers can be knocked down in the fall to help improve airflow and add some mulch to keep the roots of the tree warm.
How to Prune Crape Myrtles Correctly
Incorrect pruning can lead to diseases, reduced flower production, and increased pest problems. Make sure to use the correct techniques and tools and ensure you are working at the right time of year for your pruning goals. If you are unfamiliar with how to prune a crepe myrtle tree, check out the steps below.
Sharpen and Sterilize Your Tools
To successfully prune a growing myrtle tree, you will need branch loppers, hand pruners, and possibly a tree saw. Each of these blades should be sterilized and sharpened to save effort and reduce disease or damage to the tree. Hand clippers are good for removing small weak growth and suckers. Hand loppers can take care of branches up to 1.5 inches in diameter. Anything bigger than that can be taken down with a pole saw. Keep your tools clean and sharp and resterilize as you move from tree to tree to avoid spreading any unknown pathogens.
Remove Suckers and Low Main Trunk Growth
Pull up the suckers that grow off the main trunk(s) and remove them completely. Any branches lower than 6 ft should be removed to keep the main branches clean and increase airflow and space under the tree. If you are growing a multi-trunk or all-natural style myrtle tree, you can let lower branches grow if selected for their shape.
Keep Your Tree Shape
Keep the shape you started pruning your tree into, and only remove a bit at a time. It is easy to cut more back as the season progresses, but it will take many seasons for an over-pruned tree to rebound. Make sure to keep an eye on the main branches you are shaping, and don’t let too many half branches grow. These will reduce the number of flowers you get by wasting energy growing limbs that will never hold blooms. Cut branches you do not want to grow all the back as close to the main branch as possible.
Clear Upper Branches
For heavy, late winter pruning, you will want to clean up the crown and interior branches on your myrtle trees. Any branches that cross or overlap inside the crown of the tree need to be trimmed. Try to trace the main branches and only allow one subbranch to occupy each space. Choose the branches that are pointing in the right direction that you want the tree to grow, and trim the branches that interfere with their growth.
Prune Weak Growth
Any tiny branches should be removed as soon as they are noticed. All the energy that goes to branch, bud, or leaf production, where you don’t want it, will reduce the number of blossoms you get in the summer. Keep all your tree’s energy going to flowers and developing the main branches you have chosen to let grow. In the fall, avoid trimming large branches so the tree can store energy in its roots to survive the harsh winter conditions.
Cut Back Old Growth 1/3
Any old growth can be cut back 1/3 of its length in the late winter. This will remove the dead ends and encourage rapid new growth all spring long. Showy summer buds only appear on fresh growth, so the more branches you trim back, the more flower development can occur. Make sure not to cut the branches back more than 1/3, or you could delay regrowth and inadvertently cause the opposite result, fewer flowers during prime bloom season.