Crape Murder!

Credit: Photo by MSU Ag Communications/Kat Lawrence

We’ve all seen it, some of us have done it, but that doesn’t make it a good idea – even when the professional landscapers do it! Crape myrtles can be lovely additions to a home, however too often they are manicured to mutilation.

Most people think the dramatic haircut will improve blooming, however that improvement is marginal and can even cause a shortened bloom period. Left alone, they will bloom fine with no pruning. The heart of the matter is that the pruning keeps large trees small, and Crape Murder became a standard operating practice that needs to be put in the past. Over the years many smaller varieties have been developed, so you can find the right plant for your needs and pick up a cold drink instead of those shears.

Heavy pruning promotes weak branches and can shorten the life of this stalwart tree needlessly. You can find a glorious (unpruned) Crape Myrtle at Dudley Farm State Park that is 100 years old! Once the growing season is over, the beautiful bark that remains after the leaves fall, is hard to appreciate with so much twiggy growth from the ugly gnarled knots where they’ve continually been cut back to. The best maintenance would be to only remove crossing branches, and if you have an old variety that tends to develop mildew, thin the inner branches to promote air circulation. If the plant is small, you can also dead-head the first blooms and try for a second set of late season flowers.

See a list of the many available varieties of Crape myrtle here.

Even damaged trees can be rehabilitated. You can read about how to correct this past damage at the Florida Master Gardener website.

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