The Crape Myrtle often goes by the moniker 'Lilac of the South' and is prevalent in the Southern United States. It is a deciduous plant that gardeners grow as either a tree or a large shrub. I love being in the south when these shrubs and trees are in bloom. They are beautiful. Crape Myrtle's thrive in warm temperatures, typical to USDA Hardiness Zones 7 – 9. From July through September, the plant produces pretty blossoms in coral pink, fuchsia, lavender, pink, purple, rose, and white. In the fall, the foliage will turn yellow, orange, or red.
The Crape Myrtle is native to parts of Asia and Australia. If you are lucky enough to be an owner of one of these beautiful plants, you know they are relatively low maintenance and have a long lifespan. A heated topic among gardeners today surrounds the question of pruning a Crape Myrtle. Many gardeners tend to significantly cut back the Crape Myrtle by chopping off the plant's upper limbs, leaving a bare stump-like appearance. To some people, it makes the Crape Myrtle unattractive to look at during the winter. Some gardeners believe that this 'Crape Murder' will cause the tree's structural integrity issues and produce stunted growth and reduced flower production.
Tips on Pruning Your Crape Myrtle
First, let's talk about why you need to prune your Crape Myrtle, and then you will know the best time to prune it. If your plant has damaged, dead, or diseased branches, you can remove them any time of year, and the best time to do it is when you see you have a problem. The late winter is the best time to prune the plant for shape or size maintenance. The time to prune is right before the tree is coming out of dormancy and before new growth starts. Pruning in the fall is not recommended as it makes the plant more vulnerable to winter damage.
Different theories suggest you need to prune your tree to encourage more blooming. Many gardeners feel that cutting the ends of the stems stimulates the dormant buds, and new flowers will develop. However, many Crape Myrtles are bred to have continuous blooms for long periods during the growing season, and therefore they do not need to be pruned at all. If your Crape Myrtle is already producing beautiful flowers, it may be best to refrain from pruning it at all.
If you have a more traditional variety of Crape Myrtle that has stopped flowering, pruning it will encourage it to bloom again. It may take several blooming cycles for your plant to bloom again if you are doing this. If you are pruning to encourage continuous blooming, cut away the spent blooms before they fade and turn into seed pods. Another reason to prune your Crape Myrtle is to maintain its vigor. An older Crape Myrtle might develop too many branches, so thinning them out to encourage airflow and prevent disease is beneficial to the plant.
A final reason to prune is to maintain the size of your Crape Myrtle. If you have a plant growing too large, annual pruning can help manage its size. The best way to do this is to remove all of the tips of the tree. Pruning a tall Crape Myrtle can be difficult, and you might have to get help doing this. When pruning, make sure you use sharp shears or a pruning saw. You can repeat this pruning every year if you need to
Let us know if you have any tips for pruning your crape myrtle.