How To Prune A Crape Myrtle

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This article will teach you how to prune a Crape Myrtle.
by Brent Wilson · Zone 4A · -30° to -25° F to Zone 10B · 35° to 40° F · Pruning · 22 Comments · August 29, 2010 · 428,626 views


Pruning A Crape Myrtle Tree


When it comes to pruning crape myrtles, it would be better to leave them alone than to prune them improperly. We've all seen over-pruning, when each and every year people chop back crape myrtles back too far, and what we call "knuckles" begin to form. These knuckles, or what I think actually look more like clenched fists, grow larger every year when folks cut last years knew growth back all the way to the knuckles. If you would like to create beautiful crape myrtle trees continue reading this article to find out the proper way to prune them so your trees don't end up with these ugly, deformities we call knuckles.

Go to Page 2 of this article to see easy-to-follow instructions and diagrams for pruning a crape myrtle tree

When a crape myrtle is pruned back too far it has two effects:

  1. Reduces the number of blooms that will be produced during summer.
  2. New branches will grow far too long and therefore not be able to support the weight of heavy blooms - particularly when wet. These long branches weep over and often break off during heavy rains.

When a crape myrtle is pruned properly:

  1. It will produce twice the number of branches and therefore twice the number blooms as it did during the previous year.
  2. The new branches will be strong enough to support blooms.

NOTE: When a crape myrtle has reached 5 to 8 years in age and/or has developed a nice, full canopy, I usually discontinue pruning them.


The Right Time to Prune A Crape Myrtle


Wrong-season pruning would mean November and December. Don't let "peer pressure" by neighbors and commercial gardening crews get to you. If you trim the crapes in the last two months of the year, and we get a warming trend in January or February, the trees might actually start putting on new growth. That new growth will be highly susceptible to freezing weather should it come on the heals of a warm spell. New growth will also tend to draw the cold right into the plant, causing needless damage to a tree that should be resting in dormancy.

So, the best time to trim crapes is in late winter or early spring - just prior to new growth emerging. For years, we've suggested this as a great time to trim them, because at that time we're also trimming back our roses and many other plants and trees.

Go to Page 2 of this article to see easy-to-follow instructions and diagrams for pruning a crape myrtle tree

Brent Wilson

Meet The Author

Brent Wilson - Brent Wilson is an avid gardener and one of the co-founders of Gardenality. He is also co-owner of Wilson Bros Nursery & Garden Center in McDonoguh


Gardenality Administrator · More Articles By Brent »

Keywords

How To, Instructions, Pruning, Crape Myrtle, Crepe, Tree, How Not To Prune, Method, Technique


Sandi Woodham

Sandi Woodham · Gardenality Seed · Zone 8A · 10° to 15° F
I am so happy to finally have this information, Brent. Each year when I prune my crape myrtles, I hope I am not masacering them, but they always come back lovely each year, and I just learned last year that you wait until late winter...early spring to prune these, where before I would risk pruning them too early. Your article is very informative, and those of us [and we are many] who love this true Southern garden treasure delight in, and thank you for your article on how to properly prune the crape myrtle. I purchased a beautiful Miami Crape Myrtle from [you] at Wilson Brothers a few years ago and it is stunning...I love tose deep, dark pink blossoms. I need to come by soon and pick up a few more...thanks Brent! See you at Wilson Brothers!

3 years ago ·
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Alison Grainger

Alison Grainger · Gardenality Seed · Zone 8A · 10° to 15° F
I have had a crepe myrtle in my front yard for 9 years...its about 8ft tall and flowers every year. This past year, we had the coldest winter in 25 years...we live in new mexico. There is no new growth on the tree this year, just suckers at the base...have I lost the tree?

3 years ago ·
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Brent Wilson

Brent Wilson · Gardenality Administrator · Zone 8A · 10° to 15° F
It sounds like you might have lost the portion of the tree that grew above ground, but the roots are still alive. To test for whether it's alive, scrape a small section of bark from the branches. If green underneath, they might still be alive. If not they are dead and can be removed. If you want to regrow the tree, select one, three to five of the suckers/shoots to be the new trunk(s) and remove all the rest. Let these new trunks grow naturally this year, continuing to remove any new suckers that emerge. Then, in late winter or early spring of next year, top the trunks at a height where you want the canopy to start and remove any twiggy growth from beneath the cuts. New branches that will begin to form the new canopy will emerge just beneath where you make these top cuts. Hope this info helped. Good luck!

3 years ago ·
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Alison Grainger

Alison Grainger · Gardenality Seed · Zone 8A · 10° to 15° F
Brent,

Just an update on my Crepe Myrtle I thought I had lost. I cut away the old branches and left 3 new shoots as the new trunks. The flowers on it were amazing. Just remind me about how to get the canopy, when i decide next spring.

thanks

3 years ago ·
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Nicole Jacobsen

Nicole Jacobsen · Gardenality Seed · Zone 8A · 10° to 15° F
This is so helpful! I'm curious about corrective pruning for a crape myrtle that hasn't been pruned at all in at least two years? We've just moved into a new home and have two beautiful, mature, trees, however, they've got masses of scraggly, bare branches sticking out at the top and around the edges, extending beyond the budded branches. It bloomed briefly this summer, but quickly lost its blossoms and now looks like something out of a halloween scene. Any suggestions for helping it out this fall, or should we hang on until late winter and prune as you've suggested. Wouldn't want to harm it further, and we're novices at this! Thanks for any suggestions...

3 years ago ·
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Brent Wilson

Brent Wilson · Gardenality Administrator · Zone 8A · 10° to 15° F
Hi Nicole - Would you mind asking this question in Ask Experts. Look at the top of this page in the main menu tabs and click on the Ask Expert link. I can give a more detailed answer there. If you could upload a picture to your question this would be very helpful as well and allow me to give proper instructions. To upload a picture to your question: first ask the question, then you'll see the Upload Picture link to the right of where your name is on the page. It will be the "live" page where your question appears for all to see.

3 years ago ·
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Ann Lathrop

Ann Lathrop · Gardenality Seed · Zone 8A · 10° to 15° F
I live in Texas and we just bought a new house with crape myrtles. I was pruning my roses when a gardening crew came by to see if I wanted my landscaping taken care of. I didn't even know the names of many of the plants/shrubs/trees that were around my home so they were helpful in telling me what all they are. They did prune my trees and it's early November here. Yikes, did I make a big mistake? Is there any chance now I may lose my trees. I just learned it's best to prune them in spring and am mad at myself for not doing my research first. Anything I can do over the winter months to help protect the tree? It doesnt' get too cold here in Texas but we might have a few days over December and January.

2 years ago ·
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Brent Wilson

Brent Wilson · Gardenality Administrator · Zone 8A · 10° to 15° F
Hi Ann - November pruning of a crape myrtle or other trees might not be a big problem if the trees were already in dormancy. That being said, in the future, I would let a lawn maintenance company take care of the lawn and hire an arborist to prune and care for the trees and shrubs in your landscape. Otherwise, a person without the experience and knowledge can do more damage than good. You want to make sure that whoever does the pruning knows the right time and proper methods. My feeling is that your crape myrtles will survive, though I haven't seen how they pruned them. If you post pictures of your crape myrtles in Gardenality Ask Experts, and ask the question: "Were my crape myrtles pruned properly?"...or something like that, I'll be more than happy to take a look and give more opinions and advice as to what to do in the future. When you go to Ask Experts, just ask your question first, then after doing that you'll see the link to the right of where your name appears that allows you to upload a picture(s).

2 years ago ·
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Natalie Anne Thomas

Natalie Anne Thomas · Gardenality Seed · Zone 8A · 10° to 15° F
I REALLY APPRECIATE THE VISUALS.WITH THEM,I'M MUCH MORE CONFIDENT THAT I'M DOING IT CORRECTLY.MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD TO ME. THANXOMUCH BRENT,YOU ROCK!!!!!!!!! NAT

2 years ago ·
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Brent Wilson

Brent Wilson · Gardenality Administrator · Zone 8A · 10° to 15° F
Thanks for the compliment Natalie! Glad you found this article helpful.

2 years ago ·
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Brad Hall

Brad Hall · Gardenality Seed · Zone 8A · 10° to 15° F
Brent, I like a couple of people before me have purchased a home (north Texas) with a Crape Mertle tree in the back. we have never pruned this tree and it is getting rather large for its location. Since you have asked the previous folks to submit pictures in "ask the expert" I shall follow suit. Thanks in advance for your expertise.

2 years ago ·
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Carol Pietryk

Carol Pietryk · Gardenality Seed · Zone 8A · 10° to 15° F
HI Brent, A week ago I trimmed by myrtles in the front of the house. No problem. I went to trim the ones in the back yard (6 of them) and they all have started to bud on last years growth. Am I too late, should I leave them alone this year or can I still trim them. The branches have buds on them and on some depending on where on the branch, the bud has started to open. I live in VA near the RIchmond area. Thanks!

2 years ago ·
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Anne Fox

Anne Fox · Gardenality Seed · Zone 7A · 0° to 5° F
Hi, Brent: I have a Tonto that I planted in August 2010. It didn't do much last year, of course, but I'm hoping for a little something this year. At the moment, it's very bushy, and I'd prefer a more multi-stemmed small tree. Can I choose the four or so strongest looking branches and trim out the rest, or did I choose a variety not suited for that type of pruning? It's about 4 feet tall, maybe a bit more, and I'm in south-eastern PA, zone 7a-ish. Thanks!

2 years ago ·
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Brent Wilson

Brent Wilson · Gardenality Administrator · Zone 8A · 10° to 15° F
Hi Carol - You can still prune them if they are just starting to bud out. I pruned a few Natchez crape myrtle trees a little late a couple of years ago, when they were starting to leaf out, and they did fine. Hope this helped. - Brent

2 years ago ·
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Brent Wilson

Brent Wilson · Gardenality Administrator · Zone 8A · 10° to 15° F
Hi Anne - To answer your question about pruning out some of the trunks on your young Tonto crape myrtle. Yes, you can remove all but three or four of the trunks. It's easier and better to do when a tree is young. Three trunks is the optimum number for me, but 4 or five work well to. Just pick out the one's you want to keep and remove the rest cutting them as close to the ground as possible. Doing this might cause some suckers to emerge so you'll have to remove these until it stops producing them. This is a question that hasn't been asked yet in Ask Experts. If you don't mind, could you ask the question there as well? This way I can answer it there and other members and visitors who have the same question can find it in the Ask Expert database in the future. I might provide some more details in an answer there. To get to Ask Experts go to the top of this page and click on the green Ask Expert tab. In the near future this tab will change to just say "Ask." Hope this answer helped. - Brent

2 years ago ·
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Glenn Kage

Glenn Kage · Gardenality Seed · Zone 8A · 10° to 15° F
Hello Brent, thank you so much for the information in your article. I live in Missouri and purchased some crape myrtles while visiting my son in SC 3 years ago. I planted them when I returned. All three died off in their first winter. I pruned them back and was very excited to see them grow back and produce some beautiful flowers. This will be their 3rd summer and they are very thick. I checked them today 3/25/12 and they have quite a few leaves. My question is can I convert them from a multi-trunk "bush" to a tree?

2 years ago ·
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Brent Wilson

Brent Wilson · Gardenality Administrator · Zone 8A · 10° to 15° F
Hi Glen - you're very welcome. Regarding turning a crape myrtle bush into a tree. This might depend on the variety. There are dwarf crape myrtle only suitable as a shrub. But, if yours is one of the taller growing varieties, you can remove lower branches emerging horizontally from the trunks to a desired height to begin forming the tree. Small lower branches and suckers growing up from the base can be removed at any time of year. Larger branches or trunks should be removed in late winter, while the tree is in dormancy and before leaves emerge in spring. Hope this answered your question. - Brent

2 years ago ·
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Jennie Kelly

Jennie Kelly · Gardenality Sprout · Zone 8A · 10° to 15° F
Hi Brent - Is it possible to just cut then down about 3 to 4 feet and then just start over. I see my neighbors and they only have about 3 or 4 main branches on the bottom and I have about 8. Should I just cut down all but 3 or 4 and start again.

1 year ago ·
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Brent Wilson

Brent Wilson · Gardenality Administrator · Zone 8A · 10° to 15° F
Hi Jennie - If you want to reduce or thin out the number of trunks on your crape myrtle you can remove some of them. Three to five trunks is usually the maximum I allow, three being preferable. Be careful though when selecting the trunks you will remove. Make sure that removing them will not destroy the shape of the canopy. Regarding height, I rarely recommend pruning large, tall. mature crape myrtles down to short trunks with no upper branches. Only time I ever recommend this is when a crape myrtle has been pruned back too far for many years leaving large unsightly knuckles. In this case I sometimes suggest pruning just below these masses of knuckles in order to "start over"...then following the instructions as are laid out in article above. You can always ask questions in Gardenality Ask Experts and upload pictures to your question. This way I can see the tree and offer better advice. Hope this was helpful.

1 year ago ·
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Esther Hinojosa

Esther Hinojosa · Gardenality Sprout · Zone 8A · 10° to 15° F
good day to you sir!
i'm thankful to bump into this site and am interested in more information on crepe myrtles. i planted a four footer Natchez late last fall. it was doing fine till we got hit w/a sudden cold front. some leaves died but was hanging in there when the weather warmed up again for a few days till another burst of cold came and it went dormant as far as i knew cuz all the leaves crinkled up and nothing came after that. i'm noticing that it's not blooming anything right now while everything else in my yard has shown signs of life. i had mulched it and it doesnt feel stiff and dry but one twig did snap off and there wasnt any green. so i'm wondering if its dead. if so, do i just cut the whole thing down to its roots and see what happens? i can take it back but i want to not give up on it yet. also, do i take off the mulch now? its been very nice weather for the past week or should i wait in case there's another cold front? thank you for your advice :)

1 year ago ·
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Brent Wilson

Brent Wilson · Gardenality Administrator · Zone 8A · 10° to 15° F
Hi Esther - Though it's a rare occurrence, late freezes in spring can definitely cause damage to and can even kill young or newly planted crape myrtle that are emerging or have already emerged from winter dormancy. I would suggest using a knife or some other sharp tool to scrape small sections of outer bark off branches and trunks to see if there's any part of the tree that is still alive. Start at the top and work to the bottom. If you find no green underbark you could cut the trunk(s) back to the ground and wait to see if new growth will re-emerge. If by late spring there is no new growth it could be dead. Since there is no foliage on the tree it won't require much irrigation. Just keep the soil damp, but not wet or soggy. Hope this info was helpful. - Brent

1 year ago ·
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