Correcting A 'Murdered' Crepe Myrtle

Filed Under: Landscaping, Pruning · Keywords: Correcting, Pruning, Murdered, Crape Myrtle, Crepe · 1836 Views
Hey, I've seen quite a few questions about how to correct a 'murdered' crepe myrtle, and each answer asked for pictures! So, without further ado:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/styxriver23/sets/72157632523390550/

Background: Moved into this house last year, obviously there's many years of damage to this tree. Monkey see, monkey do, I repeated the mistake. It suffered from all of the 'topping' effects that I've seen, including weeping branches and explosive growth.

After doing some other research, came across this site and many informative articles about crepe myrtles. I want to restore this tree as best as possible, and I realize it will take time. The house was built around 20 years ago, and I'm assuming the tree was planted around the same time.

The base trunk is significant, and it immediately branches out into 4 additional 'trunks'. About 2-3 feet up are the first set of knuckles, then it looks like it was allowed to grow another 2 feet before they started topping it there. I can only assume that the bushes next to the myrtle provided the initial 'cutting line' before whatever landscaping company the previous owners employed changed their topping location.

This myrtle grows to be quite tall, exceeding 15' easily, and is very close to the house, within about 2 feet, and usually scrapes the roof on that side. I'd like to restore the tree as best as possible and avoid removing it if possible, which may require some creative pruning, but I'm up for the challenge. I'd like to prevent it from getting so large (there's a severe grade on that side of the house sloping towards a pond, so using a ladder is impossible), but if that isn't realistic, I completely understand.

Thank you so much for your time!!


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2 Answers

Answer #1 · Gardenality.com's Answer · Hi Chris,

It does loom to be quite old. The likens growing on the trunk are either a sign of old age, too much shade, poor health, wet soil, or a combination thereof. Because it was planted so close to the house, it also sounds like the original designer or planter meant for it to be an espalier (trained to grow flat against a wall)...or they didn't know how large it would get.

It is very difficult to restore a tree that has been pruned this badly for so many years. If it were me, I'd probably remove or try to transplant it. That being said, if you want to try to restore it this is possible.

To restore the tree you could either saw the trunk off very close to the ground or you can allow it to grow branches this season that will be pruned next season.

If you cut it back close to the ground this year new shoots will emerge. From these new shoots you would select maybe 3 or 4 of the best (3 is best) to establish new trunks and then remove all the rest. You would allow these shoots to grow to 4 or 6 feet in height and then top them just above some buds at 40 to 5 feet in height the next year during the late winter. Then, for the next few years, follow the pruning instructions found here:

http://www.gardenality.com/Articles/344/How-To-Info/Pruning/How-To-Prune-A-Crape-Myrtle/default.html


If you choose not to start the tree over by cutting the trunks back to the ground, simply leave it alone this year allowing new shoots to emerge from the knuckles. Then, next late winter, prune these branches back to about 12 to 18 inches or so in length. You could repeat this process for several years on new branches and maybe have somewhat of a decent looking canopy. The only problem with this method is that the new branches will be so much smaller than the main trunks and the knuckles that the tree will look odd for many years to come.

Sometimes it's just better to remove a plant or tree. But I'll leave that decision up to you.

Hope this information was helpful and let me know if you have any further questions.

Brent)


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Chris Stephenson

Chris Stephenson · Gardenality Seed · Zone 8A · 10° to 15° F
Thanks so much for the feedback! I was worried about that sort of response. "Sometime's it's just better to remove a plant or tree" is pretty damning. I have an HOA which is not exactly fond of tree removal, so I had spoken to them prior to contacting you. Definitely preferred if we can rehabilitate it. I will try cutting it close to the ground this year and nurse the new shoots.

At what point would I choose the 'strongest of the shoots'? A few months in? Next season? Allow those shoots to grow to 4-6 feet this year, and then next year prune them at an additional 4-5 feet, for a total of 8-11 feet for the second year? Then resume normal pruning?

Sorry for all the questions, I want to make sure I get this right. :)

7 years ago ·
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Gardenality.com

Gardenality.com · Gardenality Genius · Zone 8A · 10° to 15° F
No need for apologies, Chris. That's what we're here for and we enjoy answering questions:-)

Based on how the crape myrtle looks now, I think cutting the trunks back close to the ground is a good choice.

Regarding choosing the three main shoots/trunks. I'd say to let the shoots get 2 or 3 feet tall and then choose three equally spaced ones that are growing the most upright. Then allow these to grow as tall as they will get this year. Crape myrtles that typically grow 15 feet or more in height usually put up 3 to 6 feet tall shoots the first year. In any event, you want them to grow at least 4 or more feet tall before tipping them. The higher the better...but this also depends on how high up you want the first branches to form off the trunk. What would probably be ideal is to let the shoots grow to 5 or 6 feet tall or so. This might take 2 years. Then, in late winter, when they reach this height, prune them back to about 4 to 5 feet in height, making your cuts just above two buds. These two buds will form the first two branches in what will become the canopy of the tree. In the meantime, keep any side shoots cleaned from the main shoots/trunks and also cut back any other suckers that come up from the base of the tree. Also, as the shoots are growing, pick off the leaves that emerge from the bottom two-thirds of the shoots.

Then, in following late winters, you can follow the instructions in the How To Prune A Crape Myrtle article...which means you'll be cutting back the previous seasons (youngest branches) to a point about 12 inches in length.

All this being said, if you want the lowest limbs to be higher up, you might need to wait until the three main shoots have reached a height of 6 to 7 feet before you tip them.

If there's anything that isn;t clear to you in these instructions don't hesitate to ask any other questions you might have.

Brent

7 years ago ·
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Answer #2 · Chris Stephenson's Answer · Hey everyone, sorry about necromancing this question, but I thought it would be nice to show everyone the improvement! I followed a the suggestions of Brent and some of the research I found online, and over the past couple years, I've nursed this tree back to a more 'presentable' health.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/styxriver23/17091818362

I'm fairly proud of the work, she looks like a healthy tree again. No more weeping branches, and really good growth this early in the season. I hope to have some solid flowering this year. Very excited!)


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Maple Tree

Maple Tree · Gardenality Genius · Zone 10A · 30° to 35° F
Wow, really looks great Chris! Looks as though proper pruning the next few years will make for a beautiful canopy. Great job, you should be excited.

5 years ago ·
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