· Gardenality.com's Answer
· Hi Bernie...I love this site too!:-)
To answer your question. If what you have is a Muskogee Crape Myrtle rest assured that it will eventually grow to 20 feet or more in height over time. If the flowers were a soft lavender color, and more elongated in shape, then you probably have Muskogee. How long it takes for a Muskogee Crape Myrtle to grow to 20 feet or more it height might depend on how you prune it.
The natural growth habit of Muskogee is upright but the branches in the canopy are semi-weeping. If it's the branches at the top that are "growing out", this might be why you're saying that your tree is growing more "out" than "up"? If not, you might be describing lower branches that are forming on the lower half of the tree or suckers that are growing up or out from the base?
On a younger tree such as yours, suckers and lower branches growing up or out from the base or lower down on the trunks of the tree can be removed anytime of year, though I would recommend to cease pruning these at least a couple months before the first frost date in your area. Pruning too close to cold weather can cause a flush of new leaves that won't have time to harden off naturally, and these tender leaves will most likely will be killed by frost. This kind of damage can do long term harm to a tree.
So, how to go about tree-forming your 5-1/2 foot Muskogee Crape Myrtle. Without seeing a picture of your young crape myrtle, my general instruction would be to keep suckers removed on a regular basis throughout the spring and summer. Then, in late winter or very early spring, you can do hard/ major pruning.
When pruning in late winter or spring, start by working on the lower portion of the tree to better expose the trunks:
- Remove any lower, horizontally growing branches and twigs that are growing from the main trunk(s). If you have too many trunks (more than 3 to 5), you can select the ones you want to keep and remove others by cutting them off flush to the ground. I prefer 3 trunks. Just be careful in removing trunks as you don't want to remove a trunk and it's branches that would spoil the shape of the tree.
Then move to the top of the tree:
2 - If you have a trunk(s) that has branches towards the top side of the tree, you want to leave as many of these as possible, particularly the large ones because these will be the ones that start to form the canopy of the tree. Small twiggy stems and branches can be removed. After removing the twiggy growth, you can cut back the canopy branches you will keep. How far to cut these back? The best thing to do is grab the tip of a branch and bend it over. Wherever the branch starts to bend (lower down on the branch) this is where you can make your cut. This should leave a stub at least several inches to a foot long that will be strong enough to support the two new branches that will emerge from just beneath the cut.
On younger trees that only have a few trunks (whips) growing straight up with no branches, just top these at a point where you want the canopy branches to start. For example, on a young crape myrtle that has several trunks/ whips that are 6 foot tall and growing almost straight up, but has no branches growing off of these trunks, you might cut them back to about a foot to 5 foot or so in height. Two new branches will emerge from below your cuts. If you had three trunks, you will now have up to 6 new branches (two on each trunk) that will begin to form the canopy of the tree. After pruning the next season you should have about 12 new branches, and the next season 24, and so on.
In following years:
You can start following the instructions here: http://www.gardenality.com/Articles/344/How-To-Info/Pruning/How-To-Prune-A-Crape-Myrtle/default.html
At some point, when the trees have reached 8 to 10 feet or so in height (after pruning the canopy branches in late winter), and have developed full canopies, you can stop pruning the top of the canopy. The only pruning that would be required at this point is cutting back branches that hang too low from the canopy and removing suckers that might grow from the base of the trunks.
Hope this info helped...and remember, if you upload a picture of your tree to this question I might can give you a little more specific instructions.)