Crepe Myrtles, Best Pruning Practices
Crepe Myrtles have become one of the most common small flowering trees in the Mid-Atlantic. There are so many varieties and forms that they can be successfully worked into almost any landscape. When first introduced, many landscape professionals were initially resistant to use them extensively. Today however nearly all landscape professionals have grown to appreciate them, and they often specify them selectively throughout their landscapes.
Pruning Crepe Myrtles, more so than many small trees, takes patience and timing. This is true whether you’re using something like ‘Natchez’, with its white flowers and more tree-like growth habit, ‘Osage’, which is pink- flowered and around 12′ tall, or ‘Tonto’, which has nice red flowers and typically stays under 10′ in height. Once your Crepe gets a few seasons under its belt or gets to be 8′ – 10′ and taller, it’s best to have the professionals at ProArbor tend to its pruning; but here are some helpful hints for pruning them in general.
Plan your pruning for late winter. February is ideal and it is advised not to go too much past mid-March. Remember, Crepes bloom only on new wood.
Pick three to five main limbs that will support the structure of the tree and prune back all of the rest. A Crepe Myrtle should have an odd number of main trunks, with a minimum of three. This applies to any of the varieties that get to be at least 5′ tall. Remove suckers (they are sometimes called “watersprouts” ) that appear at the base of the tree. You can normally remove them by hand if you catch them early enough, and if they are thick, you can remove them with pruning shears.
Thin out twigs and small branches that clutter the body of the tree. Remove any clustered “stubs” that were left over from previous pruning attempts. Take out any branches that are rubbing against one another or are growing toward the center of the tree.
Remove all but one or two of the shoots on each limb. These shoots will become the new support branches of the crepe myrtle and will gain diameter before the blooms appear.
Leave space between the branches so that air can circulate. This helps cut down on the powdery mildew disease that strikes many types of crepe myrtles.
Crepes typically start blooming in mid-to-late summer and often go well into the fall. After the blooms start, it is ok to remove weaker branches and open up the center of the tree, but this is best done by someone with more experience. For the best results. remove the branches before they get thicker than a pencil.
To allow your Crepe to develop a more tree-like form sooner, remove all of the exterior branches in successive years so the main trunks reach a height of around five feet.
If you’ve totally cut off the blooms of a Crepe Myrtle in the past, there is still hope! A rejuvenation pruning, where larger branches are taken all the way down to the soil line can encourage rapid re-growth. In three-to-five years, with proper pruning, your Crepe Myrtle will once again be a beautiful tree.