I Told You Not To Do This!

August 6, 2008 | By | Comments (30)

Crepemyrtle
NOW do you see why I tell you over and over again not to chop down your crepe myrtles every spring?

I try to prevent horticultural disasters and encourage proper gardening practices, but some people just won’t listen. When you prune crepe myrtles into ugly stumps, the resulting growth produces long, weak, whiplike branches that are too heavy to hold up the flowers.

I think it looks terrible, but hey, that’s just one Grump’s opinion. What do the rest of you think?

COMMENTS

  1. Laurie

    Thanks for telling me this as I just discovered this year that I am growing a crape myrtle. I will not prune it back and just let it go.
    Thanks for the info!!1

    August 6, 2008 at 6:55 pm
  2. pat

    Agreed…thumbs down! Better than the ones chopped off about 5 feetup though…they look like p[alm trees…

    August 7, 2008 at 4:23 pm
  3. Dave

    I couldn’t agree more! I prefer them in the tree form so you can see the fantastic bark patterns they develop.

    August 8, 2008 at 10:38 pm
  4. Grumpy Gardener

    You are a wise, wise man, Dave. I have a deep pink ‘Miami’ crepe myrtle in the front yard that I have NEVER pruned. It’s about 20 feet tall now. Even my non-gardening wife remarks on its beautiful, smooth, chestnut-brown bark. You’ll never see this if you chop down your crepe myrtle every year. Grumpy

    August 9, 2008 at 10:02 am
  5. Karen

    I have a lovely crepe myrtle TREE that’s pretty much done blooming. It’s about 20 feet tall, which is great, but I’d love it if a little more light came through the branches, Is it OK to thin it a little (taking out the branches that grow at odd angles)?

    August 13, 2008 at 7:10 pm
  6. Grumpy Gardener

    Yes, Karen, it is OK to thin it now, although in the future you’ll find this easier to do in late winter when the limbs are bare and you can better see what needs to be done. I recommend pruning a tree-form crepe myrtle so that its canopy is open enough that a bird could fly right through it. You do this by:
    1. Selecting 3-5 trunks to become permanent main trunks and cutting off all others at the ground.
    2. Pruning away all side branches on these main trunks up to a height of 4-5 feet.
    3. Removing all side branches that grow towards the center of the tree.
    4. Removing branches that cross, rub against each other, grow at odd angles, hang down too low, or grow too long. Always prune back to another branch or remove branches at the trunk. Do not leave thick stubs.
    Crepe myrtle pruned this way will develop beautiful smooth, flaking bark that is very showy in winter.
    Grumpy

    August 14, 2008 at 7:38 am
  7. Jennifer Sparks

    When I was in Houston about five years ago, I fell in love with their crepe myrtle ‘trees.’ They looked like palm trees with white blossoms. I would like to plant several at home but don’t know what species to look for. It seems the only kind my local garden store has are bushes. I live in NE Oklahoma where the climate it hot and humid in the summer and mild in the winter. Thanks!

    August 14, 2008 at 9:33 am
  8. Karen

    Thanks! I think whoever planted the tree did something right, because when I say tree, I mean a tree! It has 1 trunk and the branches start about 5-6′ up. So it’s a beautiful canopy, and yes the bark is very beautiful.

    August 14, 2008 at 11:06 am
  9. Rita

    I have a 3 ft. “Centennial Spirit” that is in its third year. It got a set-back last year, because it set buds in March and we had a freeze in April here in upper TN. This year it waited until late July to bloom. I will definitely be limiting any pruning to tree form. (This is one of my favorite ways to prune any shrub.) Several years ago, you had a one-page article in SL about proper pruning of crepe myrtles. I cut it out and saved it in a binder of gardening information that I keep.

    August 15, 2008 at 6:36 pm
  10. Grumpy

    As everyone seems preoccupied (and rightly so) with the proper pruning of crepe myrtles, click on the following link to see “Stop, Don’t Chop” — the definitive article, written by me of course,which will tell you everything you need to know.
    http://www.southernliving.com/southern/gardens/plants/article/0,28012,1585510,00.html

    August 18, 2008 at 10:09 am
  11. Lianne

    Hahaha! I secretly sob internally when I see “Crepe Murders” that have been committed.
    You should start a blog dedicated strictly to gardening disasters you observe in your travels. You’ve gotta do it anonymously, though…Blur out addresses and dog’s faces. Don’t want to embarrass anyone.

    August 20, 2008 at 10:31 pm
  12. Grumpy

    I don’t, but maybe all you readers could do it for me. Send me your photos of horrible gardening mistakes, but show them in a way that doesn’t ID the owners. I’ll post them and together we can educate the world! Grumpy

    August 21, 2008 at 10:18 am
  13. Lianne

    Hmm. I should probably start with one of mine. I’m sure I have something to show–maybe my mixed-color mulch. Black AND brown! The horror!
    Not to boast, but since I read that article of yours a couple of years ago, I have REALLY outstanding crepe myrtles. The husband was ready to get chop happy when I pulled out my Southern Living and educated him. Thanks for saving them!

    August 21, 2008 at 11:12 am
  14. Grumpy

    A boast is an empty boast without pictures, Lianne. Show us the proof! And while you’re at it, show us some ugly mulch. Is it worse than the red stuff? Grumpy

    August 21, 2008 at 3:37 pm
  15. Maria Mack

    Hi,
    I found landscapers pulling out Crepe Myrtles so I asked if I could have them and they gave them to me! I planted them in my yard that very day but they dont seem to be doing so well! They were just starting to get their leaves but nor the leaves are completely wilted down! We did put root stimulator on them but Im not sure if they will make it! Should i try to trim them back a little but so the energy can build back up and maybe they will regrow new leaves? I need suggestions even though I paid nothing for them they are beautiful trees and I want them to make it they are about 4-5 tall!! Please let me know! Thanks
    Maria
    Spring, Texas

    April 3, 2009 at 11:18 am
  16. Grumpy Gardener

    First, remember that your crepe myrtles were free, so you really can’t lose. I’d forget about the root stimulator and just make sure to keep them watered. They undoubtedly suffered transplanting shock, but these plants are tough and may recover. If they do, they’ll shoot out new leaves before too long. If some of the major branches die back, just prune them back to the points at which new leaves are sprouting.

    April 3, 2009 at 1:10 pm
  17. Andrea

    It’s that time of year again. The senseless committing of “Crepe Murder” continues. And people I normally respect and consider well-educated don’t seem to know that beheading a Crepe Myrtle is wrong. I remember reading this article some years ago, except I remember it with reference to the Crepe Murderers having a brain the size of a mosquito. I have printed this article to take to show those who say, “No, that’s what you do to Crepe Myrtles.” Oh the horror and frustration!

    March 22, 2010 at 9:24 pm
  18. Vicki

    What do you do IF someone living in the house chopped an older tree down…. can you ‘fix’ it

    April 28, 2010 at 7:37 pm
  19. Grumpy Gardener (His Grace)

    It’ll take time, but you can fix your crepe myrtle. Right now, you probably see a million little shoots sprouting from the end of each stub. Cut off all but one or two of them and let these become new, main trunks. Continue cutting off the side shoots from these for several years and then you will have a normal looking crepe myrtle. GG

    April 30, 2010 at 4:09 pm
  20. Dawn

    My ex husband committed crepe murder on my late daughter’s crepe myrtle recently. I have read your instructions for how to fix it, but don’t understand WHEN I should start fixing it. It doesn’t have knobs at the end of the branches (he just did this), but is starting to have little shoots around the ends. Is it NOW that I should select one or two shoots at each branch end to save (and get rid of the rest), or should I let them get bigger first? Help me. I burst into tears when I saw what he did. It’s a Natchez, it is 10 years old, and WAS 15-20 feet tall. It’s now about 7 feet tall. Unbelievable. Thanks.

    May 6, 2010 at 8:41 am
  21. Grumpy Gardener (His Grace)

    Let the shoots get at least a foot long and then start selecting them. Follow my directions and you can restore them in a few years.

    May 7, 2010 at 2:09 pm
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    Great one, following your blogs from now on.

    November 24, 2010 at 9:24 pm
  23. Marsha

    I live in derby, KS and it appears my beautiful crepe Myrtle is dead so I cut it back last spring . After reading this I wonder if I should let it go. I know in the south they come back but will it here?

    March 15, 2012 at 6:40 pm
  24. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    Marsha,
    Kansas is north of where I’d expect crepe myrtles to do well. But scratch the bark to see if you can find green underneath. If you can, that part is alive. If you can’t, that part is dead. Cut yours back to the uppermost point where you find green. There’s a possibility it also might grow back from the roots. Be patient. Where you live, it’ll be late spring before it leafs out.

    March 16, 2012 at 12:25 pm
  25. Marsha

    Thank you. Will be patient.

    March 16, 2012 at 6:42 pm
  26. Jay

    I want to rid my lawn of this crepe myrtle!!!!

    August 4, 2012 at 12:50 pm
  27. Jay

    what to do?

    August 4, 2012 at 12:51 pm
  28. Steve Bender

    Jay,

    You can just dig it up and throw it away. Or you can spray the whole thing according to label directions with Roundup. Warning — any roots left in the ground after digging will send up sprouts. So Roundup may be the way to go.

    August 6, 2012 at 2:10 pm
  29. Terry Bridges

    My Crepe myrtle’s were murdered. The trees will grow too big for the area so they need to be kept trimmed or removed. My wife says removal is not an option.
    How can I correct the situation? I am willing to take many years. They were cut about
    five foot from the ground.

    February 19, 2013 at 4:00 pm
  30. Steve Bender

    Terri,

    With careful pruning, you can train your trees to grow up and not out, thus taking less space. This is what I have done with one in front of my house. What you need to do is wait until the trees start growing. A bunch of shoots will sprout from the end of each stump. Remove all but one from each. This will become the new trunk. As it grows, keep removing side growth so that it grows up. In a few years, you won’t be able to tell where the original cuts were made.

    February 20, 2013 at 4:05 pm