Crepe Myrtle Pruning Step-by-Step

February 24, 2009 | By | Comments (715)

What concerns people most in the country right now? Losing their jobs? Losing their retirements? Nope. It’s how to properly prune their crepe myrtles Here’s a step-by-step guide showing how the Grumps prunes his.


Why do you need my advice? Because a lot of you take guidance from your ignorant neighbors neighbors, who prune their crepe myrtles to look like this.


This is what I call “crepe murder.” I didn’t invent the term. I think it was coined by Byers Nursery, a big wholesale grower of crepe myrtles in Huntsville, Alabama. I just did what we Americans have always done so well — pass off other’s good ideas as your own.

Crepe murder is bad for several reasons.

1. It turns beautiful trees into ugly stumps.

2. It prevents the formation of pretty, mottled bark on maturing trunks.

3. A forest of skinny, whip-like shoots sprouts from the end of each ugly stump. These whips are too weak to hold up the flowers, so the branches often bend to the ground, like a drunk who’s about to lose his lunch.

Another reason people butcher crepe myrtles is because they say their plants get too big. All that this means is that these cretins chose the wrong plant for the wrong spot. Most popular crepe myrtle varieties (‘Natchez,’ ‘Miami,’ ‘Sioux,’ ‘Dynamite,’ Muskogee,’ ‘Watermelon Red’) grow at least 25-30 feet tall. So plant them out in the yard — not in front of your bay windows. Or go for compact, lower-growing kinds, like ‘Acoma,’ ‘Centennial,’ ‘Hopi,’ ‘Prairie Lace,’ ‘Victor,’ ‘Zuni,’ of the Petite Series from Monrovia.


The crepe myrtle you see above is deep-pink ‘Miami.’ I planted it in my front yard from a 3-gallon pot 15 years ago. I never pruned it much, because I strung it with tiny Xmas lights that I never took down. Leaving them on the tree reduced my Xmas decorating each year to 10 seconds. All I had to do was plug in the lights before Xmas and unplug them after. You could learn from this.

However, not being able to prune without cutting the light cords meant my crepe myrtle grew too dense and spread too wide. So last week, I took off the lights. Then, aided by my lovely unseen wife who agreed to take pictures, I finally pruned it to show you how it’s done and how a mature crepe myrtle is supposed to look. Murderers, take note!

Here is the crepe myrtle before I started. It doesn’t look too bad, but needs thinning. The tool leaning up against it is my trusty pole pruner. I like it because you can extend the pole to cut branches more than 15 feet from the ground.

Crepe Myrtle — Your Questions Answered


Before you prune anything, it’s a good idea to know what you’re trying to accomplish. After all, you can always go back and cut more. You can’t go back and cut less. My objective was to maintain well-spaced, main trunks with handsome bark and to thin out out the center to permit easy penetration of sunlight and air. I always say if a bird can easily fly through the center of your crepe myrtle, the branches are spaced about right. If a bird can easily fly through the center of your house, you’re probably missing some windows.

Pruning Tools

To properly prune a mature crepe myrtle, you need 3 tools.

1. Hand pruners to clip twigs and branches less than 1/2-inch thick.

2. Loppers to cut branches 1/2-inch to 1-1/2 inches thick

3. Pole pruners or a pruning saw to cut branches more than 1-1/2 inches thick.

When to Cut
Late winter (right now) is the best time to prune a crepe myrtle, because it’s leafless and you can easily see all of the branches. It also blooms on new growth, so pruning now won’t reduce blooming. In fact, it may increase it.

What to Cut

Remove branches in the following order.

1. Suckers coming up from the base.

2. All side branches growing from the main trunks up to a height of at least 4 feet.

3. All higher branches growing inward towards the center of the tree.

4. All crossing, rubbing, and dead branches.

5. Branches growing at awkward angles that detract from the tree’s appearance.

Always cut back to a larger branch of the trunk. Don’t leave stubs. Removing seedheads on the end of branches is optional. Leaving them doesn’t reduce blooming. I leave mine.


The Finished Product
Below is the result of this year’s pruning. Isn’t it purty? The crepe myrtle is still a little denser than I would like, but I can prune it again next winter. Every year, the job gets easier.


More Crepe Myrtle Stuff

If your appetite for all things crepe myrtle still isn’t sated, you can read more brilliant commentary from the Grump about crepe myrtle care.


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    November 29, 2015 at 1:55 pm
  2. Jeannette

    I have Nacez that are planted around my house but not against it. Some of the limbs are growing so that they hang over and touch the roof as the arch over. I am getting ready to get this trimmed back-so do I have those limbs cut back to a main beach or just at where it hits the roof?
    Thank you.

    November 29, 2015 at 7:37 am
  3. Jim Brunick

    I have an unknown brand of crêpe myrtle that my wife purchased a year ago you used the term sucker days apparently our something to do with the branches coming out of the ground please describe better for me so I can prune properly

    November 14, 2015 at 8:58 am
  4. Steve Bender


    You’re right. NW Ohio is too far north for crepe myrtle. At best, it will probably die to the ground each winter and then grow back. One thing you might try is mounding up a bile pile of tree leaves around the base to keep the roots from freezing.

    This tree is way to big to take on yourself. Call an area arborist. Ask him to avoid giving the tree a flat-topped chainsawed look and maintain the natural form as much as possible.

    The reason the new sprouts still have leaves is that the pruning sent them into a high-growth mode this year. This won’t happen next year. Pretty soon all of the leaves should drop and the tree will leaf out again in spring.

    It is NOT necessary to prune a crepe myrtle to keep it blooming. And pruning below where you cut the year before will not kill it.

    Sorry, but I think you live too far north for a crepe myrtle to do well.

    Suckers are shoots that sprout from the base of the trunk(s). They should be removed to prevent the center of the tree from getting too crowded.

    November 20, 2015 at 1:35 pm
  5. Donna

    What kind of crepe myrtle would grow in the Pittsburgh PA (30 miles north of the city) and where can I purchase one ?

    November 13, 2015 at 7:04 am
  6. ccm989

    Hello — I live down at the Jersey Shore (zone 7). Every March, I “murder” my crape myrtles. I trim the branches right above where the last years trim was. I was told this is necessary to keep the crape myrtles flowering vigorously every year. So far it has not failed. I was also told if I prune below where I cut the previous year, I will kill the plant. Is this true? Also will thinning the tree help keep down the mildew it occasionally gets?

    October 23, 2015 at 7:02 am
  7. Tiff

    I took your advice and pruned my tree like you suggested. I still got stuff coming off the stumps that I have to keep cutting off. However, I noticed that I actually have real leaves on those whereas the rest of my tree is nothing but dead leaves and round buds I guess. How can I get my whole tree to be nice thick branches and real healthy leaves?

    October 20, 2015 at 4:26 pm
  8. Shelly

    I have a Crepe Myrtle in my front yard in front of bedroom window (no I did not plant it, the previous home owners did). I have never cut or pruned it and it has since grown 10 years with a mind of its own. I believe it is over 50 feet tall now… best guess as it could be taller, I do know it is above(way above) my roof line. Not sure how to start or where to start… or, is there a professional that I can call? I live in Suburbs of North Atlanta (Cumming area). Please help

    October 20, 2015 at 12:55 pm
  9. Carol B

    I live in northwest ohio i planted my tonto crape myrtle in juneit flowed this summer i know now i shouldn’t planted it in this part of the country but i have it now what can i do is there any way to protect it for this winter

    October 16, 2015 at 1:49 am
  10. Karen –

    Great tips. There are rules about pruning the trees. Otherwise they will not grow anymore. And you have explained it quite briefly. Thank you Steve.

    October 12, 2015 at 2:28 am
  11. Lana Ryan Ellis

    Hello….I live in South East Texas, right off the LA border…I have some Crepe Myrtles that are approx. 5 yrs old (only been in the ground for 3 yrs) the main trunk is maybe 3″ in diameter….I have been afraid to prune them, wanting them to get good and settled in the ground first…. but after this winter I am ready to prune them, as they are getting bushier than I want them too… question is, how far down should I do this first ever pruning?

    October 4, 2015 at 2:16 pm
  12. Mike

    Thanks. I will try to rejuvenate a previously “murdered” Myrtle

    September 30, 2015 at 12:11 pm
  13. Nancy Evans

    I have a question. The crepe myrtle we have, we’ve had about three years. Young. This summer it bloomed as it did last summer, on mostly new growth. As soon as the blooms died back, the new growth lost all its leaves and some branches became brittle. Last week the tree sort of bloomed again. Flowers were small and lasted about two days. We had an extremely wet spring and then suddenly went dry. What is going on and can we save this tree? We did have a late freeze too. Thank you for any help you can give me.
    Sincerely, Nancy Evans
    Mount Vernon, Texas

    September 28, 2015 at 6:30 pm
  14. C. A. DeLadurantey

    believe it or not, I use ANTI-BACTERIAL dish soap to repel all pests including on the grass..the pests don’t like the taste and it will not hurt the plants..I do this about 3x during the growing season and it greens up the lawn…no mushrooms…and all the plants in the yard love it…it also repels aphids…sprayed a maple tree once and the aphids stayed away from it for over 5 years!!! Put the soap in a hose end sprayer (till about 1/3 to 1/2 full. attach to hose and spray!! Not just any old dish soap will do…IT MUST BE ANTI-BACTERIAL….and 1 not spray lawn if rain is expected…won’t hurt it but all your neighbors will wonder why you have suds on you lawn!! Good luck

    September 8, 2015 at 11:42 am
  15. DeeDee

    My question would be, how can I get rid of white flies? They were all over my crepe myrtles (and most of the yard actually) the past two years. I have used multiple products that the larger chains carry & the local nurseries have suggested. I cannot get them killed. They leave the horrible black junk on all the foliage of my crepe myrtles, therefore they do not bloom until late August and early September. Then there is very little bloom on them at all. I am talking about crepe myrtles that are anywhere from 8′ tall to 30′ tall. They would be beautiful, if I could kill the white flies. PLEASE CAN ANYONE HELP ME? I am so sad that again they have not bloomed. I will be doing the needed pruning, per these instructions in late winter. Thank you so!

    September 3, 2015 at 9:58 am
  16. Sharon

    I have 2 (purple) crepe myrtles that had beautiful rich green foliage….not a single bloom this summer. Did I feed them incorrectly….time or amount, or water too much/little?? The pink one near them bloomed beautifully…..had received same amount of food and water. Any suggestions please?

    August 31, 2015 at 7:41 am
  17. Amber

    Hello and thank you for your time. I was wondering why some Crape Mertyls have larger lushes green leaves; while mine has smaller barely green leaves. I pruned it and the new growth looks great, but majority of tree is sad. Help!

    August 22, 2015 at 1:46 pm
  18. Cory

    I have two crepe myrtles in my yard. The one that has been here the longest (about 20years) has twice dropped significant trunks, close to the ground at forks in the trunk. It looks to me like there was included bark at the crotch of these branches. Un-weighting the remaining fork of that trunk has made for some awkward cuts at about 8-10 feet from the ground. I’m letting a couple suckers grow to fill the void. My question is: Do crepe myrtles do this type of self destruction normally? Am I doing the right thing for recovery? Do I need to get an arborist to cable these for me or should I just remove one side of the forks in my younger tree if I suspect inclusion?

    The younger plant in my yard has six strong young trunks (3″ diameter) and my only complaint is that it blooms so heavy, some branches bend way over. Makes me worry about it as well. All the trunks are forked 1-3 feet from the ground.

    Crepe Myrtle much loved here in the Pacific Northwest (I’m near Seattle but close to the water) but not always completely hardy and will not bloom if we have a cold summer.They are going completely nuts this year.

    August 21, 2015 at 2:48 pm
  19. Steve Bender


    I feel your pain. My crepe myrtle (the one in the photos) was perfectly symmetrical until a severe thunderstorm two weeks ago broke some big trunks out. But pruning wasn’t the cause — the storm was. The best way to get sturdy branches is to prune out thin, whiplike ones and let the thicker ones grow. Your crepe myrtle will fill out again. It may take a year or two, but it will.

    August 6, 2015 at 2:36 pm
  20. Laura Pennington

    My crepe myrtles (my late mother’s)are drooping over with a good downpour. My sister thought it to be a good idea last fall to cut as I like to call it, all the innards out. Now the trees appear to split in the middle. This past winter, I lost one and a few branches on others that helped to shape the tree. I’ve lost two main branches this summer during a thunderstorm. I would like to trim them this winter to encourage more sturdiness. Wish I could post pictures of last summer versus this summer. I hate to lose them, my mother planted them when I was a young girl. These trees are somewhere around 30 to 40 years old.

    August 2, 2015 at 7:45 pm
  21. Krusatyr

    Thanks for the article. Great attention to a widespread slaughter committed mostly by artless democrats here in Mississippi, but you neglected to recommend a means of sanctioning these serial butchers.

    I’ve found shaming effective, especially when my home owners association actually told me whacking our 20 year old common-space Crepe Myrtles with a chainsaw at shoulder height was the “horticulture” they voted and approved.

    They called up a lawn crew and turned them lose on a free wheeling massacre.

    It was awful, but apparently my caustic reprimand of their God-offending brutality reached the ears of a landscape architect whom they respected and who subsequently ripped the crippled victims out of the ground and planted new Japanese Maples and got a contract to care for them, sans chainsaws.

    BTW, in the photo you may still have at least twice too many vertical stems: they can grow to 6″ diameter each. I prune mine when I know my wife, always fearful of over-pruning, will be away for hours.

    July 28, 2015 at 11:21 am
  22. ask

    Admiring the dedication you put into your site and in depth information you offer.

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    July 19, 2015 at 7:25 pm
  23. Shoddy

    You are so funny, witty and informative 😄 great writing!

    July 15, 2015 at 9:39 am
  24. Gina

    Hi Steve,

    Do you recommend the same thing for Crepe Myrtle shrubs (the lower to the ground ones). Mine are out of control and I’m not sure how to prune. Thank you! :)


    July 14, 2015 at 9:06 pm
  25. Steve Bender


    This indicates that the tree was pruned poorly and too severely. This causes long, skinny shoots to grow with flower clusters too big and heavy for the shoots to support. You can either use stakes to prop up the sagging branches or remove some of the flowers.

    July 9, 2015 at 3:02 pm
  26. Does This Look Good To You? | Everything Country

    […] XTRA! XTRA! Read all about it! The world’s worst pruning job is in your front yard! For instructions on how to properly prune a crepe myrtle, read “Crepe Myrtle Pruning Step-By-Step.”  […]

    July 9, 2015 at 11:50 am
  27. Now Not To Prune Crepe Myrtle | Southern Living Blog

    […] XTRA! XTRA! Read all about it! The world’s worst pruning job is in your front yard! For instructions on how to properly prune a crepe myrtle, read “Crepe Myrtle Pruning Step-By-Step.”  […]

    July 9, 2015 at 10:00 am
  28. cheryl

    I have 4 natchez crepe myrtles that droop so much in heavy rain that the tree is unattractive and I’m afraid the branches will break off. Is there anything I can do to remedy this? I saw another lady with the same problem but did not see an answer.

    July 5, 2015 at 7:45 am
  29. Crape Myrtles: You won't Believe These Different Varieties | Blog

    […] Prune your crape myrtles in the early spring to promote new growth for summer. If you’re wanting to maintain their natural size, it’s best to prune them back by about a third of growth. It’s common for people to think that they need to heavily prune their crape myrtles back down to half or more of their growth. This stubs the tree’s growth and gives it an unattractive look instead of maintaining its natural form. […]

    July 1, 2015 at 8:30 am
  30. Steve Bender


    Lots of readers report the same thing. The reason is that the very cold winter killed your crepe myrtle to the ground. Now it’s growing back from the roots. The old trunks are dead, so you might as well remove them. The new shoots at the base will grow into new trunks.

    July 1, 2015 at 10:20 am
  31. Chuck Achterberg

    I did not trim my crepe myrtle at all this year, but all of the old trunks died and it growing from the bottom, why is that?

    June 28, 2015 at 4:06 pm
  32. Nancy

    Thanks much for he response. We had no idea what we were doing wrong!

    June 7, 2015 at 8:51 pm
  33. Steve Bender


    St. Louis is about the upper limit of cold-hardiness for crepe myrtle, which is why yours keeps dying back. Go ahead and prune back to live, green growth now and take out the dead. There are shrub type crepe myrtles that never grow into trees. I would guess this is what you have.

    June 6, 2015 at 3:58 pm
  34. Nancy

    I have the shrub type of crape myrtles and live in the St. Louis area. Every winter, the plants appear to “die”…lose all foliage, etc. and about late May, new branches and leaves sprout at the ground level, leaving all the dead branches from the prior year leaf-less. Should we be cutting off the dead branches in late winter/early spring? They have never gotten taller than about 3 feet tall after 4-5 years. Is this normal, or just a result of our colder winter climate? What should I be doing to get these to grow taller/bigger?

    May 31, 2015 at 9:09 pm
  35. Steve Bender


    Go ahead and prune. They’ll still bloom, albeit later than usual.

    May 30, 2015 at 6:00 am
  36. Elizabeth Milligan

    mine are much taller than I want and already have leaves – is it too late to prune them? if I do prune them will they still bloom this summer?

    May 18, 2015 at 3:54 pm
  37. Jennifer

    I’d love to see a picture of your Crepe Myrtle in bloom.

    May 13, 2015 at 6:17 pm
  38. Steve Bender


    I think it is too warm to move a large crepe myrtle now. The transplanting shock might kill it. Wait until it is dormant in fall.


    Your good taste is exceeded only by your good sense.


    Sound like the cold winter killed your crepe myrtle to the ground. Cut off the old, dead trunks and let it grow back. This will happen faster than you think.

    May 13, 2015 at 2:41 pm
  39. Noble Rye

    I want to prune; however we have had a severe winter (Louisville, Ky) and it looks like my main branches are dead. There appears to be substantial new growth at the bottom of the plant. Do I leave it alone or simply cut out what appears to be dead. I’m writing this on May 7, 2015.

    May 7, 2015 at 4:58 pm
  40. Melanie Boone

    Steve….So nice of you to inform the ignorant “landscapers” and laymen who copycat their neighbor’s pruning…I mean…butchering… of their crape myrtles. Every year I see more destruction of the beautiful trunks, thus, destroying the true form of the tree that would be beautiful during dormancy had they not been butchered. Reminds me of cutting off my arms to the elbow, then growing appendages from the stumps. Mr. Sourpuss who complained you are being so tough on those who want to prune THEIR way just has no sensitivity to aesthetics and is narrow minded about what you are intending to teach…. the ART of pruning. Guess he likes the stubby gnarly look! He probably rounds off his forsythia and azalea bushes, too! Those who call themselves “landscapers” (non degree) and plant crape myrtles near buildings show they have no knowledge of or are not giving thought to the mature size of the tree. I am a young 65 years old and have soundness of mind, thank you, to have observed the advent of crape myrtle murder which has become a new malady occurring when everyone became too busy to do their yards and their “yardman” offered to prune anything and everything. Down with Crape Murder!

    May 7, 2015 at 12:40 pm

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