Dumb & Dumber — The Price of Crepe Murder

July 22, 2010 | By | Comments (17)

Crepe murder — the odious and ignorant practice of chopping these graceful trees into ugly stumps each spring — doesn’t make them look bad in one season. The horror carries over into summer when they bloom. These photos show what I mean.

Back in March, in “Vote for Your Favorite Crepe Murder,” Grumpy presented a beastly array of formerly attractive crepe myrtles that had een savagely disfigured by incorrect pruning and asked you to choose the finest (actually, worst) example. Here’s the unlucky winner.

Crepe Murder 011

Now let’s look at what happened when this unfortunate victim bloomed this summer.

Crepe Murder 2_picnik

See? As a result of severe pruning, numerous whiplike branches sprouted from the ends of the stumps. Far too weak to hold up the heavy flower clusters, the whips sag to the ground, looking sadder than Lindsay Lohan after her sentence.

If your crepe myrtle looks like this, you need to do two things. First, don woolen underwear for the rest of the summer. Consider it penance. Second, do some remedial pruning this fall after the plant’s leaves have dropped. Prune off all but 1-2 whips that sprouted from the end of each stump. These will become the new main branches. For the next 3 years, keep pruning off any new shoots that sprout from the ends of the stumps except for these that you’ve already spared. At the end of this time, your crepe myrtle will be beautiful once again.

COMMENTS

  1. helen Yoest @ Gardening With Confidence

    Ouch!

    July 22, 2010 at 9:39 pm
  2. Jim Long

    Grumpy,
    I do agree that murder isn’t the answer, but I really like the look of the weeping crepe myrtle you show. It’s graceful, lovely to look at and probably the envy of the neighbors whose crepes all look like trees. It was sad to see the bush treated that way, but the result is pretty cool.

    July 24, 2010 at 12:36 pm
  3. Henry H.

    I think its their resilience(sp?) that does them the worst harm. People see them leaf back out and they are like ” yeah, it looks okay…”
    I suggest as a collaborative effort we pour herbicide over all the Crepe murder victims so people will think they killed it when they pruned it like this.

    July 24, 2010 at 4:41 pm
  4. Jean

    Crepe murder is rampant in my town. I even saw the city had decapitated their crepe myrtles.
    Some people do it every year. Shame really. Welcome back
    Grump!

    July 25, 2010 at 9:18 am
  5. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    What are you waiting for, Henry? Be sure and send photos.
    Jim,
    If people want a smaller, arching crepe myrtle, they should buy one that naturally has that form. ‘Acoma’ (white), ‘Comanche’ (coral pink), ‘Hopi’ (pink), and ‘Zuni’ (lavender-purple) come to mind. These selections generally grow less than 10 feet tall and don’t require butchering.

    July 25, 2010 at 11:41 am
  6. Henry H.

    Speaking of which….
    Why do people insist on putting these things 6′ apart!!!!!

    July 26, 2010 at 2:02 pm
  7. Angie

    So glad to see that I’m not the only one who thinks this is a horrible crime against our lovely crepe myrtles! That being said, I’m not concerned so much with pruning, but curious if I can root crepe myrtles? I live in zone 7-upstate SC…thoughts??

    July 27, 2010 at 10:43 am
  8. Jessie

    My dad does this every year and every year my mom yelled at him to stop destroying our trees, but he didn’t listen…Too bad he has NO clue how to use a computer, if he did I’d send him a link to this!

    July 28, 2010 at 9:29 am
  9. Yalonda

    Can you post a picture of how the crepe myrtle tree is supposed to be pruned so we can compare and contrast the picture. Also, my grandmother wants a crepe myrtle tree. She lives in Virginia. Where is the best place to buy them online?

    July 28, 2010 at 2:23 pm
  10. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Henry,
    My guess is they’re landscape architects.
    Angie,
    Yes, you can root prune a crepe myrtle (are you planning on moving it?) Be warned, however, that any cut root will send up suckers forever.
    Yalonda,
    Here’s a link to pruning guidelines: http://grumpygardener.southernliving.com/grumpy_gardener/2009/02/what-concerns-p.html.
    One mail-order source you might try is Ecolage: http://stores.homestead.com/ecolage/Categories.bok

    July 28, 2010 at 2:49 pm
  11. Joy Smith

    Absolutely absurd to do this to such a beautiful tree. And they look awful during the winter. If people want that type tree get the type that weeps over naturally.

    July 31, 2010 at 7:07 pm
  12. Cindy

    I planted my crepe myrtle in too shaded of an area and it has grown very tall and spindly and barely blooms. Can I cut it back to the ground and move it to a sunny place? Will it come back with better form?

    August 2, 2010 at 9:47 am
  13. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    You don’t have to cut it back to the ground to move it, but if you want to, you can. Wait to fall to move it. Cutting it back so severely means that next spring you’re going to see a forest of sprouts coming up from the roots. Let them get about 3 feet high, then prune off all but 3-5 of the strongest. Make sure they are well-spaced. These will become the new trunks.

    August 2, 2010 at 12:45 pm
  14. Stephanie

    I moved into a house five years ago and we have three Crepe Myrtles in the front of our house. They are placed right up against the front windows to be like shrubs. By the time August comes I called the Crepe Myrtles the ugly beast because they look so out of control. I try to Crepe Murder them every year but no matter what I do they always come back. I am sure I contributed to the “ugly beast” look.
    Two questions:
    1. Should/can they be used in this manner?
    2. If so, how do you prune?

    August 6, 2010 at 8:01 pm
  15. Cat

    How do you cut back a crepe myrtle correctly? Please show pictures.

    August 7, 2010 at 5:15 pm
  16. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Stephanie,
    You are the unfortunate victim of a previous owner who planted the wrong crepe myrtles in the wrong spot. NO trees should ever be planted right up against the house in front of the windows unless you’re hiding from the IRS. Regarding crepe myrtles, there are those, like ‘Natchez,’ that 30 feet tall. Others, like ‘Acoma’ (white), ‘Zuni,’ (lavender), and ‘Hopi’ (pink) grow about 1/3 this size and make much better foundation plants.
    So Grumpy has 3 options for you.
    1. Replace the existing crepe myrtles this fall with one of the smaller types I just mentioned.
    2. Cut the existing crepe myrtles to the ground every winter. They’ll quickly sprout, grow 6-7 feet tall and bloom. Then repeat this every year.
    3. Replace the crepe myrtles with compact, slow-growing shrubs, like boxwood.

    August 9, 2010 at 2:35 pm
  17. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Cat,
    You’ll find lost of photos about this if you type “crepe myrtle” into the search box.

    August 9, 2010 at 2:39 pm