I Told You Not To Do This!

June 19, 2014 | By | Comments (41)
Crepe Murder in Summer

Photo by Steve Bender.

Sometimes when I condemn crepe murder, people only think about the grisly carnage left immediately after the crime is committed. They forget about the disaster that’s looming when the tree starts growing back and gets ready to bloom. Here’s a photo I took this week in my neighborhood of exactly the horror each murderer can expect. People with sensitive stomachs should look away.

This poor tree once stood about 12 feet tall with trunks about 4-inches thick. Then last winter, in a fit of pique over not being able to find two socks that matched, its owner grabbed a chainsaw and decapitated it at about five feet high. This is why guys with chainsaw and crepe myrtles should never buy anything other than black socks.

Look at the poor tree now. As Grumpy has warned you time and time again, pruning a crepe myrtle this way results in a spring flush of dozens of long, spindly shoots from the end of each stump. Too weak to hold themselves up, they now weep to the ground. Now imagine how they’ll look when heavy clusters of blooms pull them down even more.



  1. Steve Bender


    ‘Cherry Dazzle’ is a dwarf crepe myrtle with bright red flowers that’s perfect for growing in a pot.

    August 21, 2014 at 2:12 pm
  2. roberta4949

    oh dear that poor tree, do you suppose it can be recovered? or is it a loss, by the way are there crape myrtles you can get beautiful blooms while growing them in a large pot? that way I can bring it into the house, the ones I have outside I protect by burying(horizontally) and all pruning done is by nature, (winter top death) but they still grow upright and bloom nicely. when I had these ones in apot they never bloomed until I put them in the yard.

    August 16, 2014 at 3:04 pm
  3. Genie

    You’d weep too if someone cut YOUR head off!!!

    July 11, 2014 at 12:02 am
  4. Steve Bender


    This may seriously injure your trees, as you will eliminate their ability to make food. If you are lucky, they’re strong enough to leaf out again. But only do this ONCE.

    July 10, 2014 at 2:56 pm
  5. Sandy Z

    I have 7 15+ feet tall Crepe Myrtles (non-murdered). ;). They are blooming now. We have rented our home to a film studio that would like to strip all of the leaves off so the trees will look like they did in February when they filmed the pilot episode. Will this harm the trees? Thank you.

    July 8, 2014 at 4:28 am
  6. Steve Bender

    I would just cut off some branches at ground level.

    July 2, 2014 at 9:48 am
  7. Susan Hatcher

    Question…not about crepe murder though. What is best way to trim Forsythia around bottom so as not to look snakey?

    July 1, 2014 at 1:23 pm
  8. Steve Bender


    This seems like a safety issue to me. If you can’t see while backing out, the crepes have to go.

    June 30, 2014 at 2:51 pm
  9. Sarah

    I bought a house last year that had three small “murdered” crape myrtles next to our driveway, near the curb. They look like ugly bushes and I can’t see to back out now that they have their leaves. Is there any way to salvage them into the lovely open trees or should I tear them out? Thanks!

    June 27, 2014 at 10:03 am
  10. Jamie Moore

    You never want to remove more than 30% of the trees canopy for starters. Some of the issues in pruning crepe myrtles this was is that it encourages poor branch attachments partnered with a very dense canopy. This dense canopy with poor branch structure will fail under ice loads and summer storms. Also due the restricted air movement in the canopy, these “topped” plants will be highly susceptible to powdery mildew or an insect infestation due to the tree’s stressed state. Here is a good read from the NC Urban Forest Council:


    Tree topping is a crime.

    June 25, 2014 at 1:28 pm
  11. Steve Bender


    I can’t comment about the health of your crepe myrtles, but ones that are murdered often bloom before ones that aren’t. This is because they go on this manic growth spurt after being injured so severely. Trouble is, the flowers are too heavy for the new long, spindly branches to hold up and they hang to the ground and look awful. Another thing to consider is that there are lots of crepe myrtle selections and they all don’t bloom at once.

    June 25, 2014 at 10:11 am
  12. Steve Bender


    I answer questions as quickly as I can, but I get LOTS of questions. As I said before, if you have decent soil, crepe myrtle doesn’t need much fertilizer. As for Japanese beetles, I suggest you spray your plant according to label directions with a natural pesticide called neem oil. Japanese beetles hate it.

    June 25, 2014 at 10:06 am
  13. Steve Bender


    See the advice I gave to Pam, Rhonda, and Kate.

    June 25, 2014 at 10:04 am
  14. Steve Bender


    It is ABSOLUTELY acceptable to NEVER prune a crepe myrtle, especially if it has been well-trained in its early years. Mine are 20 years old. I never prune them.

    June 25, 2014 at 10:03 am
  15. Steve Bender


    Crepe myrtle doesn’t need much fertilizer if it’s growing in good soil. I’d maybe water it with a gallon of Miracle-Gro every two weeks this summer.

    June 25, 2014 at 10:01 am
  16. Steve Bender


    See the advice I gave to Pam and Rhonda.

    June 25, 2014 at 9:59 am
  17. Steve Bender


    See the advice I gave to Pam.

    June 25, 2014 at 9:58 am
  18. Steve Bender


    Let the new suckers come up. Then select 4-5 that are well-spaced and growing up and out. Cut all others to the ground. The ones you left will become the new main trunks. As they grow this year, remove any side branches that grow from then. From then on, follow these pruning directions: http://thedailysouth.southernliving.com/2009/02/24/what-concerns-p/

    June 25, 2014 at 9:57 am
  19. Steve Bender


    Here’s how to prune crepe myrtles correctly: http://thedailysouth.southernliving.com/2009/02/24/what-concerns-p/

    June 25, 2014 at 9:55 am
  20. Steve Bender


    Everyone is entitled to an opinion. My opinion is that crepe murder is ugly.

    June 25, 2014 at 9:53 am
  21. Sue miller

    In nc we trim our 24 each year and they are absolutely beautiful! Everyone comments on them. Only if we get a very strong wind while they re growing out does it hurt them but with a little care and some pruning back of the damaged limbs, which are quickly replaced with new shoots, they are once again in shape. I take off some of the bottom limbs as they are growing out and have very little trouble with shoots from the bottom. If they re not pruned back the leaves are sparse and small and they don’t flower as well

    June 25, 2014 at 5:40 am
  22. Dea

    Crepes bloom on new wood. So if you want them to bloom longer through the summer, trim off the old blooms. Take out dead branches and trim live branches back a bit in very early spring (just after the last frost) to stimulate new growth and blooms. The shoots that come up from the bottom are what we in Texas call “volunteers.” You can actually cut them from the original tree root (use a very sharp sharp-shooter shovel) and plant them elsewhere. But if you had severe freeze damage, you may want to let them grow up to replace trunks that were killed by the freeze. If you had a lot of freeze damage, your crepe may not bloom well this year, because it is using all its energy to recover from the freeze and stimulate new growth. And, although a lot of folks disagree, I have found that a product called “Super-Thrive,” used in strict accordance with the directions, really does help plants recover from shock, whether from transplant or from freeze damage.

    June 21, 2014 at 10:22 am
  23. GD

    It is called “Hat racking” here in Florida. Makes for a terrible tree with weak limbs. I never trim my tree and it is just gorgeous!

    June 20, 2014 at 7:52 pm
  24. Donna McLaughlin

    OK, I hate to be contradictory…however a lot of my neighbors and myself have Crepe Myrtles along our driveways. We all had a good bit of tree damage with ice this past early spring. I totally lost one of mine and a fairly lg Oak split in two. Had to have a tree surgeons. The neighbors hired him while he was at my house to ” trim” their CMs. He was suppose to come back to do mine but only with me present. He pretty much butchered theirs and never got to mine so… I kept thinking mine were going to be beautiful again this year just a bit out of shape. However that is not the case. Right now, not a one of mine is in bloom and their’s are full. HELP!

    June 20, 2014 at 5:26 pm
  25. Irene

    How can we get the commercial lawn folks to quit committing Myrtle Murder? It blows my mind to see them out there hacking away, even when they have been told not to do it.

    June 20, 2014 at 11:50 am
  26. Kathy

    I see a lot of comments here – but no responses?
    I am interested in what (if any) fertilizers we should give our trees?
    I am interested to know what we should do to get rid of japanese beetles in our tree? If anything – if we try to get rid of them & our neighbors have them, they will probably just come back anyway – should we just wait it out? I hear they last a month???

    June 20, 2014 at 7:21 am
  27. Maggie Pugh

    I live in Northeastern PA ( where crepes are not supposed to grow) but I had 4 beauties. This past winter killed 3 1/2 of them. The tallest ( about 11 ft) had about seven 3-4 in diameter branches. Four of them showed no growth-the others are leafed out and are beginning to form the flowers. I pruned the dead wood and the tips of the other branches. There is new growth from the bottom . I hope I did the right thing. If anyone has any other suggestions I would appreciate it, Thanks

    June 19, 2014 at 7:50 pm
  28. Maggie Pugh

    I live in Northeastern PA and had 4 beautiful crepes. The pink one was about 15 ft tall. It had six or seven 3 in diameter trunks. This past winter killed the 3 smaller ones and about half of the pink one. I cut out the dead trunks and the tips of the remaining branches. Those branches have leafed out and I can see the flower head starting. There are new shoots coming up from the bottom. I hope I have done the right thing. If anyone has any suggestions, I would appreciate it. Thanks

    June 19, 2014 at 7:44 pm
  29. Betty Simmons

    Is it OK to NEVER prune a crepe myrtle? I have a “Sarah’s Favorite” that has developed into a gorgeous, huge specimen with tremendously large blooms. I love it so much I can’t bear to touch with any sharp objects.

    June 19, 2014 at 7:36 pm
  30. Dea

    EEEUUUWWWW! Isn’t there a rule that you can’t post stuff like this where children and sensitive people can see it?! People who would do this to an innocent crepe would also plant boxwoods and use hedge trimmers on them to turn them into green mushrooms.

    June 19, 2014 at 7:13 pm
  31. Debb Vincent

    I just received a crepe myrtle as a gift today. I’m hoping to be a good custodian of this plant as it is to be a memorial to my mom. Should I feed this year? And what should I feed?

    June 19, 2014 at 5:59 pm
  32. Kate

    I agree. I am in Western KY.. All my 3 year old crepe myrtles took a hit in the last freeze. Just now leafing out from the bottom. Some leaves on the old branches, some branches nothing….many shoots from the ground. What do we do?

    June 19, 2014 at 3:33 pm
  33. David M.

    If you take care to prune them correctly they produce a perfect umbrella shaped canopy and every tree is uniform in height and size and will bloom all Summer long. …It’s NOT crepe Murder, it’s simply good gardening!
    Wish I could post a few example photos.~

    June 19, 2014 at 1:51 pm
  34. Rhonda Cox

    After years of having beautiful crepe myrtles, and doing absolutely no pruning, mine froze out this past year with the harsh winter. They are coming up only around the base of the old shrubs. What should I do in this case? Cut away all of the old growth down to the new, completely replace the shrubs with something else, or let them go and see what happens? I am sure all the upper grown is completely dead.

    June 19, 2014 at 12:46 pm
  35. Lori

    I don’t prune mine other than removing whatever spent blossoms I can reach. And, it’s beautiful all year round. If you chop them in half, you spend half your year waiting until it’s at least decent looking. I figure if you don’t like crepe myrtles the way they are, buy another tree.

    June 19, 2014 at 11:49 am
  36. Pam Carr

    The cold winter killed everything on one of my crepe myrtles this year. I cut it to the ground yesterday except for the new growth. Should I have just dug it up and replaced?

    June 19, 2014 at 11:47 am
  37. patsy

    What is the best way to prune them?

    June 19, 2014 at 11:44 am
  38. Phillip

    I murder my trees every year and they’re absolutely beautiful….the one above is ugly….everyone in my neighborhood comments at the sheer beauty of my trees! ANd your WRONG…..they absolutely continue to grow more and more beautiful every year….wonder how far you had to go to find that ugly tree above? LOL

    June 19, 2014 at 11:17 am
  39. Sherri

    They do this to all the crepe myrtles here in the Atlanta area in the common areas. When I lived in Virginia, I never saw this type of pruning so I’ve never done it to my crepe myrtles. Then I read an article on why you should not prune in this way and have never done so. We told our lawn guy to not prune in this manner – he couldn’t understand why because they are told to do this.

    June 19, 2014 at 11:14 am
  40. Candybar

    My husband and I always notice and comment on how many people don’t know how to prune or care for their crepe myrtle. It makes us cringe to see how many people chop theirs off and just leave a stump in their yard that is uglier than if they had left it alone. So sad.

    June 19, 2014 at 11:12 am
  41. Cindy

    My eyes!!! My eyes!!! 😦

    June 19, 2014 at 10:50 am

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s