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Row of crepe myrtles

How to Prune Crepe Myrtles

Full of vibrant colors and highly tolerant of heat and humidity, crepe myrtle trees are a lively choice to spice up your home garden. Due to this, it's no wonder that so many people love to plant these trees; however, few people actually prune their crepe myrtles correctly. The gorgeousness of this tree must be worked for, and proper pruning can go a long way to ensure that your tree is strong and beautiful come blooming time.

The crepe myrtle tree's name is often spelled differently depending on location, with either an 'e' or an 'a' (crape). The traditional southern spelling of the name is with an 'e', as the delicate flowers resemble crepe paper. However, across the United States, Europe, Australia, and other countries it's spelled with an 'a'. Nonetheless, the crepe myrtle's flowers do look similar to crepe paper, and proper pruning of your tree can ensure that those delicate flowers are presented upright and held up by strong tree branches.


The Goal of Pruning

The objective of pruning your crepe myrtle tree is to maintain its elegant sculptural form, show-off the tree's smooth, multi-toned bark, and ensure that the branches are strong enough to hold flowers upright. Cutting back a crepe myrtle into thick stubs each year makes it nearly impossible to fulfill these goals, as a butchered tree will grow back weak and not nearly as beautiful as it should be. Therefore, correctly pruning the tree will yield gracefully strong branches that hold flowers high up on display while still maintaining a unique shape.


How to Properly Prune a Crepe Myrtle Tree

For starters, prune a crepe myrtle during the late winter, ideally in late January or February.

For starters, prune a crepe myrtle during the late winter, ideally in late January or February. These trees bloom on new growth, so it's best to prune them right before they leave their winter dormancy. Also, remove any suckers at the base, flimsy branches, crossing or rubbing branches, and inverted branches growing towards the tree's trunk. This will help give the crepe myrtle its strength when it leaves dormancy and returns to growing.

As the tree grows, gradually remove side branches to a height of about five feet. If there are any unwanted branches, try to remove them before they grow thicker than a pencil. In addition, when cutting branches, never leave lone or clustered stubs on the trunk; cut back to other branches or to the branch collar, the spot where the branch meets the trunk. Additionally, you may cut old seed-heads; however, it's not a necessity.


Restoring a Crepe Myrtle Tree

If you've completely butchered your crepe myrtle tree, cut the entire thing out of the ground. It will grow back very quickly, and come next winter, pick several well-spaced trunks to keep and cut off the rest. Then, follow the proper pruning steps and in a few years your crepe myrtle tree will be restored. If you've only rounded your tree, simply follow the proper pruning steps as well.

When you take the time to properly prune your crepe myrtle tree, you'll ensure that your tree is strong and beautiful come spring and summer, with gorgeous multi-toned bark and branches that hold flowers upright. With the correct pruning, your crepe myrtle tree will look stunningly gorgeous and very healthy.

Tree Care Tips

how to prune a crepe myrtle tree

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