Why Prune Crape Myrtle?

by Elmer Krehbiel, Master Gardener
January 18, 2002

Winter it the time to prune crape myrtle plants. During the fall, sap should be moving down for the winter season so it will not freeze. When crape myrtles are pruned during the fall, it forces sap to move up then develop new growth that could freeze and kill the plant.

If crape myrtle plants are healthy, they do not need to be pruned to develop flowers. Their next buds will appear on new growth.

There are several reasons why crape myrtles should be pruned properly. You may need to prune some plants to remove seedpods, dead twigs, or branches and develop the shape or size of the plant.

The project of pruning crape myrtle may be simple or confusing. If you cut off just the seedpods in the winter and again in the summer, the plant will develop new growth earlier. Usually, seedpods are all that you should remove from the small and medium size crape myrtles.

If the dwarf varieties are cut to the ground each winter, they may grow only to 1 or 2 feet tall and bloom profusely. If others are too out of shape, they may be cut down and forced to develop another top.

If twigs and branches are thicker than a pencil, they should not be tipped. Cutting them off will cause a lump of scars to form. After the cut heals, an unsightly cluster of small twigs will sprout from the knot of scars, or the branch will die. So, rather than tip these branches, you should remove them completely. Dont be a crape murderer!

General Care of Crape Myrtles

Technically, crape myrtle plants are shrubs. Many new varieties have been developed. Sizes now range from ground cover, dwarf, medium, large to extra large (about 35 feet high).

The largest varieties are usually considered small trees. When the crape myrtle is still young, gardeners should decide how many trunks to allow the plant to develop, then keep all others pruned off, or the crape myrtle will grow back as an extremely large shrub (which it is, actually).

If you have a plant variety with an expected large mature size, just let it grow up or replace it with a variety that will remain at more desirable size. Also, if you have a variety with an expected small or medium mature size, you cannot force it to grow high like a small tree.

Crape myrtle plants need medium fertile soil, moderate amount of water, full sunlight and good air circulation to be healthy. They continue to be the most popular shrubs in the South because they are both beautiful and efficient in the landscape.

More on Crape Myrtles

Dr. Elmer Krehbiel is the former President of Keep Brazos Beautiful. See his column in The Eagle.