Monday, February 21, 2011

Are YOU Guilty of Crape Murder?

Crape Murder (Internet)

Crape Murder (Internet)
Every year it never fails … someone … lots of someones … commit Crape Murder!  One of my biggest pet peeves.  It should be a crime!!!

Apparently it all started when some so called ‘professional landscaper’ and I say this sarcastically because in Georgia you don’t have to be licensed or have any education to call yourself a ‘professional landscaper’ …decided the proper way to prune a Crape Myrtle was to MASSACRE it … literally!  AND homeowners everywhere have followed the trend to murder their beautiful Crape Myrtles … EVERY YEAR.  Monkey See … Monkey Do! 

Crape Murder is when you hack it (prune is too nice of a word to describe it) back down to the main trunks … that’s all that’s left is the main trunks!!!  After years of doing this the tree forms knots which makes committing Crape Murder even easier because then these Crape Murderers just hack it back to the knots every year.

Crape Murder causes several problems: (1) it will produce LESS flowers, (2) produces skinny thin branches, (3) these skinny little branches struggle with the weight of the flowers which will not hold up during a heavy rainfall thus flowering for a shorter period of time, and (4) it stresses out the tree which shortens its life span dramatically.

Well first off folks … pruning your Crape Myrtle isn’t entirely NECESSARY …have you ever seen the really huge old Crape Myrtles planted in rows along interstates or in town squares?  They aren’t pruned and they look exactly like they are supposed to look …BEAUTIFUL and heavy with flowers.  AND Crape Myrtles in the wild do just fine without ever seeing pruning shears or worse yet, loppers, and they are gorgeous …just more bush like.

Why prune then?  To control the form.  You want to maintain a tree form?  You must prune every season to encourage it and maintain it.  If you want it bush like, which they tend to want to be, you leave it alone.  So pruning is really just maintaining its desired shape … that’s all!

Now with that said …FEBRUARY is the month to prune and I like my Crape Myrtles in tree form.  The four Crape Myrtles I have in my yard are only 3 years old … at least that’s how long they’ve been planted in MY yard. BUT I’ve had Crape Myrtles at both of my last two homes  …some huge mature ones.  Depending on the variety, they can grow anywhere from 4 to about 35 foot tall.  Anyway, when I planted the four I have now they were just sticks about 2 foot tall.  Literally just a stick …well a trunk with three/four main branches. 

My pruning consists of trimming off any branches around the base of the main trunk …these are called suckers and can also shoot off from the spreading roots underneath the soil creating babies.  But don’t think its easy to dig up a ‘baby’ and transplant it … I’ve tried … it aint easy!  Usually this has to be done several times during the blooming season because as I’ve already said Crape Myrtles want to be bushes so you’ve got to train them if you want a tree.

Close Up of 2-3 Inch Twigs (My Photo)
Next, I trim off all the skinny branches (branches that are smaller than a pencil) coming off the main branches to encourage main branch growth, otherwise it will put all of its energy into those sprouting baby branches.  Also, remove the 2-3 inch twigs coming off some branches.

Next, for form purposes only, I will trim off bigger branches that are way too low on the tree (not the trunk branches, mind you, but branches coming off one of the main trunks that are too low).

Brown Seed Pods (My Photo)
Finally, I remove the remnants of last season’s flowers …the pretty brown pods that are left behind …cutting off just below the last of the pods. (HINT: cut off some of these pretty brown seed pods in the Fall and you can use them in dried flower arrangements or even spray paint them silver or gold for Christmas décor!)  

That’s it!  A light pruning … that’s all! 

Properly Pruned Crape Myrtle (Internet)
 This year my four Crape Myrtles are now taller than I am.  Now next year, I won’t be able to reach those spent flower pods to prune them off so they will remain. Which is perfectly fine!  You will still get new blooms without removing the pods.  My Crape Myrtles will only reach about 6-8 foot tall (Tonto variety) so they are pretty close now to being full grown … at least as far as height.  Had I been committing Crape Murder every year, I guarantee they wouldn’t be anymore than 3 foot tall and possibly DEAD!

Most likely beginning next year, I will only have to trim back any unwanted branches … and those pesky ones that come up at the base …the suckers …that’s it!  (These photos are also from the internet ... problems downloading my before and after pics ... sorry!)

Tonto Crape Myrtle in Bloom (Internet)
Simple … no murder required … no crime committed!

(NOTE: Don’t just take my word for it.  There are plenty of reputable websites where you can get more detailed information about pruning Crape Myrtles and other information regarding care, growth and flowering, etc.  Don’t just mimic what your neighbors do … educate yourself first!!!  AND if you’ve committed Crape Murder …in most cases, it can be rectified.  Just Google it!!!)


  1. Deb, CM's are one of my FAVORITES...I love love love them... We planted two 7 years ago and I braided the branches of one of them, just for fun to see what would happen! It is gorgeous..I have never murdered it, only cut back what I could reach of skinny legs branching out here and there..wanted it to grow up to be a tree! Now with that being said, Jerry did murder one last week, it is at the corner of our was a beautiful tree but he wanted to try to control its growth a bit so that hopefully it will not drop all over the pool deck this year..we will see... Every time I look at it now I feel sad, has never been cut back and just looks pitiful! Enjoyed your blog...very informative! DHW

  2. Mine have been murdered,,by Mims :(( Hopefully they will come back. Next year he will be monitored.