Crape myrtles are a must have plant for nearly every landscape. They are one of the longest blooming plants in our region, have attractive branching and bark, and provide great fall color.
Crape Myrtles require some pruning every spring, but way too often Crape Myrtles are trimmed incorrectly, too severely, in late winter to early spring.
Why do so many cut crapes back to 4-5’ every year?
Three Reasons for Bad Crape Myrtle Pruning
It is simply what everyone does to their Crape Myrtles in the spring. Have you ever wondered if it is the best practice? It pains me to see so many beautiful Crapes cut back to ugly stubs every spring. This practice ruins the natural form of the plant. Southern Living termed the practice as “Crape Murder” decades ago, but yet it continues as the common practice.
The wrong variety was selected for the location and pruning is needed to control the size. Varieties include large tree types that grow 20’ or larger, medium varieties 12-18’, 6-12’ small varieties, and dwarf varieties. When you select the right size for your planting area and are not forced to prune heavily to contain the plant, you will find you will have a healthier plant resulting in less disease and more blooms.
They believe the myth that crape myrtles bloom more if they are severely pruned every year. Flowers are produced on new growth every year even if they are not pruned. Actually, without heavy pruning you will have more branch area resulting in more summer blooms.
Crape Murder destroys the natural beauty of the plant. Mature crape myrtles have wonderful smooth and molten bark with graceful shapes. You will never experience this quality if you murder them every spring.
This Crape Myrtle fell victim to Crape Murder.
Best Pruning Tips
Know what your goal is before you start. You can always prune more, but once you have pruned, you can never prune less.
Remove last summer’s seed pods from the ends of the branches with hand pruners.
Remove all the smaller branches growing toward the center of the plant. This will allow more air and light to reach the center of the plant which will increase blooms and reduce disease.
Great pruning… this Crape Myrtle didn’t fall victim to Crape Murder.
4. Make cuts back at the main branch and don’t leave stubs.
5. Remove any unwanted branches from the base of large shrub or tree from varieties. Typically 5-7 trunks, free of any branches for the first quarter or third of the plant results in an attractive landscape plant.
First leaf buds on a pruned Crape Myrtle in late March.
Crape Myrtle Insect and Disease Issues
Scale – The last two years many Crape Myrtles in central Oklahoma developed bark scale. This problem is relatively new to our area, but has been a nuisance in Texas for a few years. The insect is invasive and results in a black mold along the branches and trunk. Although the scale is rarely fatal to the plant, they are responsible for stunted growth, reduced flowering and loss in aesthetics. Best control is achieved with a dormant oil in the spring followed by contact insecticide applications in late spring and early summer when pest populations increase.
Powdery Mildew – Best identified as a power-like dusting that develops in late spring and early summer on new leaves. It will result in reduced blooming and misshaped leaves when untreated. Warm days, cool nights, low wind circulation, and excessive moisture on the leaves are the culprits. Best practice is to plant Crape Myrtles in areas where they will receive plenty of light and air movement. If you notice powdery mildew, fungicide applications will be required to control the spread of the disease.
Aphids – Traditionally, they have been the major pest for Crape Myrtles. A few aphids are not a problem and do not require treatment. But, if populations increase they can cause damage. Application of a dormant oil in the late winter or spring is the best preventive step to control aphids and is recommended. If aphid populations become a problem during the season, repeated applications of an insecticide will be required to gain control.
Please let us know if we can help you with any Crape Myrtle issues — from plant selection, proper pruning, and care.
To insure you have a summer full of wonderful crape myrtle color, call (405)367-3873 to schedule a dormant oil application this week!