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Crepe Myrtle Trimming: Do Not be a Lizzie Borden

One of my biggest pet peeves in driving around the Shoals  of NW Alabama is improper pruning of crepe myrtle trees.  Crepe Myrtles are trees that many owners treat as shrubs.  It is the most planted tree in the US and is available in white, purple or lilac, red and pink colors.   

castrated cm 1650

winter 4292 

With the large number planted, many home owners as well as lawn services improperly prune them so that they form a Medusa head when new growth starts. Some are so drastically cut back, using a technique called Crepe murder or castration; it’s amazing that they grace the owner with growth.   It’s like the pruner has turned into Barney Fife around a moonshine still with a great big axe. The growth that does result is a scantily clad shrub.  It takes the crepe myrtle half of the summer to recoup, while the properly pruned one is in full bloom. The Medusa form of pruning results in a short pom pom growth.  A properly pruned tree will flower sooner that one that has been castrated. One of the worse cases of castration I’ve notices has been at Tuscumbia Utilities in my home town.  Are you a Crepe myrtle murderer?  Don’t go Lizzie Borden on your crepe myrtles.   

   large Medusa  

If you have one that has the Medusa heads, cut off the medusa heads and  allow one or two branches to come back out in the spring.  It may mean pinching off several times during the year to prevent the Medusa heads from reforming.  Extremely large trunks with Medusa heads may mean just starting over and trimming the tree down to the ground and allow two or three nice branches to come back out.  

medusa before before trimming 

   medusa after trimming 4313 

   Medusa in June 

   August growth of murdered crepe myrtle 

Another issue is planting a large crepe myrtle tree close to the building. A crepe myrtle is a tree.  The result when the tree gets too large is crepe murder to control its size.  There are various sizes of crepe myrtles available. Dwarf (3-5 feet) varieties include Centennial, purple in color, Victor a dark red, and Ozark Spring a lavender.    Some semi dwarf  (5-10 ft) varieties are  Acoma a white variety, pinks Caddo, Hopi, Pecos and Prairie Lace; Zuni  a lavender, Tonto a red.  My favorite color are the reds.  

   too large too close to building 

The prettiest presentation of crepe myrtle in trimming it in a tree form choosing 2 or 3 main trunks and cutting off all growth up the trunk for several feet and exposing the beautiful bark of the crepe myrtle.   If you must prune, only trim any branches or limbs a pencil width or less in size and the seed heads.  Stand and look at the tree, then walk around it looking at it like it is a painting. Before just lopping, take a good look at your tree and decide which of the limbs need to remain in your painting, and trim the rest.  

   trimming 1 

   trimming 2  

  trimming 3 

august growth of properly pruned 

   winter properly pruned 

Diseases such as powdery mildew, black spot, sooty mold, tip blight, leaf spot, and root rot can be prevented by planting crepe myrtles in full sun with good air circulation.  

Now repeat after me, I will not castrate my crepe myrtles.  I will treat it like I’m painting a Picasso. I will not do a Lizzie Borden and take an axe and go chop, chop, chop.

mary carton
3/11/2013 1:47:21 AM

Thanks Kay, I had responded earlier, but I'm not sure where my reply went.

mary carton
3/8/2013 4:13:00 AM

I don't know how many trees we have around here that have the top center or the complete top cut out around the power lines. There is a company that is going around topping trees in the area and these mighty oaks look pitiful. Thanks for stopping in and visiting.

kay murdock
3/2/2013 6:14:41 PM

This article with the pictures of correct versus incorrect way to prune a crepe myrtle is exactly what I have been looking for. We have a crepe myrtle that a previous owner butchered and then allowed to get out of control Thanks too you I now know how to take care of those Medusa heads.

nebraska dave
2/28/2013 2:52:19 AM

Mary, I don't think we have the Crepe Myrtle tree in Nebraska. It sure doesn't sound like the landscapers and the yard maintenance folks have really done injustice to the Crepe Myrtle. Our issue here in Nebraska is the pine tree. In my humble opinion a pine tree should not be planted in an Urban yard. The plant the cute little pine tree about 10 feet away from the house and for a few years it fits in an looks great but after another few years it gouging into the side of the house and knocking off the rain gutters. To try to keep the tree in tact the home owner butchers the tree to keep it out of the house and off the gutters. Why do folks try to grow things where they shouldn't? Have a great Crepe Myrtle day.