Crepe Myrtle Murder and Hooligan Troubles

One of my biggest pet peeves in driving around the Shoals, a name given to the cities of Tuscumbia, Sheffield, Florence and Muscle Shoals, is improper pruning of crepe myrtle trees.

Crepe myrtles are trees that many owners just don’t treat with respect.  It is the most planted tree in the US and is available in white, purple or lilac, red and pink colors. Are you a crepe myrtle murderer?

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; it’s amazing that they grace the owner with growth.  The growth that does result is a scantily clad shrub.  Notice in the murder picture very little growth.  It takes the crepe myrtle half of the summer to recoup. The Medusa form of pruning or topping results in pom pom growth.  An example a friend of mine calls Crepe myrtle castration is cutting the tree down to a stump.  Several of these may be found at the city hall in Tuscumbia, AL.

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. 

Some of the best classic examples of crepe myrtles are found in Charleston, South Carolina.  One street is lined with several of the trees cut in the tree form style, some over 20 to 30 feet in height.  The barks of these trees are just wonderful when left in the tree form instead of the bush form.  I have all of mine in the tree form.

My dogwoods and iris, azaleas and clematis are starting to bloom, and peonies are a week or so from opening.  Temperatures have been in the eighties this week. Normal this time of year is in the seventies.  Last week we barely got out of the forties.  The hooligans have very busy getting into trouble.  Mom’s crabapple tree was in bloom and I didn’t notice my Piairifire crabapple blooming, so I went down to the lower forty to check on it. I bought it for myself last year for my birthday. Each year on my birthday, I allow myself one expensive plant, and since this was a rather large tree, I didn’t put a hooligan cage around it.   In the hunt for mice, apparently back in the winter they had dug up around the tree on all side exposing the roots to the elements.  Some of the roots were very well knawel on.  My tree was dead.  Ughhh!!  I came close to calling the rescue inquiring what was needed to turn them back in, but I wouldn’t wish these three on anyone else. 

While mowing the grass Thursday afternoon and using the clippings to mulch some of my beds, I noticed Levi was staying next to me like glue.  Thunderstorms were predicted, so what was causing his clinginess?   When I finished emptying the grass catchers, I noticed Blackie and Patches jumping at something near an area that I plant to put an arbor. I had the holes dug and put concrete blocks over the holes to keep critters from stepping in the holes.  I thought I might need to save a lizard as they have chasing them and bumble bees since the weather turned warm.  When I got close they threw a snake up in the air. By the time I reached them to save the rat snake which us Southerners call a chicken snake, was a goner. Blackie had it by the head and Patches had it by the tail playing tug of war.  I finally was able to get the snake from them after a chase and took it to the other side of the wireless fence out of sight. With the number of field mice I have this was a good snake. I’m glad it wasn’t Fred, one of the largest rat snakes I’ve every seen who lives under my house and comes out every once in a while to sun. 

Patches first met Fred the first summer after she arrived at my place.  She had a fascination for sticks and would carry one with her where ever she went. I was taking mowing my grass and went around the end of the house with Patches right behind me carrying her stick.  There was Fred sunning himself and I decided that Patches needed to find out what a snake was.  The idea at the times was that she would find out and then stay away from snakes.  She spied Fred and decided that this stick was a lot nicer than the one she was carrying.  She dropped her stick and tried to pick Fred up by the middle, but this stick was too limp, so she decided to drag it by the end which was Fred’s head.  Fred decided he had enough when Patches opened her mouth to pick him up by his head, and coiled back ready to strike. Patches decided she didn’t want this stick then.  Another time Blackie spied Fred and I had a time saving him between Blackie lunging at him and Fred striking at her. I took Fred down to the creek and turned him loose. I’m not sure if he made it back, but my exterminator talks about the biggest snake skin he’d ever seen every time he goes under the house. 

Sunday I found a $15 replacement bare root crabapple tree called ‘Profusion’ and planted it in the same spot my Prairifire one came out of.  After backfilling and tamping down the soil around the roots, I went to fetch a hooligan cage to protect it.  Just as I arrived back Blackie had already started un-planting it.  It’s going to be a long summer.

  • Published on Apr 10, 2011
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