Crepe Myrtle Pruning: Why, How, and When to Do It the Right Way

We all know how beautiful a crepe myrtle tree can be. It is something lovely that we all admire, especially when it blooms. You can make it even better. For that, however, proper crepe myrtle pruning needs to be done. Want to know how to prune your crepe myrtle like a pro and make something extraordinarily beautiful? We can help with that.

Here, we will explain various things regarding pruning. First, we will tell you why you prune a crepe myrtle, the objectives of pruning, and the consequences of poor pruning. Then, we will tell you how to prune crepe myrtle (normal, overgrown, and small) and the proper time to do the pruning. Ready? Let’s start now.

Why Is It Important to Do Crepe Myrtle Pruning?

The importance

First thing first, why is crepe myrtle pruning important? The reason why it is important is none other than the lovely blooms that a crepe myrtle produces annually in spring and summer. Of course, you can leave your crepe myrtle to grow naturally. It will be beautiful, yes, but not as beautiful as pruned crepe myrtle.

Although pruning is important, that doesn’t mean you can just prune however you want. Like anything in life, to get the best result you need to do it properly. Gorgeous crepe myrtles are, more often than not, the products of proper pruning. Proper pruning requires effort, attention, and time but it surely pays off once the small tree blooms.

Back then, many people commit “crepe murder” when they do their crepe myrtle pruning. What is “crepe murder”, you ask? It is a kind of pruning but done rather poorly where each twig, limb, and trunk are cut uniformly. This creates a “topped” look since the upper part of the tree has an even height.

You shouldn’t do that, of course. “Crepe murder” results in stubby limbs, which in turn grow long and gawky canes. As the shoots are too skinny, they can’t hold up the flowers. As a result, either these shoots flop over or they break off entirely. Other than stubby limbs, this kind of pruning also results in unsightly knots and bumps.

The Objectives of Crepe Myrtle Pruning


Before you start crepe myrtle pruning, you need to decide what the objective of the pruning is. That’s correct. You need to know what you are trying to accomplish by pruning. Crepe myrtles are tough trees. So in case you make mistakes, you can correct them in a few seasons. No need to be afraid.

What is your objective? The objective can be anything. For example, the objective of pruning can be to provide enough space between the main trunks and create attractive bark. Another good objective is to make the center thin enough so sunlight can penetrate easily. Whatever your objective may be, you need to be clear about it.

In case you haven’t decided what kind of objective of your crepe myrtle pruning yet, here’s a question to help start: What kind of look you want for your tree? In general, there are three looks a crepe myrtle tree can have. They are the single trunk, multi trunks, and natural look.

The natural look is when you leave a crepe myrtle tree as is, no prune needed. Single trunk is where you prune the tree in a way that there is only one trunk which with many branches on the upper part. And multi trunks, where there are multiple trunks each with its own branches.

The Consequences of Poor Crepe Myrtle Pruning


There is no doubt of how beautiful a crepe myrtle can be. This is especially true with proper pruning. Poor pruning, on the other hand, can ruin the looks of a crepe myrtle. Of course, you don’t want to make something that is beautiful looks ugly. Below are the consequences of poor crepe myrtle pruning.

1. Fewer blooms

The beauty of creep myrtles comes from their blooms. Imagine a crepe myrtle with fewer blooms. Not as attention-stealing as it can be, isn’t it? This is one of the results of poor pruning. Poor pruning, like cutting back too far or letting too many trunks result in fewer blooms. Worse still, the blooms are more prone to powdery mildew.

2. Weak branches

You can encourage rapid new growth of branches with severe pruning. These rapid-growing branches will grow large flower heads as well. The downside is, however, these branches are weak and too long. As a result, they are unable to support the flowers’ weight. This either results in the branches bending over or break off entirely.

3. Unremarkable bark

The mature look of a crepe myrtle looks attractive, especially during winter. If you shear a crepe myrtle tree, you prevent its trunks from becoming mature. As a result, the bark will look unsightly as it doesn’t have enough time to develop and will not look as beautiful as it would be without shearing.

These are the results of poor crepe myrtle pruning. What if you didn’t prune properly and your crepe myrtles have these? No need to worry. Crepe myrtles are tough and resilient trees. These results are likely to be temporary since you can correct them and see the results in a few seasons. Just prune properly next time.

Crepe Myrtle Pruning Tools


Before we tell you how to prune a crepe myrtle tree properly, you need to prepare your pruning tools first. So, what tools do you need to prune the tree? You need three tools for the job:

  • Hand pruners, to clip branches and twigs that are less than 1/2 inch thick
  • Loppers, to cut branches that are between half 1/2 and 1 1/2 inches thick.
  • A pruning saw or pole pruners, to cut branches that are over 1 1/2 inches thick

Make sure that all of your pruning tools are clean, rust-free, and most importantly, sharp.

How to Prune Crepe Myrtle?


Crepe myrtles naturally grow multiple trunks. If left alone, a crepe myrtle will get crowded with trunks as it matures. A well-structured and healthy crepe myrtle, on the other hand, will have only several trunks. This is where pruning comes into play. It allows you to shape a crepe myrtle the way you want to, making it healthier and beautiful.

The followings are how to prune a crepe a myrtle tree properly:

1. Keep only several trunks

First thing first, keep only several main trunks. To make your tree more attractive, consider leaving an odd number of trunks. You can keep seven main trunks at most. Remember to provide enough space between each trunk

2. Cut the trunks and suckers all the way back

When you cut additional trunks and suckers, make sure that you cut them all the way back. Meaning, you cut them as close to the soil as possible. You don’t want to leave a dead stub which not only unsightly but can also become an entry for diseases and insects.

3. Remove low branches

How high or low the branching depends on your objectives. That said, branching around 6 to 8 feet is a good idea as it makes things more practical and generally looks better. Remove all low branches that you don’t want.

4. Thin the upper part

The branches at the top look great when they are spread in different directions. To achieve this, you need to thin out the upper part of the tree. Remove any branches that are growing into an area where there is already another branch on it or ones that are growing toward the center of the tree.

5. Remove weak growth and dead branches

Finally, remove weak growth and dead branches. Branches that are no bigger than a pencil should be removed. If you leave these small branches, they will result in weak new growth so be sure to remove them. Don’t forget to get rid of dead branches as well.

That is how to prune a crepe myrtle tree properly. It applies to most crepe myrtles. What about small or overgrown crepe myrtles? Pruning, whether the crepe myrtle is regular, small, or overgrown, is mostly the same. There are slight differences, of course. We will explain each in the next two sections.

How to Prune Overgrown Crepe Myrtle?


What if your crepe myrtle is overgrown? How do you prune it? Even crepe myrtles that are full of branches that overlap each other and too tall can still be saved. All that is needed is careful crepe myrtle pruning. You do, however, need patience as you can’t prune an overgrown crepe myrtle in one weekend.

How the pruning is done is mostly the same with regular crepe myrtle. The difference lies in when the pruning should be done. For overgrown crepe myrtle pruning, you need to spread it over a few growing seasons. This is to keep the tree healthy and good-looking. It is a gradual process.

Here are the highlights of pruning an overgrown crepe myrtle tree:

  • The pruning process can be spread out over a three-year period. This way, it continues to bloom while being gradually pruned.
  • Before spring starts, remove any deadwood on the tree. Also, decide the height where you want the blooms. Then, cut the tree top about 2 feet below said height.
  • Repeat the pruning process over the next few seasons. The overgrown tree should be under control as the time goes.

How to Prune Small Crepe Myrtle?


Small crepe myrtle pruning is a bit different from regular pruning. Firstly, compared to regular crepe myrtles, small crepe myrtles have a slower growth rate. Secondly, pruning is not a must as they tend to have a good natural form. The fuller and denser a small crepe myrtle are, the less pruning it requires.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prune your small crepe myrtles, though. A light small crepe myrtle pruning is beneficial, especially when done properly. In terms of timing, late winter is the best period for pruning. During late winter, new leaves haven’t emerged yet. Removing stray or broken branches, however, can be done any time you want.

So, how do you prune a small crepe myrtle? Here’s how.

  • If the small plant is young and sparsely branched, pruning can make it denser. Take your hand pruners and take a look at the branches. Cut back the long ones, about a 1/4 to a 1/2 of their height. Cut these branches so that the crepe myrtle will form a rounded shape when its foliage grows.
  • When you cut a branch, underneath the cut spot will grow to or more new branches. Take advantage of this. In the next year crepe myrtle pruning, cut the branch a few inches above where you pruned this year. Doing this will double the total number of branches and blooms every year.

If small crepe myrtle pruning is done properly, after a few years you wouldn’t need to prune it at all. It will grow dense. The only pruning you need to do is to remove broken or stray branches.

When to Prune Crepe Myrtle?


Now you know how to prune crepe myrtle properly, whether it is regular, small, or overgrown. The next question is, when is the best time for crepe myrtle pruning? There is a proper way to prune. Likewise, there is the proper time to prune as well. The best time for pruning is when the tree is in a dormant state.

That is, during winter or between December and February. During this time, crepe myrtle trees are leafless. The branches can be seen easily, too, making the task a lot easier. As the flower blooms on new growth, pruning during winter will not reduce blooming. On the contrary, pruning during winter might even increase blooming.

A Few Useful Tips for Crepe Myrtle Pruning

useful tips

  • Provide enough space for the branches. Remove those that are either too close with, cross, or rub each other
  • Don’t prune a crepe myrtle’s top so it blooms. Doing so may result in larger flowers. Don’t be mistaken, however. The flowers are larger but the overall blooms volume doesn’t increase.
  • Never extremely top a crepe myrtle. If topping is done extremely, it may result in weak branches growth which tends to bend or worse, break

Crepe myrtle is naturally beautiful. With pruning, you can make it even better. The thing is, you need to do crepe myrtle pruning properly. And now that you know how and when to do it, it is not a problem. You should be able to make your crepe myrtle even more beautiful with ease. Happy gardening!

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