In Louisiana and across the Southeast, there continues to be record-breaking amounts of improper crape myrtle pruning. In the horticulture industry, this unnecessary "topping" of trees to reduce height is called "crape murder."

For years now, horticulturists have been working diligently to end this terrible practice. But each year, it seems more and more people commit this heinous crime. At this point the scale is beginning to tip toward more people pruning crape myrtles the wrong way.

Although this practice does not kill the tree, it can result in trees declining in health after years of improper pruning. Wood decay can occur.

If a crape myrtle becomes too large for a certain location, either it was planted in the wrong spot or the wrong variety was selected. So, when you're selecting a crape myrtle, don't just pick based on color. Also choose based on the tree's size at maturity.

Late fall through late winter is the ideal time to prune crape myrtles, which should be thinned, not topped.

Here's how to prune correctly: Remove branches that rub against each other or cross each other. Remove branches that do not contribute to the overall growth direction, shape that you desire for the tree. Always prune a limb or branch from the point at which it originates, meaning where it meets the branch or trunk. Make a flush cut and do not leave a nub, which could lead to many more branches sprouting. Eliminate suckers at the base of the tree and water sprouts (vigorous upright growth) in the tree canopy.

Properly pruned crape myrtles will have:

  • Stronger wood
  • More flowers
  • Larger flowers
  • More pollinating insects
  • Enhanced bark features
  • Fewer water sprouts
  • Fewer suckers
  • More birds nesting
  • Less fungal decay in wood
  • Fewer insects and sooty mold
  • Less leaf spot
  • More canopy air circulation

Sure, everyone can prune their plants however they desire, but it is best to follow recommended horticultural practices to improve long-term plant health. Encourage your neighbors to prune crape myrtles properly. When allowed to grow and mature, they are beautiful, majestic trees.

Got a question?

Email gardenews@agcenter.lsu.edu.

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