How should I prune my Crepe Myrtles?
Above: Lightly (& properly) pruned Crape Myrtle
I've noticed that some of my neighbors have cut back their crepe myrtles hard, almost to the trunk. Is this how I should have mine pruned? - Rebecca W., Richmond, VA
Some believe that aggressively pruning this Richmond favorite has benefits, including keeping a smaller size or neater appearance and encouraging earlier and more prolific blooms come spring. I'd argue hard pruning has no benefit and may actually cause harm to your tree.
Late winter (February or March) is the best time for pruning Crepe (Crape) Myrtles, and we recommend a light pruning - removing small or crossing branches or branches that grow inward (toward the trunk instead of upward and outward). Removal of seed pods or snipping the ends of branches can make for a neater appearance and can be done without harming the tree.
Pruning to affect overall tree size is not recommended. The cultivar will determine whether it will tower above you (trees achieving heights of twenty feet or more) or remain compact (dwarf or sub-dwarf, typically five to ten feet). Choosing wisely during the design phase is your best bet and will reward you in spades for years to come.
Below: Poor pruning, also known as "Topping" and "Crape Murder"
If you have any questions about your crepe myrtles, when or how to prune, or their suitability to your gardens or yard, please contact 'Dr. Drew' at Terra Firma Landscaping and we'd be happy to help!
Occasionally we answer questions from customers with concerns about plant material, suitability and maintenance practices. If you have a question, please email us.