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While I was out at RCW Nursery last weekend, a gentleman quietly asked me if it was okay to prune his crape myrtles in half. He obviously knew of my disdain for over-pruning and wrong-season pruning of crape myrtles — an act I have come to call the Annual Crape Myrtle Massacre.
My advice probably caught him a little off guard because, while I'm a firm believer in restrained crape myrtle pruning, I also know how resilient the crape is. And a major pruning once in 10 years is not going to kill the plant. With that said, however, please don't use it as an excuse to commit this heinous crime.
If you're new to the Houston area, BE CAREFUL! As you drive around during the coming months, you will see something so offensive to the savvy Houston gardener, that it often can't be described without using the words "massacre" or "murder." It is mostly committed by ignorant landscape companies. And sadly, it leads many average homeowners or unseasoned gardeners to believe that they, too, need to butcher their crapes. DON'T!
Some basics on crapes:
I suppose many people who over-prune think that more new wood will produce more new flowers. That is wrong, because very heavy pruning can lead to a multitude of problems and diminished health for the tree. The vigorous new growth off the "knuckles" is weakly attached and prone to snap in bad weather. That makes the trees more susceptible to insects and diseases.
Professional crape growers will tell you that lighter prunings bring satisfactory results. They will also tell you that only three basics things need to be remembering during the pruning season:
1.) Remove any weak or dead-looking limbs.
2.) Remove water sprouts and crisscrossing wood.
3.) The only thing you must do to encourage better blooms this year, is to remove any old seed pods from the tops of the crapes.
By the way, you can also leave them completely alone for a year or two, and they still will bloom.
I'll remind you in February or maybe the end of January when it's really time to prune crapes in Houston. Until then, here are some reading assignments that will help you learn proper pruning techniques.
Crepe Myrtle Pruning Step-by-Step (The Grumpy Gardener)
How do you Prune Crape Myrtles? (Crape Myrle Farms)
Stop the Crape Murder! (Greg Grant, Stephen F. Austin State University)