I know I can retire from this job at GardenLine the day I stop seeing people prune their crape myrtles in early January. That would mean that my message has gotten across to everyone. Unfortunately, it looks like I've got a long way until retirement by looks of Crape Murder (a.k.a. The Annual Crape Myrtle Massacre) already taking place. If you've never read anything I've written about proper Crape Myrtle Pruning, please link to this old tip sheet… which has links to "proper crape pruning techniques" at the bottom of the page.
And I realize many of you still allow so-called landscape companies to do the pruning for you, and as you may have noticed, many of them have been errantly pruning during January. Maybe this would all be a moot point, has we not experienced such a severe cold front earlier this week. If it were still 70 degrees, with no threat of freeze on the horizon, I can all but guarantee I would not be doing this topic for a tip sheet this week. However, this recent cold spell is exactly why I discourage "too early" pruning of Crapes. It's important enough to me that I wrote an entire segment about it my book Gulf Coast Gardening with Randy Lemmon.
If you haven't done your pruning yet, then give yourself a pat on the back or a gold star on your GardenLine scorecard. Remember that Valentine's Day - which is also the same time we prune the roses -- is still the best time to start the Crape Pruning Process.
Nevertheless, bad pruning advice abounds, and when the average person sees a supposed landscape company out there pruning crapes at this time of the year, they are peer-pressured into wrong-season pruning. Meanwhile, I thought it was worth re-hashing all the myths about pruning of crapes for this weeks' tip sheet.
Myth #1: It doesn't matter when you prune Crapes. While this may be somewhat true later in the year, it really does matter when you prune them during winter months. As noted in the earlier tip sheets above, if you prune too soon and we get a freeze it can cause damage to the Crape, and hinder its re-growth for the spring. Plus, if you pruned weeks ago, and new growth is starting to emerge, it will be killed off by freezing weather, and act like a straw for the cold weather to be sucked into the plant.
Myth #2: You must prune your crepe myrtles every year. Not necessarily true. Crape myrtles are often heavily pruned this time of year to encourage the development of long, arching branches of flowers. However, the downside of this annual pruning is that it creates an ugly, butchered-looking plant. Left unpruned, crape myrtles develop a naturally appealing shape and will flower well regardless.
Myth #3: You should prune to contain the plant to the space allowed. This is an exercise in futility. Instead, transplant to a roomier space. If a shrub is preferred, plant one of the new, smaller varieties, rather than pruning every year to keep a tree down to shrub size.
Myth #4: Heavy pruning encourages more blooms. Actually, crape myrtle flowers are produced on new growth. Again, crapes will produce flowers without any pruning, although they will produce larger flowers and bloom more profusely if at least lightly pruned.
Myth #5: Crapes only bloom once a season. When crapes have bloomed in summer and shed their first flowers, they will set seed. The small round seedpods, or capsules, usually weigh down the limbs and make them sag. Cut off the seedpods using sharp clippers, allowing new buds to appear. If temperatures stay warm into the fall - and they will in Texas - you'll continue to prune spent flowers it's possible to get a third or fourth bloom from your crepe myrtles. Here's a tip sheet we did on this specific subject years ago.
So what's the bottom line? Always wait until mid February to start your pruning. While pruning is not strictly necessary, light pruning in late winter or early spring is recommended to stimulate vigorous new growth in later spring. Gently prune the plant to remove dead or defective growth and open up the plant to more sunlight. Remove low growth to develop a smooth, attractive trunk. You may have to remove low-growing suckers several times during the season, but the results will be well worth the effort. Just don't get caught up in the Annual Crape Myrtle Massacre or commit Crape Murder on your own.
Until then, here's to great gardening from the GardenLine, heard exclusively weekend mornings 6 to 10 on Saturdays and 7 to 10 Sunday mornings on Newsradio 740 KTRH.
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