In the honor of “Full Disclosure”, despite what I’m seemingly going to rant about regarding the over-pruning of Crape Myrtles, I will be honest and tell you that they are still the most resilient plant in our landscapes. And as such, you can’t really kill them even if you are a participant in the upcoming and ongoing CRAPE MYRTLE MASSACRE.
It’s that time of the year, when people start seeing “industrial/commercial” landscaping crews butchering our beloved Crapes in Houston. So, they in turn run home and start whacking away at their own crapes. Remember, the best time to start pruning Crapes if you’ve listened to GardenLine advice for years is to wait until at least Valentine’s Day, and in some cases even later. However, having made that assertion, I still understand the crape’s resiliency and will look the other way if you absolutely have to do it this week. If you can, please wait.
The best reason to wait a few more weeks is because of the weather. Let’s say for the sake or argument, that we have another couple of freezing nights in our future – a very likely possibility, eh? Then, let’s assume you pruned your crapes a month before such a cold front, and in those 30 days it warmed up enough to create some new growth on the plant. That new/baby growth is highly susceptible to freeze damage, acting like a straw and pulling even further freezing temps into the plant. Thus, leaving it as dormant as possible by not pruning until winter’s end, helps ensure the health of the plant long term.
Let’s also establish one very clear point in all of this: IF YOU DON’T PRUNE YOUR CRAPE MYRTLES AT ALL, THEY WILL STILL BLOOM. In other words, it’s not a necessity to prune crapes for blooming purposes, despite some of the myths and garden lore out there. Sure, they bloom a bit less if you don’t prune them at all. But they absolutely don’t need to be MASSACRED the way most commercial landscapers do. My definitiong of the Annual Crape Myrtle Massacre is when landscapers and homeowners over prune and wrong-season prune their crapes to essentially the same point each and every year, creating what we call knuckles or fists.
I’ve said it before in these pages, that I think the reason most commercial/industrial landscapers over-prune the crapes is three-fold.
1. They just aren’t that well educated as to the pathology/biology of the plants, and they too are just “going with the flow”. (Go figure: someone who got in the business to make a quick buck and doesn’t have a clue about plants)
2. They have to keep their crews busy, in order to keep them employed, during the winter months. So, it’s simply a job to do, at a time when there’s little landscape work to do.
3. Its easier for a landscaping crew member to prune lower on the branches, than higher up. So, if left to their own devices they will do the easiest thing. Frankly, so will many home owners.
I’ve also had many a callers to the radio program (and via emails too) argue the point with me that their crape is growing too much and must be pruned back to fit the space they require. Well, that means that the wrong variety for the space was chosen. What you may not know, and yet what landscapers should know, is that there are several sized varieties to choose from.
Miniature (2-4 feet)
Dwarf (3-6 feet)
Semidwarf (5-10 feet)
Large Shrub/Small Tree ( 10-20 feet)
Tree Form ( 20 + Feet)
So, picking the right variety is another key aspect in preventing further Crape Murder (a phrase coined by my mentor Dr. Doug Welsh at A&M). In fact, here are some of Dr. Doug’s Crape Myrtle Pruning Tips, synthesized from his new book Doug Welsh’s Texas Garden Almanac.
1. Choose the right variety (Yes, what we just discussed) Choose and plant based on their MATURE size and the space you want to fill, or you will be regularly pruning to keep the plant in bounds.
2. Prune off “suckers” (tender shoos arising form the trunk at soil level); suckering seems to be increased if the trunk is damaged.
3. Deadhead the plants (remove old blooms) to prevent setting of seeds and to extend the blooming period.
4. Don’t TOP crape myrtles – it ruins the natural structure of the plant. Specifically, do not cut branches over ½ inches in diameter; occasionally you might need to remove a larger branch, but cut it back to where it originates.
5. Annual pruning of crapes at winter’s end is a good thing at winter’s end, as long as you can reach the top of the tree without endangering your life.
On Younger/Newly Planted Crapes
1. Remove old blooms to clear the path for the new season’ growth.
2. Remove any dead or dying branches.
3. Remove any branch that is originating from one side of the plant, growing through the middle of the plant, and heading out the other side.
4. Remove competing branches; often one branch will be growing directly beneath or beside another.
5. Step back from the crape and take an overall view; your goal is to create a vase-shaped plant.
6. Don’t prune at all.
See this webpage from Dallas Extension, if you need to see further visuall do’s and do nots for Crape Myrtle Pruning.
Until next issue, here's to Great Gardening from the GardenLine, heard exclusively, 6-10 a.m. Saturdays and 7-10 a.m. Sundays, only on NewsRadio 740 KTRH.
GardenLine Listeners and E-mail Tip Subscribers can purchase a copy of my new book at discounted price!
Our Printer-Friendly Version
Click Here for a complete
KTRH program schedule
E-mail The Editor. Please feel free to forward this issue to friends and associates. Anyone can subscribe for free.