How To Prune Crepe Myrtle
Fast-growing crepe myrtle is a garden show-off, with bright flowers all summer long. Find out how to prune crepe myrtle to keep it looking great.
Crepe myrtle, sometimes spelled crape myrtle, is a showy flowering bush or tree that thrives in warm climates. It does well in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 7 through 10, and may survive winters in Zones 5 and 6. It flowers all summer, and offers abundant, bright-colored blossoms that range from white to deep purple.
(Curiously, there are no orange, yellow or blue crepe myrtle flowers — although deep red, fuchsia and purple are absolute stunners.)
Take care of your crepe myrtle trees or bushes and you’ll be rewarded with healthy, long-lasting, beautiful plants. Pruning crepe myrtle is a necessary step for these fast-growing trees and bushes. Here’s how to do it.
Why Prune Crepe Myrtle?
According to the pros at McCorkle Nurseries, crepe myrtle benefits from seasonal selective removal of diseased, damaged, dead, non-productive, structurally unsound or otherwise unwanted tissue.
With crepe myrtle, pruning equates to blooming. “Pruning creates new wood,” says McCorkle senior sales representative Tony Rogers. “If you leave it unpruned, it’s just going to be old wood on the end, and you’re not going to get the bloom set you want.”
When to Prune Crepe Myrtle
Crepe myrtle should be pruned right before it comes out of dormancy, or right before the first appearance of new growth. In Zones 7 and higher, this will probably be January or February. If you’re growing crepe myrtle in Zones 5 or 6, you may want to wait until March to prune, or after the last risk of frost. Pruning in the fall will likely leave your crepe myrtle susceptible to frost damage, especially the farther north you live.
How to Prune Crepe Myrtle
To prune crepe myrtle, Rogers says to start with a pair of sharp pruning shears that you’ve wiped down with rubbing alcohol, rinsed and dried. He offers these tips on how to proceed with pruning:
- Go sparingly and avoid pruning anything larger than the diameter of your finger. “Aggressively pruning thicker wood from crepe myrtle is a habit that’s been deemed ‘crepe murder’ by knowledgeable gardeners,” says Rogers. “You’ll still get growth and blooms, but it’s like cutting off a baseball bat. You have that big diameter there that’s not real pretty.” By sticking to cutting finger-sized branches, you’ll get the new growth which produces new blooms and a more aesthetically pleasing plant.
- Remove crossed or dead branches and trim side branches from the trunk. “Taking away extraneous interior branches will also help promote sunlight penetration,” Rogers says.
- For trees, selectively prune shoots that emerge from the base of the trunk. “Think of a multi-tiered system,” says Rogers. “Limb up to the height you want.” (In gardening lingo, “limb up” means to cut the lower branches to raise the profile and height of the tree.)
- As the plant grows, Rogers says, continue to remove lower branches and any suckers that emerge from the base. “You will shape the tree by removing branches each year, so the trunk accounts for much of the plant’s height,” he says.
- In its bushier form, the lower you trim the crepe myrtle, the more it will push out horizontally for a fuller plant.
Pro tip: Deadhead those crepe myrtle blooms at the peak of summer to promote even more colorful blooms later.