Crape Myrtle Pruning

Millie Davenport,
Home & Garden Information Center

Have you been guilty of committing “crape murder” in the past or have you inherited a crape myrtle that was not pruned properly? Homeowners ask many questions when it comes to caring for their crape myrtles such as how to correct poorly pruned crape myrtles. Here are some tips to help guide you in proper pruning of crape myrtles.

First and foremost, most crape myrtles require little to no pruning. Diseased, damaged, and dead branches can be removed from trees at any time of the year. Sprouts that grow from the roots or near the trunk should also be removed. Other branches to consider pruning include those that grow inward, threaten to rub against another limb, or have a weak crotch with less than a 45-degree angle. 

There are two basic types of pruning cuts: heading and thinning.  Heading cuts are often mistakenly used to prune crape myrtles. This type of cut removes the tip of a stem or branch (figure 1), which removes apical dominance and encourages lateral branching to develop. Heading cuts are rarely necessary in the landscape.  Thinning cuts are the preferred method for pruning trees. Removing a branch where it meets a lateral branch or the main trunk is called a thinning cut (figure 2).

Luckily, crape myrtles grow back easily. Renewal pruning may be necessary if the crape myrtle has suffered from numerous toppings year after year.  Renewal pruning can be done at this time of the year. Start by cutting the tree to ground level. Allow the tree to re-sprout and grow throughout the summer. At the end of the growing season you will need to remove ALL but 3 to 5 of the tallest, straightest shoots.  From this point the trees should be left to grow and develop a natural form with minimal pruning. For more information on pruning trees see HGIC 1003, Pruning Trees.

Crape Myrtle Pruning

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