Stop the Crape Murder

Paul Thompson,
County Extension Agent
Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service

Crapemyrtle trees can be a beautiful addition to almost any landscape. They have a wide variety of flower colors in differing hues ranging from purples, reds, pinks, and white. Some named varieties may bloom for up to 120 days. That is a lot of flower power, but these trees offer much more than that. They have beautiful smooth bark, which exfoliates to reveal wonderful combinations of patterns and color that is a great winter interest feature.

Crapemyrtle Tree
Crapemyrtle Tree
Paul Thompson, @2015 Clemson University

We have choices of crapemyrtles ranging from true dwarf varieties that grow less than two feet tall up to large trees over 40 feet and everything in-between. With this in mind, it is possible to choose a crapemyrtle with the size and growth habit to fit almost any spot in the landscape without resorting to severe pruning to try to control the size of the tree.

Unfortunately, crapemyrtles are victims of over-zealous pruning by many folks. This destroys the structure and beauty of the tree, is an unwanted stress that often encourages pest problems, and it encourages a proliferation of shoots to develop and total loss of control. Proper pruning allows us to control and direct growth. Below are steps for proper pruning:

Crapemyrtle before pruning.
Crapemyrtle before pruning.
Paul Thompson, Horticulture Extension Agent, Clemson Extension

  • Crapemyrtles may form a thicket of trunks that becomes unsightly over time. It is best to select three to five trunks to develop when the tree is young and the trunks are a small diameter. Once you select the trunks to leave, keep all basal shoots pruned out when you notice them.
  • As the young tree grows taller, you want to begin to develop the trunk character by removing the lower lateral branches so that the tree is about one-third trunk and two-thirds branches and canopy.
  • Remove any crossing branches while the branches are still small. Crossing branches rub against each other and cause wounding.
  • Selectively remove limbs within the canopy that are weak or overly crowded.
  • If you find the seedheads objectionable, you can remove them by pruning above a lateral bud. If you do not remove them, they will fall off on their own as the growing season progresses.

Crapemyrtle after pruning.
Crapemyrtle after pruning.
Paul Thompson, Horticulture Extension Agent, Clemson Extension

Aside from the multi-trunk characteristic of crapemyrtles, these same guidelines apply to any ornamental tree. In other words, pruning should serve a purpose, and be performed in a manner that is not detrimental to the tree’s health and improves the structure and appearance of the tree. For more information on crapemyrtle pruning, varieties and problem solving, please see: HGIC 1008 Crape Myrtle; HGIC 1009 Crape Myrtle Pruning; HGIC1023 Crape Myrtle Varieties and HGIC 2002 Crape Myrtle Diseases & Insect Pest.

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This information is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement of brand names or registered trademarks by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service is implied, nor is any discrimination intended by the exclusion of products or manufacturers not named. All recommendations are for South Carolina conditions and may not apply to other areas. Use pesticides only according to the directions on the label. All recommendations for pesticide use are for South Carolina only and were legal at the time of publication, but the status of registration and use patterns are subject to change by action of state and federal regulatory agencies. Follow all directions, precautions and restrictions that are listed.