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DALY: Proper pruning of crape myrtles is essential

Timothy Daly

Timothy Daly

One of the most popular ornamental plants in the landscape is crape myrtles. They have low maintenance requirements and provide attractive blossoms throughout the summer. Since they produce flowers on the new growth, the winter months are the best time to prune them.

Unfortunately, many people mistakenly believe crape myrtles should be heavily pruned to the point of being butchered. The plants then appear as tall unattractive stumps. Some prune excessively with the mistaken belief that these actions will stimulate the production of more flowers. Others engage in this practice because the plants have grown too large for their site. Heavy pruning causes the plant to have weak new growth the following spring with the increased susceptibility to pests. Light pruning is all that is necessary in keeping crape myrtles healthy and attractive.

Crape myrtles are pruned to improve the structure of the plant and to increase the circulation of air which reduces disease occurrence. Pruning stimulates the growth of new shoots that will form flowers. However, it is not an essential requirement for flowering. Many of the old crape myrtles planted along highways have never been pruned but produce an abundance of attractive floral displays. They have smaller flower clusters, but because they are more numerous, the overall floral impact has not been diminished.

Keeping crape myrtles pruned to maintain their appropriate form is simple. If the growth from the past year has made the plant taller than the desired height, prune out the new growth. Prune branches that are dead, diseased, growing inwards and those that are crossing or rubbing against each other. Remove suckers that have sprouted from the roots and the lower trunk. The goal is to prevent the plants from becoming so overgrown that extreme pruning is needed.

Sometimes heavier pruning is required, particularly on plants that have not been pruned for several seasons. Identify the main stems and remove any others that have sprouted from the roots. Cut out any branches that are rubbing against each other. Decide on the desired height and make selected cuts in the top of each trunk for a reduction in size. The preferred shape is for the tops to be slightly flat with the sides tapering to a rounded shape.

Some varieties of crape myrtles are quite tall. They should be planted in locations where they can grow to their natural height without constant pruning to keep them at the desired size. Crape myrtles are a positive addition to the home landscape. They will be healthier and produce an abundance of colorful blossoms throughout the summer if properly pruned.

Winter is also a good time to decide on what to plant in your yard. The Gwinnett County Extension Plant Sale has some excellent plants that are available for sale. Go to the Extension website at http://www.caes.uga.edu/extension/gwinnett/ to download the order form or call the Gwinnett County Extension office for a form to be mailed to you.

Timothy Daly, MS, is an Agricultural and Natural Resource Extension Agent, Gwinnett County Extension. Tim may be contacted by phone at 678-377-4010 or by email at timothy.daly@gwinnettcounty.com.