DALY: Proper pruning of crape myrtles is essential

Tim Daly

Crepe myrtles are one of the most popular ornamental plants for the landscape. Their blossoms provide abundant color throughout the summer, and the plants require minimal care.

Since their flowers are produced on the new growth, winter is the preferred time for pruning. Unfortunately, many people mistakenly believe crepe myrtles should be heavily pruned to the point of being butchered. The result is plants that have the appearance of tall 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 where they have been planted. This intense pruning causes weak new growth the following spring with the increased susceptibility to pests. In most cases, a light pruning is all that is required.

Crepe myrtles that have been butchered are at an increased risk for insect and diseases. A landscaper once told me his company took over a property with many crepe myrtles, and half of them were pruned intensively and improperly whereas the other half did not get pruned at all. The ones that were pruned poorly suffered an infestation of Asian ambrosia beetles and many perished. Those that received no pruning had minimal issues with the insect and thrived the following growing season.

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

Keeping crepe 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 more intensive 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 upper sections of the trees to be a little flat with the sides tapering to a rounded shape. Some varieties of crepe myrtles are quite tall. They should be planted in locations where they can grow to their natural height without constant pruning to keep it the desired size.

Crepe 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 an excellent time to decide on what to plant in your yard. The UGA Extension Gwinnett 2019 annual plant sale is underway. Many plants are available at affordable prices. Choices include blueberries, gardenias, ferns, goji berries, and many others. To obtain an order form, one can be downloaded from the Extension website at www.ugaextension.org/gwinnett, or you can have one mailed to you by contacting the Extension office.

Timothy Daly is an Agricultural and Natural Resource Agent with the UGA Extension Gwinnett. He can be reached at 678-377-4010 or tdaly@uga.edu.