AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – This time of year, too many crape myrtles are slaughtered. Homeowners go wild pruning these trees, possibly damaging and stunting their growth and beauty.

Crape myrtles are a popular choice because of the bright bloom colors of red, white, pink or purple. Pruning crape myrtles correctly is essential for these qualities to flourish in the tree.

Crape Murder

Sadly, the wrong pruning techniques happen most often with crape myrtle trees. That is why many have called this practice crape murder. Gardeners often do not know how to properly prune their crape myrtles and end up doing what everyone else in the neighborhood does.

Crape myrtles come in all different sizes ranging from four to 40 feet. Dani Carroll, an Alabama Extension home grounds regional agent, said a common mistake gardeners make is planting large crape myrtles in flower beds.

“People don’t realize that crape myrtles are trees, not shrubs,” Carroll said, “They must be planted and pruned according to their size.”

Knowing and executing the correct pruning technique helps make trees and shrubs healthier and more productive.

Pink crape myrtle with a blue sky in the background.

Pruning with Purpose

“Always prune with a purpose,” Carroll said. “Never prune just because it is the right time of year.”

Pruning should only be done if the tree is in need of reshaping, if branches are rubbing against each other, creating wounds or if parts of the tree are dead or diseased. The right time of year to prune crape myrtles is in late winter. However, if the tree has dead or diseased wood, the limbs can be pruned at any time of year.

Carroll offers the following tips for pruning this winter.

  • Use hand pruners for pruning limbs less than 1 inch in diameter
  • Use lopping pruners for pruning limbs up to 2 inches in diameter
  • A pruning saw is the best tool for pruning any branches more than 2 inches in diameter.

There is still hope for stopping crape murder. Now is the time to correct past hurts on crape myrtle trees and prune them to enhance what they have to offer.

Home Grounds Extension Agent, David Koon, shares how to properly prune for a healthy and aesthetically pleasing crapemyrtle in this short video.

Additional Help

Have a gardening question? Call the Master Gardener helpline. To reach the help line, dial 1-877-252-GROW (4769). For more information, visit www.aces.edu or contact your county Extension home grounds agent.

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As the Bibb County Coordinator for Alabama Extension, Matthew D. Hartzell coordinates the implementation of all Extension programs in Bibb County in many program areas. These program areas include 4-H and Youth Development, Animal Sciences, Food Safety and Quality, Forestry, Wildlife and Natural Resources, Human Nutrition, Diet and Health, Family and Child Development, Family Resource Management and Workforce Development, Commercial Horticulture, Home Grounds, Gardens and Home Pests, Farm and Agribusiness Management, and Community and Economic Development. Hartzell has served in his current position for 12 years and held primary program assignments in Community and Economic Development, Human Nutrition, Diet and Health, and Forestry Wildlife and Natural Resources.

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