How and When to Prune Crepe Myrtles

Crepe Myrtle Tree

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After moving into new home I had to learn how and when to prune my new crepe myrtle trees. Now that I am a girl of the south, I can proclaim my love for this elegant southern favorite. I can also proudly say I know the right way to trim and grow them!

From the tall and twisted, lightly colored smooth bark, to the vibrant pop of flowers mixed with deep green leaves, it is a perfect tree to add to any garden landscape.

Deer do not like crepe myrtle trees, but bees do. They are great pollinators and you’ll reap the benefits of their long blooming season as they attract all types of insects.

Their blooms are bright and vivid making them an excellent ornamental tree. They offer a variety of flower colors: all shades of red, pink, purple, and white.

pink Crepe Myrtle blooming

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How Fast Do They Grow?

They grow fast. This is great, especially if you’re looking to turn your landscape into a showstopper in no time. They can grow up to two-three feet a year in some regions.

Their blooming season is a long one and will allow you to enjoy the beautiful pop of color from spring through fall.

As a southern favorite, this plant enjoys full sunlight and is drought-tolerant. It will flourish in any type of soil, whether loamy, clay, or sandy.

It sheds its bark. This will happen at the height of maturity of the tree and is a natural process. The tree will reveal a beautiful new color once it is shed.

Is Crepe Myrtle A Tree or A Bush?

Short answer is that it’s a tree. Most people treat them as such and allow them to grow large and tall.

However, the confusion is typically where people see a dwarf crepe myrtle, but refer to it as a shrub.

Because the dwarf varieties are, well dwarfs, they can fall under the large shrub or small tree category. You’ll recognize the crepe paper style leaves and multi colored bark, but the actual plant will be close to the ground.

dwarf crepe myrtle with pinkish purple flowers
Pocomoke Dwarf Crape Myrtle Plant

How To Prune A Crepe Myrtle

You do not need to aggressively prune them or trim them every year. If you want to help form their shape, or avoid them draping over properties or roads, then you should do your upkeep. Otherwise, they can be left alone and do just fine.

The goal for most gardeners is to allow the tree to develop a lovely canopy of leaves and flowers. While this can be contested by some, the standard practice is to let a tree be a tree.

When To Prune

So, how to trim? Since they bloom on new wood they should be pruned in late winter or very early spring. Some varieties are still waking up and could be trimmed back while still producing flowers late into the season. It’s best to wait until well after the first frost, but before the last.

When trimming the crape myrtle, and to help form their shape, remove limbs and new growth starting from the bottom up to allow for a longer trunk. These will be growing out from the sides and stick out like little pencils.

In most instances you will want to remove any new suckers and any tangled or intersecting branches. Avoid over-pruning, as this will denigrate the growth of more flowers.

If you don’t prune them,  you may be happy to hear that some types of can be expected to produce the most flowers!

Do Not Be A Crepe Murderer

This is someone who is ill informed on how to prune crepe myrtles correctly. You absolutely do not want to hack off limbs and branches and cut the plant down to half it’s original size. You also shouldn’t saw everything off leave only stumps of trunk and limbs.

Will the crepe myrtle survive if you over prune it? Yeah, sure, because they are extremely forgiving plants. But, it will take years to grow back.

While your intention may be good because someone told you they grow best and bloom on new wood, that doesn’t mean chop half the thing down.

This is what you should not do!

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