Crape Myrtles: How to Prune, not Murder…
BCLS Landscape Services of Central Virginia
Pruning Tips for Your Crape Myrtle from BCLS Landscape Services of Central Virgina
Spring is literally around the corner, so it’s a good time to consider pruning your plants before they break dormancy. This is especially true for your Richmond Virginia Crape Myrtle Trees!
Why Prune Crape Myrtle Trees?
Crape Myrtle Trees are summer bloomers, and only have blooms on their new growth. Once they break dormancy this new growth will rapidly emerge. It’s good to remove a few of the older branches to make way for the new growth. Also, it’s good to lightly prune Crape Myrtle trees in the late winter or early spring in order to keep them neatly shaped. However, most crape myrtles naturally grow into beautiful forms.
If you wish to heavily prune your tree, you can cut it back about half way. Most people do this when their trees get too large when they’re planted under power lines, or extremely close to their homes. Crape Myrtles are extremely tough trees, and often survive heavy pruning, but we don’t recommend cutting them back past half their size. Doing this often results in Crape Myrtle Trees that look like a series of multiple lifeless stumps that will need training to become a mature flowering tree again.
How to prevent Crape Myrtle Murder…
Before we discuss how to prune Crape Myrtles, we’re going to tell you how not to prune them!
- Don’t prune your Crape Myrtle trees in the summer or fall. This could stress the trees out. The summer heat will be too hot and stressful for new growth. If you prune your tree in the fall then its new growth could be damaged by cold winter temperatures.
- Don’t dead head them! Although, dead heading is common in a few different shrubs, if you cut back all of the branches you’ll hurt your chances for blooms! Small branches will grow from the stubbed trunks, and they might be too weak to support blooms! If they’re too weak they’ll droop and may even break.
- Don’t use dirty old pruners! Make sure that your tools are clean and sterile to make good clean cuts. If it takes a few tries to cut through a branch, and the cut is jagged then it may get infected.
- Don’t feel bad if you don’t prune your trees. It isn’t necessary to prune Crape Myrtles, even if it can improve bloom production, and help to shape the tree. These tough trees will grow fine on their own.
What to Prune…
When looking at your dormant Crape Myrtles to see what branches to prune, there are a few things to look out for.
Be sure to remove any damaged or broken branches. Also, remove any dead branches. This will prevent the trees from getting infected or spreading diseases. If you aren’t sure if a branch is dead or not, gently rub the bark with a coin or your finger nail. If the flesh under the bark is a light color like green, yellow, or white the branch is still alive and healthy. If there’s a dark color under the bark like brown or black the branch is dead and needs to be cut back to allow new healthy growth.
Look for any branches that are rubbing or crossing. It will be good to remove them before they break.It’s best to remove a few branches from the center of the tree to allow more sunlight to hit lower branches, and to create better air flow in the tree’s canopy. The sunlight will provide more blooms, and growth. It will also dry out branches and prevent mold. Air circulation within the canopy will prevent mold and mildew from growing. Fresh air knocks a lot of things that we don’t want on our trees out!
Also, remove any branches that take away from the shape that you desire for your trees, like branches growing at weird angles, or one branch that seems to be way taller than the rest!
How to Prune…
Before you prune your trees, study them and get a game plan for what you want to remove. You can always go back and prune more later, but you never want to over prune your tree or thin it out too much! When pruning branches make your cuts back to about a 3rd of their size. Make the cuts at 45-degree angles facing upwards to promote new growth. If you don’t want a particular branch to grow back, cut back to about an inch away from the trunk. Make the cut straight across the branch.
If you see side branches under three to four feet growing from the trunks of your trees, remove them to keep your Crape Myrtles from having a shrubby look.
If you see new growth growing out of the ground around the trunks of your trees get a firm grip on them, and pull upwards on them in a twisting motion. These growths are called suckers and should be removed! Suckers generally steal nutrients from the rest of the tree. They’re basically weeds.
The wooden pods that remain where blooms used to be don’t need to be removed. They will naturally drop to make way for new blooms. However, to get faster blooms after each blooming cycle you can remove them by picking them off of the branches by hand.
Prepare for tons of blooms!
Pruning Crape Myrtle trees is a simple task that will give you tons of blooms all summer! Pruning is healthy for your tree, and may even give you blooms sooner. By keeping your trees healthy you’ll receive years of beauty from them!
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