Crape myrtles are wonderful ornamental shrubs known for their beautiful crepe-like flowers. However, pruning crape myrtles incorrectly can ruin this fabulous display. In this article, I’ll share my experience and some essential tips about when and how to prune and trim crape myrtle shrubs.
Do Crape Myrtles Need Pruning?
Drastic pruning can be disastrous for crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia spp.). This overzealous approach to pruning is often described as “crape murder” and involves cutting the shrub down to a stump. Instead, crape myrtles should be lightly pruned to reduce their size slightly, improve air circulation, and create a desired shape.
Crape myrtles vary in size, impacting how often you want to prune them. Dwarf varieties won’t need much pruning because they only grow between 2 and 6 feet tall. However, some types of crape myrtle grow as shrubs or small trees that reach approximately 30 feet tall and 15 feet wide.
Rather than pruning too often, assess your garden first and determine what type of crape myrtle you can accommodate. A good tip to follow is to choose a crape myrtle that stays at a manageable size for your space. This allows you to reduce the pruning you’ll need to do.
When to Prune and Trim Crape Myrtles
In my experience, the best time to prune crape myrtles is in late winter or early spring while the shrubs are dormant. February is the ideal month for pruning in USDA Zones 6 to 9.
Crape myrtles produce flowers on new growth, so pruning them during the spring and summer removes the developing flowers. Dead, damaged, or diseased branches can be removed at any time of the year.
Key Considerations When Pruning & Trimming
Always use clean, sterile tools to prune your crape myrtle. Pruning creates potential openings for crape myrtle diseases and pests to invade. Sterilize your cutting tools with a 5% bleach solution to prevent the spread of diseases between plants.
Make sure that your tools are sharp before you start pruning. Sharp tools make clean cuts, reducing the risk of pests and diseases. Blunt tools cause extra damage, leaving your crape myrtle vulnerable.
Deadheading Crape Myrtles
Crape myrtles flower during summer and fall, producing large panicles of colorful crepe-like flowers. As the blooms fade, deadhead them to keep your crape myrtle looking attractive. Depending on the climate, deadheading crape myrtles can also stimulate a second flush of flowers later in the season.
How to Prune and Trim Crape Myrtles
Before you start pruning, examine your crape myrtle closely. Decide what kind of shape you want and how much you’ll need to cut off.
Start by removing any damaged or dead branches. Then, remove any lower branches that are thinner than a pencil. This lets you get a clearer idea of how you want to trim your crape myrtle.
Crape myrtles produce multiple trunks. Removing some of these trunks can fundamentally change the structure of your plant. Aim to restrict your crape myrtle to three or five main trunks wherever possible. When removing a trunk, cut it back as close to the ground as possible.
Keep your crape myrtle healthy by thinning out the center of the plant. Remove any branches that cross over or rub against another branch. This promotes good air circulation and allows sunlight to reach the shrub’s interior.
Cut crape myrtle branches back to a bud that faces outwards. Never cut branches flush against a central trunk. Instead, cut the branches back to the swollen area where they join the trunk, known as the branch collar. Only remove a third of the canopy in one go when trimming your plant.
Crape myrtles respond best to light pruning rather than drastic cutting back. Prune crape myrtles during late winter or early spring to avoid damaging developing flower buds. Concentrate on removing interior branches that rub against other branches.
For more, see our in-depth guide to growing and caring for crape myrtles in your garden.