Crape Myrtles - the myth about pruning crapes
A lot of us have always seen Crape myrtles pruned back to 3-4 sticks. This thinking they should be pruned back heavily or they won't bloom, is a really bad practice. This bad pruning practice can and does severe damage to the tree. It's the total opposite that is true Crape myrtles should only be pruned to train for a desired shape or look, and for removal of weak and damaged branches. Deadheading the dried bloom pods isn't even necessary for a Crape Myrtle to produce blooms. Pruning a crape myrtle is only to train and shape, once the canopy is formed and training is successful you only need to remove small dead branches from the trunk of the tree and prune any weak lateral growing limbs and crossing branches.
These pictures show the damage pruning has done to crape myrtle branches from bad pruning practice. Big ugly knots have formed at the section where pruning has been routinely repeated.
When pruning you should never remove more than a 1/3 of the tree at one pruning, you should always plan your pruning after a good soaking from rain. Heavy pruning during the summer months can weaken trees and cause death, so save all large pruning for the winter or early spring. When more than a 1/3 of the trees canopy is removed there is not enough foliage area to pull in nutrients needed for a tree to survive. When the foliage area causing the tree to replace the canopy area fast or it will be weak and could die. Trees and all plants Root system grows in sequence with there foliage or canopy, meaning every thing is needed for he tree to be healthy. C consideration should be made to species used to fit the projected size of the mature plant, a selection can be found that will not outgrow its boundaries and can be allowed to display its graceful beauty with minimal pruning.
There are Crape myrtles that mature between 5 and 15 feet in ht, they are 'Acoma' (white flowers), 'Hopi' (light pink), 'Comanchee' (dark pink), 'Zuni' (lavender) and 'Tonto' (red). These Crape Myrtles are also resistant to powdery mildew, a fungi that attacks and warps (distorts) the leaves. Compact Crape Myrtles between 30" and 6 feet tall include 'Hope' (white), 'Ozark Spring' (light purple, lavender) and 'Victor' (Red). Its Unfortunate, but the compact crape myrtles are not resistant to the fungus powdery mildew.
Crape myrtles prefer hot sunny climates, and in Georgia will grow to tree-size proportions. It is important that tree types are sited where they have a large area to spread. When given an ideal location, these tree types should be allowed to develop their natural style without having there tops whacked off.
Training Crape myrtles
When training a crape myrtle you should wait until the tree is at least 6' to 8' in ht unless low branching is you're preference. Before starting any training cuts the first cuts made should be done across the branches at the 6'-8' mark slightly rounded 6"-8" taller in middle than on outer branches. This will cause the tree to broaden its canopy starting at this ht, and creates stronger base branching. The second year you will need to evaluate the tree to see the effects of last years pruning and you will want to make you're cuts about 18"-24" above the last years cut. We also want to fill in any gaps now by tip pruning in the gapped area if there is an open area, this will promote growth into this area. The 3 rd year might require a cut back to let the weak side catch up to the strong side, look at the tree and determine the level that the weak side is equal to the strong side, then make you're cuts. The fourth year should only require tipping top and cleaning out small limbs and maybe a crossing branch or two.
We hope this Crape Myrtle pruning tip helps and you are never called a crape murderer, Dream scapes can take care of all of your pruning needs. For our free estimate or if you want more information on pruning trees and shrubs please Contact our pruning specialist.