Crepe Myrtle Trees: Pruning & Maintenance

Bright Pink Crape Myrtle Flowering Tree that doesn't pruning

Crepe Myrtles (also spelled Crape Myrtle) are one of the area’s most beautiful flowering trees and are commonly used as landscape plants. Their distinctive, bright pink, white, red, or purple blossoms begin to bloom during the summer months. If you have one on your landscape you know that this beautiful sight enhances the look of your home and improves your property value.

Since Crepe Myrtles only bloom on new growth, it’s important to understand the basics of proper pruning, care, and maintenance. Continue reading to learn more.

About Crepe Myrtle Trees

The magnificent trees come in a variety of sizes from the low-growing dwarf Chickasaw with its lavender-pink blooms to the majestic Muskogee that reaches more than 20 feet tall.

Native to parts of Australia and Asia, Crepe Myrtle trees are loved in the southeastern United States. Not only are they heat and drought tolerant once they’re well established, but they also produce the gorgeous summertime blooms we all love. They can be white and multiple shades of red, pink, lavender, fuchsia, and coral long after most other deciduous bloomers are done. 

Should Crepe Myrtle Trees Be Cut Back?

There are several reasons you may choose to cut your trees back. Your preferences and tree health will determine whether or not you should cut your Crepe Myrtles back or not. 

  1. You may want to prune your tree to shape it up to a better form. Removing thin branches or side branches that are growing awry will leave you with a more sculpted and ornamental tree. 
  2. You may need to cut the tree back to remove diseased or damaged parts. Scales, aphids, and powdery mildew can attack any time of year. Remove branches and foliage affected by such detractors as soon as possible for the health of the tree. 
  3. You may want to cut your trees back to produce more blooms. Crepe Myrtles bloom on new growth, so pruning in late winter or early spring will promote larger flowers and more voluminous blooms. 

What Month Do You Prune Crepe Myrtle Trees?

Beautiful crepe myrtle tree that has been properly pruned, spotted in Virginia by one of our Certified Arborists

Crepe Myrtle pruning is important to make sure your tree flourishes. To achieve an aesthetically pleasing look, Crape Myrtles should be pruned every year. However; if you are okay with a more “natural” look you can prune your Crepe Myrtles every 3-5 years.

For best results, most experts suggest that tree pruning should take place in late winter or early spring after the threat of frost has passed but before spring blooms have appeared. Exactly what month Crepe Myrtle pruning should occur for you is dependent on which climate zone you live in. In the Northern VA, MD, and DC areas, this usually takes place in the middle of April. Generally, February is the accepted month.

Some choose to prune Crepe Myrtles in the fall. This will allow the beautifully mottled bark to be visible through the winter, but it also removes the growth that typically protects the tree during freezing temperatures.

When in doubt, your local Certified Arborist can answer you questions about crepe myrtle pruning.

Q: Why is pruning crape myrtles different from pruning other trees?

Unlike other flowering trees, Crepe Myrtle blooms do not grow off of last year’s growth. Instead, they grow off of the new growth that is developed in the spring.

To increase flower production and have the best blooming season possible you will need to reduce old growth and stimulate new growth during the end of winter/beginning of spring. This can be achieved by pruning your Crepe Myrtles shortly after the last frost.

Is It Too Late To Prune Crepe Myrtle Trees?

No, although Crepe Myrtles see the best results when pruning after the last frost it is okay to prune them year round. Pruning any time during the year will not hurt the tree; however, if you prune in fall you may see a decline in flowers the next spring.

What Happens if You Don’t Prune Crepe Myrtles?

A Crepe Myrtle will continue to live even if you don’t prune it. However, it probably won’t flourish.

The goal of pruning is to help your tree be as strong and beautiful as it can be. If you choose not to prune, then you will likely have too many spindly trunks fighting for nutrition and too few blooms to make an ornamental statement in your landscape. 

How Do You Prune A Crepe Myrtle?

Because Crepe Myrtles tend to be bush-small tree sized many homeowners think they should be able to prune the tree themselves. This is a bad idea. With any tree pruning, improper cuts and pruning the wrong limbs can cause damage to the tree.

Additionally, if you have to stand on a ladder to reach the branches or hold a power tool above your head, you risk injuring yourself. It’s best to hire a Certified Arborist that knows how to properly prune a Crepe Myrtle.

How Much Can You Prune A Crepe Myrtle?

Proper Crepe Myrtle pruning focuses on removing thin and poorly placed branches to open up the center leading to better air circulation. You may have seen Crepe Myrtles drastically cut back; however, this type of pruning is bad for the tree. Cutting back or “topping” Crepe Myrtles will leave knobby, misshapen stumps and branches that are not strong enough to hold up flowers in the spring.

Not properly pruned, topped and short crepe myrtle trees found in Falls Church, Virginia
Not properly pruned, topped and short crepe myrtle trees found in Falls Church, Virginia

Don’t Commit Crepe Murder

“Crepe murder” is that horrible pruning technique of cutting Crepe Myrtle trees off straight across at the same height. It’s the worst way to prune your trees as it produces a lot of knobby, gnarly, and spindly branches. It ruins any chance of ever seeing the beautiful, mottled bark that is the trademark of a mature Crepe Myrtle. The shoots that sprout up are often too weak to hold up the blooms causing the tree to droop. 

Not only does crepe murder produce weak, unsightly trees, but it also makes more work for the pruner as more suckers shoot up and need pruning. With proper pruning, the work should become less and less each year. This is one of the reasons you should always turn to your Certified Arborist.

>> Learn more about crepe murder

Crepe Myrtles Bloom on New Growth

Removing dead wood from your Crepe Myrtles encourages new growth. By having your Crepe Myrtles properly pruned, you’ll experience the joy of watching them bloom on new growth. When new branches grow, more blooms can be enjoyed. 

Need help pruning your Crepe Myrtles? To meet with one of our Certified Arborists, you can reserve an appointment online or call us at 703.573.3029. 


Need Help With Crepe Myrtle Pruning?


Crape Myrtle Fertilization

Crepe Myrtles should be fertilized in the Spring and Fall using Organic Bio-Stimulants. Bio-Stimulants contain a natural blend of sugars, bacteria, humic acid, sea kelp extract, and fungi. This mix feeds the soil and naturally fertilizes the tree. By introducing this blend to the critical root zone it will re-establish good soil composition and act as a multi-vitamin for your tree.

Benefits Of Bio-Stimulant Fertilization

  • Enhance root and foliage development.
  • Increased chlorophyll production (greener leaves)
  • Increase availability of nutrients and antioxidants.
  • Improve a plant’s ability to recover from disease and insect damage.
  • Improve resistance to environmental stressors.
  • Increase water-holding capacity (make they more resistant to drought damage)

>> Learn more about tree fertilization


Crepe Myrtle Diseases & Insects

Crepe myrtles have a few diseases and insects they are prone to.

Crape Myrtle Pruning 1

Powdery Mildew:

Powdery Mildew is a tree fungus that coats the tree’s leaves, blocking the process of photosynthesis.  Every year trees and shrubs rely on photosynthesis to create food for new leaf growth. When this process is interrupted by powdery mildew the food reserves aren’t replenished and the tree/shrub’s growth will be stunted which can affect overall health. The stress caused by Powdery Mildew also makes the tree more susceptible to other diseases and insect infestations.

Symptoms: Powdery mildew is characterized by spots or patches of white to grayish, talcum-powder like growth on the upper side of leaves.


Crepe Myrtle PruningCercospora Leaf Spot:

The tree fungus begins as a small spot on the leaves. As the disease progresses more spots appear until the leaf ceases to function as the site of the tree’s food production process and falls off of the tree.

Symptoms: Round leaf spots (may have purple or dark brown borders), tiny black flecks (fungal spores) in the center of the spots.

 

 


Crepe Myrtle Pruning 2Crape Myrtle Aphids:

Aphids, also known as plant lice, are among the most destructive tree bugs. These plant-sucking insects feed on the sap of a tree or shrub. Their excrement, referred to as honeydew, is commonly mistaken for sap dripping from a tree’s canopy.

Symptoms: Drooping leaves, yellow spots, black small dots on the underside of the leaves (what aphids look like to the naked eye), honeydew, sooty mold, ants on the tree.


Crepe Myrtle Pruning 3Japanese Beetles:

First brought to the United States in 1916 in a shipment of iris bulbs, these invasive tree bugs can defoliate an entire tree in a matter of days.

Symptoms: Large amounts of brown chewed leaves, skeletonized leaves (only the veins of the leaf left intact), leaves falling off trees, trees that look scorched by fire from a distance.

 

 


Crepe Myrtle Pruning 4Sooty Mold:

Sooty mold is a fungus that grows on top of honeydew (the excrement of plant-sucking insects) and coats the leaves to the point where they can no longer absorb sunlight. This interrupts photosynthesis and the tree will not be able to produce the nutrients they need for survival. If your trees and shrubs are turning black you most likely have a sooty mold problem caused by an insect infestation.

Need Help With Crepe Myrtle Care?

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