Determining when you prune a crape myrtle tree depends on where you live. For a general answer, late winter is a good time for pruning them. Keep reading for a deeper explanation covering pruning and tree health and why over-pruning is dangerous for crape myrtle trees.
When to Prune Your Crape Myrtle Tree
Crape myrtles are deciduous - meaning they lose their leaves in the fall and go dormant during the winter months. That is the primary reason that we prune them in winter. In milder climates, you can prune crape myrtles after they have lost their leaves.
In cooler regions, prune them in late winter and closer to spring. February is a good choice if you live in a cooler zone. The reason for waiting is that a freeze or drop in outside temperature can damage the branches where the tree pruning occurred. That damage can lead to several types of disease that can severely damage your tree or even cause it to die.
Crape Murder occurs when you severely prune a crape myrtle. To avoid crape murder, prune the tree sparingly and thoughtfully.
How To Prune A Crape Myrtle Tree
Prune your crape myrtle only to enhance its shape. They can become quite leggy, so you will need to prune back any suckers that grow. When you prune, take the sucker off at the trunk or root. Take the branch back to the last Y segment when you cut back branches.
When pruning for trunk development, you want to thin many vertical branches so that the tree has one or two main trunks. If you allow all the vertical branches to grow, the tree loses its shape, and the trunks remain spindly and thin. Instead, choose one or two vertical branches to become the main trunk. A lovely twin trunk selection can help create a beautiful shape for the tree. By thinning the vertical branches, you encourage the remaining trunks to grow thickly and give the tree more of a tree shape versus a shrubby shape.
Trunk selection is best handled when the tree is young so that each long trunk does not form part of the canopy. Trimming these late means gaps in the canopy, which can cause a lack of beauty. However, you can still trim for trunk selection if you have an older crape myrtle, and it is a bushy, shrubby mess. Pull on the trunks you want to remove so that you can follow the growth into the canopy, which will tell you if you want to trim that trunk or not. Next, take the trunks that make up the smallest canopy portion.
This process does not need to happen at once and can be spread over two winters. Taking your time will produce more significant results.
Shaping A Crape Myrtle
Crape myrtles have an elegant, rounded shape. To keep that shape, you prune back branches as needed. Branch pruning is always taking back to the next Y shape. For example, you can prune one of the legs off of the Y.
If you need to prune both legs off the Y shape of the branch, consider taking the branch back farther. You want to avoid a blunt spike that will become an eyesore.
If you have many vertical branches along a main horizontal branch, you can remove those. Doing so encourages the tree to back-branch and fill out along the main branch in a horizontal way. Doing so helps improve the tree's shape and gives it a dramatic look. It also helps to improve the tree's health. For example, a shrubby-looking crape myrtle spreads limited soil nutrients to branches you do not need. A healthy pruning helps focus nutrient levels to areas of the plant you love.
If you would like for us to take care of your crape myrtle pruning for you, we are only a phone call away!