Over the last 5 years, we have heard the term Crepe Murder as a buzz word in our community. Now that we have received our first frost and our Crepe Myrtles have lost their leaves, it is time to do our seasonal pruning of the plants. First, it is almost impossible to murder a Crepe Myrtle plant.
I remember seven or eight years ago when we were renovating the Cavlario, we had to remove some of the plant to make room for new parking and renovations for the new Rick Hendrick's car lot. We pulled this Crepe Myrtle out of the ground with a tractor and drug it across the pavement and put it on the side of the property to deal with later on. During the 30 - 90 days of renovation we almost forgot about the plant. Towards the end of the project we noticed it was still sitting there and to our amazement had new shoots coming off of it. We replanted it and it is now surviving there today. Thus, proving to me that Crepe Myrtles are one of the hardest plants in the Low country of South Carolina.
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The murder that most people refer to is the extreme pruning of these plants in residences, yards, or municipalities that often causes a knuckling effect where the plant has been pruned year after year. As with all landscaping, the overall effect of pruning is like artwork or one's own personal preference. In fact, Crepe Myrtles probably do not need any pruning at all, but it is done to give them a little more cleaner look. This process has become expected in our society today.
Crepe Myrtle Pruning
I will give you some guidelines on pruning in order to decide if it is "murder" or seasonal pruning.
The first evaluation method is: Where was it planted? Some of them are planted on entryways or homes and are specifically meant to be a certain controlled height. A Crepe Myrtle planted on the side of a 2 story home should be forced to bloom between the 1st and 2nd story. If it is in front of a home, it should be forced to bloom below the height of the railings.
In some cases these plants get planted in the wrong spot, and it would be best to transplant them. Hardly any landscaping material, including Crepe Myrtles, should have foliage that covers windows, railings, molding, roof eves, gutters or other architectural features of the home. If yours covers the architecture of your home, it is a candidate for some severe pruning. This will often include taking off at least one year's growth and sometimes more if not seasonally done.
You can often judge a year's growth by where it was cut last and the distance it has grown from that "Y" or cut joint. Your plant will most likely grow the same amount this year and so you can reduce the plant by the appropriate amount - so the blooms will hit where your landscape designer planned it. If you have a problem determining your pruning height, feel free to email me a picture and I will draw a line at the appropriate pruning height and return it to you.
Crepe Myrtle Tree
The other instance of Crepe Myrtle pruning is when you have a stand alone Crepe Myrtle tree. They can use their height to hide an adjacent neighbor, or maybe an old historic Crepe Myrtle that lines the roadway, or one that has gotten so big that it has become a nice shade tree. (Or you would like your Crepe Myrtle to become a shade tree.)
This size Crepe Myrtle is usually not planted within 15 feet of a structure. These were planted to become a tree form and to become 20 - 50 feet in height. They still continue to bloom even with little to no pruning.
For the older tree form Crepe Myrtle, usually the sprouts and rubbing branches are removed to give a neat tree form appearance, and the top of the tree is left to grow on it's own. I believe the "murder" phrase came around when someone chain sawed a 4 to 8 inch trunk diameter (historic Crepe Myrtle ) down to four feet. This may or may not have been necessary depending on the location of the tree.
More Landscape Ideas
Another aspect of pruning, is a leveling process. Often Crepe Myrtles that are planted on the left & right side of a house or in a formal garden do not match each other. This is because of the amount of sunlight or root issues.
For this leveling process we take a 7-12 foot PVC pipe that we make 1 foot increment marks on the upper end of the pipe. We then proceed to the smallest Crepe Myrtle in the set and decide at which mark we will make the other entire tree match up to. We will prune the smallest Crepe Myrtle first (often it will only have a few trimmings to remove) being sure to remove all the sucker branches (little branches that come off the side of the main trunk). Then after it has been done we will proceed through the entire set. At the end of the process they should all match each other.
It is good practice to be sure to use clean pruning shears so you don't spread any plant diseases. You can dip the shears in a mild solution of bleach and water if doing large quantities of pruning. (You should dip in between each tree.)
Also, while you are getting up close and personal to your Crepe Myrtle, it is a good time to inspect the tree for scale or a black sooty mold left by aphids earlier in the growing season. We will discuss these treatments in upcoming issues. As with always - if you have any gardening questions feel free to email or contact us at the credentials listed below.
Call us now. 843-886-9314.