Members of the genus Lagerstroemia grow pretty well around these parts. I’m talking about crape myrtles, or crepe myrtles if you prefer.
But I’m mystified by this obsession around Savannah, and presumably in much of the South, to prune the crape myrtles really hard each winter. Sure, they typically (but not always) come back, and there might be a denser concentration of midsummer blooms by dramatically reducing the size of the tree.
But, really, do we really need to look at these butchered stalks for months just for the chance of moderately denser blooms on shorter, smaller, and increasingly malformed plants?
Here’s what the crape myrtles look like right now in front of the downtown Kroger:
And here’s a Chu’s on the Southside:
Those are just examples, of course — we could all accumulate dozens of similar photos each spring around town.
From Aggie Horticulture’s Stop the Crape Murder!:
Hideous crimes are being committed all ever Texas, some in our own front yards and many right in front of our local businesses. Unfortunately, many have turned a blind eye to the ongoing massacre. Not me! I can take it no more.
I am officially forming an advocacy group for plant’s rights. They can’t speak, so I’m going to speak for them. My first mission…to stop Crape Murder!
From the University of Florida’s Stop Crape Murder!:
Unfortunately, many homeowners and landscape professionals prune crape myrtle trees too severely. Topping–commonly called “crape murder”–can be very damaging and disfiguring to the tree. This practice results in a “witch’s broom” appearance and a tree that is no longer in proportion.
Topping causes profuse growth at the site of the pruning, basal sprouting, and increases susceptibility to disease and insects. It encourages new growth that is too dense to allow air movement and light to reach the inner branches. Large “knobs” appear where trees have been trimmed repeatedly, and the topped tree has an unsightly appearance until new growth appears.
Although topping may result in larger blooms, those flowers will grow on thinner, weaker branches that will droop–especially after rain–and may even break. Topping may also shorten the life of your trees.
From Southern Living’s Stop! Don’t Chop Crepe Myrtles!:
The Right Way To Prune
For a beautiful plant, follow these guidelines.
- Prune in late winter. February is ideal.
- Remove suckers at the base, crossing or rubbing branches, and branches growing inward toward the center of the plant.
- As the tree grows, gradually remove all side branches from the main trunks up to a height of 5 feet or so.
- Cut back to another branch, to just above an outward-facing bud on a branch, or to the branch collar (a swollen area where the branch joins the trunk). Never leave lone or clustered stubs.
- Try to remove unwanted branches before they get thicker than a pencil.
- It’s okay but unnecessary to cut off old seedheads.
And here’s what the slightly trimmed but largely natural crape myrtles looked like in front of my house on a sunny late afternoon earlier this week:
I love the bark, and I love the growth habits of some of the varieties, especially some of the white crape myrtles.
Here’s hoping we can start a little revolution to let these gorgeous plants be themselves.