Pruning crape myrtles - Although this site is about hand pruning home plants and fruit trees, I have been asked about crape myrtles so many times that I have decided to break my own rules, seems that writing about crape myrtles is a must.
So let's begin by clearing the fog. Yes, you can cut back crape myrtles as deep as you like, I just don't think you'd be happy with the results. Every tree has it's own DNA and personality, and it's important we recognize it.
In the case of pruning crape myrtles, if you prune too hard you'll probably lose the tree's natural growth and there's no reason to "harvest" unless you want to renew your crape myrtles, but that's a whole different story. Now, lets move on, and as always, I'll show you the "how" using my own tree (if you want feedback on your specific tree, feel free to complete the form on the right and send it back with pictures of your tree). The most important thing here is to plan ahead. So here is my tree, approximately 9 feet tall and with a tendency to lean a little to the left, although winds come in from the right (??). Anyway, I think he's too high, so I would like to achieve three goals: reduce the height, increase the bloom and improve the health of the tree. And here's how I'm going to do it:
First, there's no reason to touch it before late winter, just before new leaves begin to grow on the naked stems. Second, when pruning crape myrtles, if you get the timing right you can increase its bloom. Blossoms grow on new stems, and if you prune after the new ones start to grow you may lose bloom. Also, the biggest advantage of pruning in late winter is the fact that the tree is totally naked, which means you can see clearly what needs to be pruned.
Where to begin - Height first. I decided to reduce the current height and cut it back to the level I prune to every two years (that's right, I prune my tree every two seasons). In the image below I have marked the height (see the orange line), as well as the places where I just cut (the orange arrows point to my new cuts).
Why reduce the height in the first place? good question! If I leave my crape myrtles as is, without reducing the height, it will reduce the amount of bloom as well as new growth in general and when it's too high the canopy can start to fall to the sides from the extra weight - all of which I would like to avoid. Above all, it won't serve our main goals (remember?), which were extra bloom and the tree's health.
What to prune - After the canopy has been removed, you can see that most of the "heavy cutting" is behind you. All that's left to do is remove cross branches and keep the tree's center as clean and clear as you can - just as you do with all other deciduous trees. The black circle shows the tree's clean center - no cross branches or stems. As for the green arrows, they point at the small twigs, which I recommend you prune and remove (yes, all of them - you'll soon see why :-)
Now, scroll down to see the results, I promise you'll like them.
Perfect timing! Pruning crape myrtles at the right time produces stunning results, and I'm sure you now understand why I chose to reduce its height. I mean, only 4 weeks after pruning and look at those amazing new leaf clusters growing fast and straight up.
So how much to prune off your tree, isn't the right question.... the question is, what would you like to achieve? And if you're not sure, send me a picture and I'll do my best to help, happy pruning :-)
Providing general guidelines on 'how to prune' any kind of plant is important, but there are plants, and there is YOUR plant. So despite there being loads of information on this site, I also provide specific and personalized support. If something wasn't clear, or you're not sure of your plant's name, simply send me a picture with your question. Use the form below and I'll get back to you. In the mean time, see what others are asking.