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Are you unknowingly killing your crepe myrtles?

Let’s talk about crepe myrtle trees. You know…the flowering trees that get chopped in half every spring? The concept of cutting back your crepe myrtles this way is actually a crime in the horticultural world.  This process that so many people find proper is called “crepe murder”.  Don’t worry, even “landscape” and “tree” contractors think they are doing it right when it comes to this pruning technique.  So let’s jump right into it. What happens to these trees when you cut them back like your neighbor or the contractors who maintain that gas station down the street from you? You are actually opening up the tree to potential bug infestation and disease.  Ugly knots  will form where the cuts were made and the tree will grow many new, branch-like trunks that cannot support the weight of the new blooms that will grow through the spring, summer and fall.  In the late winter, you will come back to the tree and cut it back again below the ugly knot that was formed last year. You will continue this cycle of improper pruning until there is no tree left.  To make life easier and keep our trees happy and healthy, let’s talk about the right way to prune your crepe myrtles. But before reading any more, this is a picture of what crepe murder looks like if I haven’t successfully explained it to you well enough for you to understand.

Crepe Murder

Yeah… not a pretty sight.

First things first.  Let’s explain a couple of things. Trees are meant to grow tall.  If the tree is too tall for the area that it’s in, the tree needs to be transplanted to a new location.  If the tree is obstructing a view, you’ll want to prune the inside of the tree.  Thinning out the inside will help air circulate through the tree and help prevent mold and mildew from growing,  But first, don’t just go to town with your chainsaw and start chopping away at branches.  You’ll need to look for a few things in regards to which branches that should come out.  

The first thing I like to look for is…are there any branches that are crossing each other? When branches are touching each other, you will eventually have to deal with a couple of bruised branches where the rubbing occured. Excessive bruising and contact will actually cause the two branches to grow together.  To prevent this from happening, one of the branches needs to be removed.  To determine which one, let’s think about how we want the tree to grow.  Typically, we try to train the tree to grow up and out.  So if any of the two branches are growing inward or hanging low, they should be removed. Now that we know which branch that needs to come out, we need to know what tools to use and where to make the cut.

Use bipass loppers, a folding saw, bipass hand pruners, or a pole pruner to make the cut. Any limbs that are dead should be cut with anvil pruners or loppers. You will want to remove the entire limb at where it meets the main trunk of the tree or branch.  There will be a circular shape around the limb which is called a “collar”.  You will want to cut it right after this point. If the cut is clean and cut properly, the collar of the tree will heal the cut.  After taking out the limbs that need to come out, your task at hand is pretty much complete. Trees that have yet to mature completely will have new shoots that come up from the ground around the base of the tree. They basically look like miniature trees. These can be cut back year round. Overtime, with proper pruning as the tree matures, you’ll have less and less maintenance and a very beautiful tree.

Crepe Myrtle Pruning

It can still be overwhelming. Leave the precision pruning to us!

 If you are still unsure of the proper pruning techniques that are required in order to grow a healthy, aesthetically pleasing tree, give us call or just sign up by filling out the contact form and we will assist you with any of your questions and concerns. Otherwise, happy pruning!