I’ve seen it time, and time, and time again the last few weeks—“Crape Murder.” In Extension, this phrase refers to extreme topping of crapemyrtle trees. It’s extremely unsightly.
Lagerstroemia indica: The crapemyrtle, a native of China and the "Lilac of the South." The most popular flowering tree in the southern United States. Introduced to the U.S. by Frenchman Andre Michaux to South Carolina around 1786. Perhaps the most beautifully branching flowering tree in the world.
I’ve heard my entire career here, and as a Master Gardener student and intern: “Pick the right plant for the right place.” If you are having to commit crape murder to have the look you desire from your trees in the summer, the person planting that tree, likely did not plant the right plant in the right place.
There are many, many cultivars of crapemyrtle trees on the market, but if your tree is already growing in your landscape, without digging it up and replacing with a new, smaller variety, there is little you can do to change that.
According to Texas Research associate Greg Grant, “There are many reasons gardeners, and landscape crews, justify this practice. However, I do not know of one Extension agent or arborist that would ever condone those reasons."
The only pruning crapemyrtles require is to thin out the trunks on young trees leaving somewhere around 3-7 permanent trunks. Each year, around this time of the year, all you do is remove any new suckers that appear from the ground or from your main trunks. That’s it. Yes, if the tree is small you can remove the seedpods, but realize that this is purely for aesthetic reason. Removing dried pods during the winter doesn’t promote any more bloom during the summer. Removing them during the summer does promote faster re-bloom however. This nonsense of pruning back to pencil size wood comes from recommendations from the 1960’s and is outdated. People apparently had a lot more free time on their hands then. There’s no telling how many thousands of dollars are wasted on incorrect pruning of crapemyrtles. To be quite honest an unpruned crapemyrtle is almost always superior in appearance to a "professionally" pruned one. Some things in nature are hard to improve on.
Check with a reputable nursery. If a tree type is too large, there are many smaller types available, including mildew resistant ones. There are a number of improved semi-dwarf cultivars in the 6-8 foot range that make outstanding small trees. Trees that NEVER need topping, that is. Please, please I beg you - do not plant a 30-foot crapemyrtle in a space designed for a 10 foot one.
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For more information you can reach the Extension Office at (256) 582-2009
Kristen Roberson is the Marshall County Extension Coordinator and a current Master Gardener intern.