The Standard Journal

Pruning is best way to show love, care

- By Ricky Ensley Polk Extension Coordinato­r

The crape myrtle is one of the most commonly used flowering trees in landscapin­g today.

It also has the dubious distinctio­n among gardeners and horticultu­rists as the plant that is butchered in the worst way by property maintenanc­e companies and homeowners.

Crape myrtles

Crape myrtles are trained by nurseries into two basic shapes: single- stemmed tree- form and multi-stemmed.

To achieve these shapes, growers allow crapes to grow for a year in either containers or fields, and cut them down to the ground in the spring of the second year.

Later t hat summer when the plant has coppiced or grown many stems from the original root system, the grower will choose the single best stem and train it into a single- stemmed treeform tree or choose an odd number of the best stems (3 to 5 for example) for a multi-stemmed tree.

These trees are then grown out to salable size and purchased by landscaper­s and homeowners.

Pruning crape myrtles

Pruning crapes so that they retain the appropriat­e form is relatively simple.

Prune the trees in the winter when dormant.

For trees that are just the right height or shorter, simply prune off the old flower heads and seedpods.

If the tree was perfect last year, but the past summer’s growth made the plant too tall, remove just that growth.

Always remove any suckers that have sprouted from the roots or lower trunk.

The key is to not allow the trees to get so overgrown that an extreme pruning is ever necessary.

Forgetting to prune

Sometimes though, we may forget to do our yearly maintenanc­e pruning or it may be we take over a property where the previous maintenanc­e person did a lousy job and now a harsh pruning is necessary.

In either case, the trees can be pruned in such a way as to minimize the aesthetic impact of the removal of sizable portions of the tree.

Begin by identifyin­g the main stems and remove any others that might have suckered from the roots.

Next, prune out any branches that rub and any branches in the interior of the tree that have suckered.

Then decide the height you wish the tree to become.

Make cuts at the very top of each trunk to remove any growth above that height.

The tree may look a little flat-topped, but you can make shaping cuts to make the canopy the shape you want.

I prefer the very top to be a little flat and to taper the sides into more of a rounded shape.

One might describe it as umbrella shaped.

One advantage of the crape myrtle is that it can take a severe pruning and still look well during the summer.

Good Luck pruning and caring for your crape myrtle.

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