Crape myrtle trees and shrubs are popular in landscaping because they continue to flower for the entire summer. Sometimes it is referred to as the 100-day bloom tree. This plant has many different cultivars including dwarf varieties that mature at a size of three to six feet and semi-dwarf that can reach 15 feet. The full tree size may mature at 30 feet tall. When the correct cultivar is chosen for its size little pruning will be required. Topping, also known as dehorning, is not recommended for these trees as it increases damage and reduces the length of time the tree blooms each summer.
When to Prune
Crape myrtle trees produce blooms from the new wood and current season of stems, not older stems. It is important to prune these trees in late winter or early spring, before the new shoots have begun to grow. Pruning in the late fall will cause damage to new shoots that do not go completely dormant. This winter damage can eventually kill the tree if it is topped repeatedly over many years. A crape myrtle that is the appropriate size for its location will not need annual pruning. If the tree is too large for its location it may require annual pruning to keep it growing within the desired location.
How to Prune Standard Varieties
Prune to maintain the natural shape of the tree and to keep the tree healthy. Pruning to increase the number of blooms is not necessary or effective for a standard crape myrtle. An overly pruned crape myrtle tree will not bloom for as long and there are not as many flowers in each bloom. When the tree is young remove any dead or broken branches first. Then remove any branches that are crossing or rubbing together. This will improve the health of the plant as it grows to maturity. Check the tree each fall to see if there are any dead, broken, or diseased branches that need removal. If not, there is no need to prune the tree. Proper pruning will help the tree stay structurally sound and able to withstand storms.
When pruning for form only remove branches that are no thicker than a standard pencil. If only a part of a branch needs to be removed, cut the branch just above an outward facing bud. When removing an entire branch make the cut on the branch side of the collar where the branch meets the tree. The collar is a slight thickening of the bark where a branch grows from the trunk of the tree. Don’t apply anything such as pruning paint or other pruning ointment to the cut.
How to Prune a Dwarf Crape Myrtle
One of the newer varieties of crape myrtle are the dwarf shrubs that can be used as borders or grown in pots. These varieties benefit from severe pruning annually. Prune these plants back to within six inches of the ground each year. This will increase the production of blooms during the summer.
Crape myrtles provide beautiful landscaping all four seasons of the year. With proper care and pruning these trees and shrubs will live for many years.