Crapemyrtle cultivars are available in a plentitude of colors, with sizes ranging from a few feet tall to 25 feet. They’re beautiful plants that unfortunately tend to suffer from the sharp end of a pair of loppers. But with proper pruning technique, gardeners can put an end to this “crapemurder” crime and enjoy their beautiful plants the way they’re meant to be enjoyed.
This ‘Miami’ crapemyrtle shows the natural growth form of the cultivar and still has a dense display of flowers.
Photo Credit: Dr. Gerald Klingaman
‘Natchez’ crapemyrtle has such a beautiful trunk, you want to reach out and pet it.
Photo Credit: Dr. Gerald Klingaman
Most pruning problems arise when an oversized plant is placed where there just isn’t enough room. If a tree form is planted but there’s only room in the garden for a bush, moving it makes more sense than annual, ritualistic pruning mutilation. So before getting out those loppers, study the branching habit of your crapemyrtle to learn its natural growth form.
Pruning that preserves the natural form of any plant – while still controlling size and shape – is always the best practice. But with crapemyrtles, there persists the misguided notion that chopping the top out of the tree each spring before new growth begins is the way to produce the most attractive plant. Not so. This crapemurder only results in oddly shaped specimens with oversized, mop-like blooms that weigh the slender new shoots down, producing an umbrella-shaped plant.
The natural look is preferable for crapemyrtles because it allows the plant’s sleek, beautiful bark to become a prominent feature of older, more established specimens. The bloom trusses on crapemyrtles that are allowed to grow naturally are smaller than the super-sized feather dusters of their stubbed-back brethren, but they fit more comfortably in the contemporary landscape.
Begin training your specimen crapemyrtles as soon as they’re planted. If you want a standard specimen, select the strongest growing stem and remove the others. (Usually, though, multiple-trunked specimens with three to five main trunks are preferred.) Should your plant be single-stemmed and you’d rather have multiple trunks, grit your teeth and cut the plant back to a 4-inch stub in early spring. A cluster of new shoots will appear a few weeks later. Select the shoots you want to grow and break the others off flush with the stem while they’re still succulent.
In older, more established crapemyrtles, only light clipping is needed in February or March to remove the seedpods from last summer. Then a summertime clipping of developing seedpods will force a second flush of growth and produce another round of blooms in August. If your crapemyrtle is getting too large, it can be pruned back about 20 percent of its height by selective limb removal, cutting branches back to a fork on the main branch. When selecting a side branch to take over as a new growing point, choose one that’s at least half the diameter of the main stem to which it’s attached. Remove suckers and limbs growing from the main trunks as needed to sculpt the plant into a kind of living artwork.
The urge to chop your crapemyrtle back severely can be satiated, but reserve this harsh treatment for the shrubby crapemyrtles, not the trees. Severely cutting back the branches in February or March, much like you prune a hybrid tea rose, keeps the size manageable and produces plenty of new flowers.