The practice of chopping off the tops of crepe myrtles over the winter has become very common in Oklahoma. We sometimes call it Crepe Murder at LawnAmerica, as it really hurts the look and health of the plant over time. Many folks believe this is necessary to promote flowering, but that is not necessarily the case. More often than not, it’s something that some commercial maintenance companies tell you needs to be done, but really just gives them something to do in early winter. It’s not really needed in most cases.
Pruning in late winter or early spring will stimulate vigorous new growth in spring, and may lead to slightly more blooms. However, they will bloom if pruning is not done.
Proper pruning can serve several purposes in plants, including crepe myrtles:
- To encourage blooming or fruiting
- To restrict growth
- To train the plant into a certain shape
- To improve the health of the plant
The main justification for pruning crepe myrtles is to develop the proper shape of the tree by removing suckers at the base and removing all limbs growing from ground level except 3-5 of the strongest limbs. As the tree matures, remove lower, lateral branches up to one-third to halfway up the plant, and ones that are crossing or rubbing against each other. Make your cuts to a side branch or close to the trunk, using good, sharp pruning shears.
Do corrective pruning to remove dead branches, and remove small twigs or branches in the center to create more open spaces for sun and air movement. If the plant is becoming too large, you can limb up or chop off the tops of the crepe myrtle in an attempt to keep it from becoming too large. Do not just cut it off at the same place every year though. If you have doubts about your ability to correctly prune, don’t hesitate to contact a local arborist.