Home and Garden: Crape murder
By Darrell Blackwelder
For The Salisbury Post
One of the most common questions I receive in the spring is about pruning crape myrtles. Lopping off the tops of crape myrtles has become a common practice in Rowan County.
Some refer to this practice as “Crape Murder.”
The responses I receive when I question their motives are varied. Some believe that heavy pruning is required to promote flowering; some prune because the plant is too large for the space provided. The most likely reason is that they see their neighbors or landscape contractors pruning it and feel the need to follow suit.
Crape myrtles do not require heavy pruning to promote bloom. Crape myrtles that line the streets of Salisbury receive little or no pruning and bloom profusely each summer. Flowers are borne on new growth. Both trees type and newer dwarf type plants produce flowers without any pruning.
However, light pruning will produce larger flowers and will make the trees bloom more profusely. Judicious pruning in late winter or early spring stimulates vigorous new growth in the spring. These plants can also be encouraged to bloom a second time in summer by pruning flowers immediately after they fade.
Some want to improve the appearance of the trees by removing the seed heads before new spring growth begins. This is recommended only if they are within reach. Once the plant becomes a tall, mature plant, let nature to take its course and retain the natural grace of the plant.
Judicious pruning should be practiced as crape myrtles grow and mature.
Prune out weak, dead or damaged branches on a routine basis. Crossing ranches or those that rub should also be removed.These plants are usually grown as multi-trunked trees requiring corrective pruning at an early age.
Trees are usually pruned to retain three major tree trunks. Remove suckers as they appear in the summer to keep the trunks neat and balanced. Without training the trees will mature into trees with multiple trunks. There are many like this in Salisbury.
Crape myrtles grow best in well drained soils with direct sunlight. An ideal location would be to place tree types in an area that allows the tree to develop their natural style without whacking off their tops.
If you have a crape myrtle in an area where you need a smaller plant, you have two basic options: Dig it up and plant a new dwarf cultivar that will require little or no maintenance or prune the stems back to about six inches above the ground each year.
Crape myrtles are quite forgiving so severe pruning will not kill or injure a healthy crape myrtle. The best way to maintain a crape myrtle at a particular size is to plant a known cultivar that will mature at the desired height and spread.
More information on pruning crape myrtles, including a short video, can be found at the Rowan County Master Gardener Volunteer Web site at www.rowan mastergardener.com.nnn
Darrell Blackwelder is an extension agent with the NC Cooperative Extension Service. He can be reached at 704-213-8970.