February marks the beginning of annual “Crape Murder” season

Crape murder is a term credited to a 1997 article in Southern Living magazine that refers to the needless late fall and winter practice of cutting crapemyrtles down to stubs.

Many people commit crape murder because they think it promotes better blooms in the coming year. Still others commit crape murder because their crapemyrtle has outgrown the spot where it was planted.Regardless of the motive, crape murder is not only unnecessary, it is detrimental.

But calling it crape murder doesn’t accurately describe what is happening. It can’t really be murder when the victim, the crape myrtle tree, doesn’t die. Dr Gary Bachman from Mississippi State University says a more descriptive and appropriate name should be “crape myrtlation.” Crape myrtlation is the severe and senseless pruning of crape myrtle trees in the late winter. This type of needless pruning results in flushes of weak shoots barely able to hold the summer flower clusters. The severe pruning can also delay flower development. The warm cinnamon, exfoliating bark and beautiful architecture of the branches never have the chance to develop when crape myrtles are mutilated with senseless pruning.

Bachman describes how to correctly prune a crape myrtle:
Begin with sharp pruning tools whose use depends on the diameter of the branches and limbs. Use bypass pruners to easily cut back branches up to 3/4 inch in diameter. For branches up to 1 3/4 inches in diameter, use a robust set of loppers. Use a pruning saw on any branches larger than that.

The best-looking crape myrtles are multi trunked and well-structured. Maintaining an odd number of trunks, such as three or five, looks great and preserves enough space for the tree to produce strong growth.

Pruning time is when we should remove any unwanted trunks. Cut them as close to the ground as you can. Then choose the height where you want the branching to start and remove lower branches back to the main trunk.

Remove any branches that are growing into the center of the tree canopy and any that are crossing or rubbing against each other. This creates space and opens the canopy, reducing the chance of diseases.

Finish with the removal of small, thin branches. I use my index finger as an approximate size guide to determine which ones to remove. It’s common for crape myrtles of any age or size to have suckers sprout up around the base. Simply use your hand pruners and cut these off without leaving a stub.

Use these pruning tips to keep your crape myrtle happy and healthy.

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