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Another case of CRAPE MURDER!!!

Have you driven around town at this time of year and seen trees (Crape Myrtles) that look like they have been pruned with a chain saw??  Educated Horticulturist’s in the industry call this "Crape Murder", because in a way you are committing a crime against what is a widely used and loved member of our urban landscape pallet.  Though I don’t know when or how this annual practice began, often home owners will imitate what they see some un-educated semi-professionals do, PLEASE STOP!!!  

This is not the proper way to prune this beautiful tree/shrub, have you ever noticed some Crape Myrtles with knurled, knotty, scared trunk tops..... well these are just that "scars" from the tree healing the deep wounds inflicted by bad pruning,  Besides creating these large unsightly nodules on your tree this practice leads to a growth habit of fewer weaker blooming branches or what we call "witches broom" appearance. 

Unfortunately the chain-saw welding pruner's wounds can leave the Crape Myrtle tree open to diseases as well, think about it, if YOU have an open wound you would be more susceptible to germ/bugs....same for most all living things. Our urban landscapes have seen an infestation "SCALE" of late, you may have noticed Crape Myrtles with what looks like a black sooty mold all over them or even a white fuzzy appearance.  This is not a dieses but actually an insect, the black soot on trees and shrubs is what is left behind by the insect activity, the insect is the white "fuzzy"  felt looking bump.  If your tree's have an active infestation you will see these white/off white felt looking bumps, which are the scale insects.  You can check this by using a tooth-pick or knife to press on the white fuzzy spots and if they will "bleed" or you see a pink spot then this is an active infestation and you should contact your landscaper or turf pest control company.  These infestations are treatable but unfortunately the black sooty mold left behind by the insects can take some time to disappear and can be unsightly, it should leave after a season of renewed bark growth, rain and treatments.  (we do not recommend pressure washing trees though we have been asked to do so)

In reality, proper pruning of crape myrtle involves little if any cutting of the main trunk, focusing instead on removing thin and poorly placed branches and opening up the center for better air circulation. A well pruned crape myrtle should not look like it has been "pruned" at all. Branches removed should be removed back to the larger branch or trunk, leaving no stump. Here are the basics:

  • Remove all suckers from the base.   
  • Remove side branches from the main trunk up to four feet or so.   
  • Remove higher branches that grow inward toward the center of the tree instead of outward, and any crossing or rubbing branches.
  • You can remove seed pods if you don't like the look of them, but it will not affect flowering the following year. Plus it's a tough job on a larger crape myrtle tree. However, removing green seed pods immediately after summer bloom can encourage a second flush of flowers.

Stand back and look at the tree. Are there any dead branches, or branches growing in a weird direction that should also be removed? No? Good-you're done. And your crape looks great! Crape Myrtles have a wonderful vase-like shape and can be a very beautiful and hardy member of your landscape if cared for properly.  If you would like more information about pruning, care and disease control for your Crape Myrtles your state extension/agriculture office is a great source of creditable information!!

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