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When to Trim Crape Myrtles

Crape myrtles are popular trees because of their beautiful flowers that bloom in spring and hang on through warm summers. Their leaves are stunning in the fall, and even their vase-like shape and bark have their appeal in the winter. The question on many homeowners’ and landscapers’ minds is “When is the best time to prune them?”

Depending on the climate of your area, pruning should take place in late winter or early spring. It should definitely happen before the first blooms start to grow. It is important not to go overboard when cutting back the tree’s pretty branches. Many people cut their crape myrtles down to a nub, which is an eyesore in more than one way.

Not only does it look like a horrible accident, but such a severe trim stops the interesting, mottled bark from forming. Why buy and plant such pleasant trees only to remove all that beauty? Some people say that such a huge amount of cutting back on the trees promotes new branches to form, but what it really does is make for weak branches that break easily. It takes away everything that makes crape myrtles so popular in the first place.

Don’t Prune Just to Prune

You shouldn’t prune the crape myrtles just to prune them. There are very specific reasons that your crape myrtles would need landscaping work. These are: to reduce the risk of the branches interfering with wires or your home; to help maintain the tree’s health and beautiful structure, or to improve them; or for another specific need you might have. The “topping,” or cutting them down drastically, doesn’t hit any of those needs and hurts the trees. If you aren’t sure whether your crape myrtles need pruning or other work, it’s best to consult a professional.

If you want to tackle the pruning yourself, you are going to want to use the proper tools and do the job right. And remember that new growth, which is where the new blooms form, occurs about 4 to 5 inches below wherever you cut the branches. Another reason to be careful in your care of the trees.

The Necessary Tools

Make sure to have these three tools on hand to properly cut back your crape myrtles:

  • A set of hand pruners (use these to clip any of the tree’s branches that are less than a half-inch in diameter).
  • Loppers to cut branches 1/2-inch to 1-1/2 inches thick.
  • Either pole pruners or a pruning saw (use these to cut back branches larger than a half-inch in diameter).

Getting Started

Give the trunks of your tree a good inspection, and choose about three to five of the trunks that appear to be strong and healthy. Prune the other trunks all the way down to the ground. Next, completely remove water sprouts coming up out of the ground. You should do this all year when you see any starting to grow.

If your tree has any areas with a lot of branches, choose a few to cut back, and do so all the way back to where the limb meets another limb. This helps with air circulation in the tree canopy. That reduces the chances that the tree will develop a type of mildew that can often pop up in the summer.

Always remove any branches that are either dead, dying or diseased. Branches that are crossing one another or close to it should be cut back. When branches touch, they rub together and create open wounds that allow bugs and disease to find a place to invade.

How to Prune a Tree

What is pruning? It might be easier to list how to prune the tree, in the most efficient order.

  • First, remove any branches that are growing up from the tree’s base.
  • Then cut all of the tree’s side branches that are growing from the main trunks, and cut them back to about 4 feet high.
  • If you have branches higher than 4 feet off the ground that are growing inward, cut them back as well.
  • Then tackle any branches that are dead, crossing or rubbing one another.
  • Finally, take a few steps back and see if there are any branches that are growing a little wonky and that take away from the tree’s desired look.
  • If you see seedheads on the end of branches, remove them if you wish, but know that leaving them doesn’t hurt blooming.

And finally, if you want to raise the tree’s canopy, the best way is to remove some of the lower branches as your crape myrtle grows. It can be overwhelming to tackle a large job such as this on your own. Call a professional to get a consultation or have them do the tree trimming for you and enjoy the beautiful results.

a crape myrtle tree

Crape Myrtle Bush Versus Tree

Many people wonder what the difference is between the types of crape myrtles. Is it a crape myrtle bush or a tree? Short answer is a crape myrtle tree is taller than a crape myrtle bush.

The bushes grow anywhere between 2 feet for the dwarf type and other varieties are from 5 feet to 15 feet high and all have multiple stems. Crape myrtle trees can be as tall as 20 feet taller than bushes, with some of the trees getting all the way to 35 feet high!

The shape of the plant is also a clue as to whether it is a tree or a bush. Most flowering crape myrtle shrubs are generally wider than tall, with a broad crown between 5 to 15 feet wide. These shrubs can have beautiful red, white, pink or purple flowers that bloom in the summer and attract birds and pollinators. They grow well in warm climates and work great as borders and container plants as well.

When grown in sunny, warm climates, crape myrtle bushes will flower every year. The bushes grow very quickly, with blooms from spring to early fall. Some varieties will even hold on to their flowers until the first frost of the year.

If adding some of these plants to your landscape sounds right up your alley, but you aren’t sure you have the time or energy to install the shrubs or how to trim a crape myrtle tree, call in a professional. Landscaping experts know what will grow the best in your particular area, and what will look great, too.

a boxwood shrub

Fertilizer for Boxwood Shrubs

Another plant that is popular for landscaping is the boxwood shrub. These gorgeous green shrubs can provide a lush hedge around your garden or the front of your home. The trick is knowing exactly how and when to fertilize them to get the healthiest plant with the best coloring.

If you prune or shear your boxwoods a lot, they will grow and look better with fertilization. The best time for this is in the spring and the best method is to use plant food specifically for shrubs and trees. Find one that releases nutrients slowly, and look for one with sulfur and iron to help the boxwood develop that deep, lush green color. If you prefer, you can use natural organic plant food. Still unsure? Call in a professional landscaper with plant know-how! They can talk you through the best fertilizers for your particular needs. They can also set up a maintenance schedule so you can enjoy the benefits of beautiful boxwoods without the work.

One note: You don’t want to end up with any new growth popping up due to any fertilization only to have it damaged by frost. If the calendar is inching closer to the typical date of a first frost, stop any fertilizing for your boxwoods about two weeks prior.

For boxwoods grown in containers such as pots and planters, check the labels on slow-release granular fertilizer or one that is water-soluble and follow the directions the manufacturers suggest.

ABC Can Keep Your Crepe Myrtles Healthy

There can be a lot involved with taking care of trees. For healthy, happy trees, contact ABC Home & Commercial Services. Our certified arborists will ensure that your trees grow strong and beautiful.

J Zambo

J Zambo joined ABC in 2023 with over 20 years of experience. He is the Lawn & Tree Division Manager, overseeing Lawn Maintenance and Care, Landscaping, Tree and Holiday Lighting for all ABC Austin branches. Before ABC, he was the Vice President of Aloha Arbor Care and Hawaii Landscape Services. J is an ISA Certified Arborist and ISA Qualified Tree Risk Assessor. His favorite quote is “So shines a good deed in a weary world” by Willie Wonka.

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