What we’ll cover
In this section we’ll cover how and when to prune crepe myrtle trees. We will focus on the taller varieties of crepe myrtles since the smaller varieties only need basic pruning and sometimes none at all. These instructions on pruning will give you a tree with a slender profile at the base with a wide canopy of flowering branches at the top.
When to prune
When to prune depends a lot on where you live. If you live in colder climates where freezing temperatures are relatively common, you should prune your tree in late spring or early summer so that you can see the damage caused by the previous winter. If you prune any earlier you may hurt the plant’s cold hardiness. If you live in warmer climates where freezing temperatures are rare you can safely prune your crepe myrtle a bit earlier, around late winter to early spring. If you do it in the middle of the winter, new growth may start and then freeze. So to recap, if you live in a colder climate late spring or early summer if you live in a warmer climate late winter or early spring.
The tools you’ll need
You’ll need some tools before you get started, so head into the garage and grab the following:
- Hand pruners for the small twigs
- Lopper pruners for the medium sized branches
- Pole pruners or a saw for the large branches
- Gardening gloves
How to prune your crepe myrtle
- First of all, don’t just chop off the top at some arbitrary height. This is really common and leads to some seriously ugly trees. Plus with that method the new growth can’t handle the weight of the flowers and tend to sag and sometimes breaking the new growth. Now that we got that out of the way, let’s start.
- Take a look at your tree, there should be a few main trunks (2-8) coming out of the ground. You want to look at the base of these trunks and trim any suckers (little shoots of growth near the base of the tree or coming out of exposed roots).
- Then trim any growth coming out the main trunks up to at least 4 feet. After you have cleaned up the trunks of the tree you want to start working on the canopy.
- Higher up, where the tree starts to spread out you want to trim any dead growth as well as any branches that are growing towards the center of the canopy. You may also want to trim any branches that are rubbing or cross another branch. Make sure to always prune the branches back to a larger branch, you shouldn’t be leaving any stubs.
- Lastly, here is a little trick if you want a thick canopy with twice as much growth and twice as many blooms. At the end of the stems there should be seedlings if your tree bloomed last season. Follow the stem from the seedlings back to where the stem connects to a branch. Prune the stem about 6″ to 12″ from the branch. If you do it right there should be two new stems that grow from the old stem, which means twice as many flowers and a thick canopy.
A video about pruning your crape myrtle from the University of Arkansas
If you are still in doubt or just learn better through video, I’ve included a video from the UA Division of Agriculture.
I hope these instructions and video helped you understand how to better prune your crape myrtle! So if it is late winter or early spring, get out there and start pruning! If it isn’t late winter or early spring, sit back and relax, and dream about how nice your crepe myrtle will look after you prune it early next year.