Crape or Crepe Myrtles are a southern symbol with more homes sporting the white, red, pink, or purple tree than probably any other ornamental. They respond well to our warm Springs, hot Summers, unpredictable rain patterns, and survive our relentless attempts to cut them back to bare nubs each year because that is “how everyone else does it”. We admire their summer blooms on the newly sprouted wood which takes on a globular shape after the severe cutback, but have you ever seen a properly pruned Myrtle in bloom? It can be breathtaking with long sweeps of color rather than short blooming twigs. Let’s explore a proper way to prune and shape a Crape Myrtle and look at a few examples.
The Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) is originally from India and its over 50 other varieties are from Southeast Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. They range from giant 100′ trees to little two foot specimens and were brought to the US over 200 years ago. The blooms are concentrated on plumes with hundreds of individual flowers and when they drop their petals and seeds, it can create a minor mess so locate them away from sidewalks and swimming pools. They do nicely in the sun next to your house since they do not have a taproot to interfere with foundation or utilities. Their fibrous roots will keep most other plants at bay so individual myrtles are best with few neighbors and adequate mulch. They don’t mind clay but grow best in well-drained soil – not standing water after a rain.
Consider the result of proper pruning – a healthy tree without the ugly nubs that grow larger every year. Sweeping color and actually easier pruning in future years as “murder” produces thousands of tiny new twigs rather than a controlled, sweeping effect.
One of my landscaping adventures at my previous home in Kennesaw was to let a white Crape Myrtle take on a natural shape and then plant a potted red honeysuckle at its base. In one season, the honeysuckle crawled to the full height and I had red “sprinkles” among the white blooms. Crape Myrtles are an inexpensive yet striking addition to a small yard and the dwarf varieties will hide unsightly utility boxes. On Arbor Day. the Master gardeners will be giving away free myrtles seedlings that with proper maintenance will add beauty and form to your home landscape.