Saturday, March 10, 2018 By: Ask A Master Gardener

Prune Crapemyrtles in Late Winter, But Avoid "Crapemurder"

How not to commit 'crapemurder' on your crapemyrtles this spring

Brian Jervis: Ask a Master Gardener

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Q: How and when should I prune my crapemyrtles?

A: Crapemyrtles, along with all trees and shrubs, should only be pruned for a reason. The best time to prune these and other trees and shrubs is late winter or early spring, before leafing out. An exception to this time are the spring-blooming shrubs, such as azaleas and forsythias, which should be pruned after blooming, if needed. Delaying pruning of spring-blooming plants is only to preserve the flower buds formed the previous year.
There is a common belief by many that crapemyrtles should be pruned back to an ugly set of horizontal nubs in the spring time. Nothing could be further from the truth about good crapemyrtle care. Crapemyrtles should be allowed to let nature have its way and to grow to their full height.
Some people think that blooming will be increased by drastic pruning (many horticulturists call this “crapemurder”), but Dr. Carl Whitcomb, a retired OSU professor and developer of crapemyrtle cultivars, cites evidence that blooming is less, not more, with drastic pruning. Light pruning of endmost 12-18 inches, back to a lower limb, can increase numbers of blossoms. However, these plants were engineered by nature to bloom profusely without this type of pruning. In summer, one can promote a second wave of blossoming by pruning off old blossoms after they fade.
Reasons to prune crapemyrtles are to confine it to the space available or to improve the shrub’s shape and structure. Removal of dead or diseased limbs and elimination of internal crossing branches should be done anytime.
For those plants that are too big for their space, rather than trimming them back each year, consider removal and planting one of the smaller crapemyrtle cultivars. There are many sizes available, ranging from 18 inches to 25 or more feet when mature.
One question that sometimes arises relates to the seed pods left over in fall after blooming is completed. The plant will remove them naturally as they have been doing for thousands of years, and they need no pruning.
Another pruning suggestion one should consider with crapemyrtles concerns those plants with a multitude of trunks. These are best reduced to three to five trunks, which will not only have more curb appeal, but also will allow more energy to be directed toward further growth and blossom formation. To further improve appearance of these shrubs, consider removing the limbs from the lower third or half of the trunks.
Crapemyrtles are notorious for sending up shoots or sprouts from the base of the plants, especially in the spring. These should be removed by pulling off if able, or clipping close to the ground, if needed.
We have an advantage over our northern neighbors in being able to grow these magnificent plants, which are the mainstay of color in Tulsa during the summer. They deserve the best care we can give them, they should not be subjected to “crapemurder.”

Garden tips

  • Now is a good time to cut back your perennial ornamental grasses, such as pampus grass. Cut back to remove the dead grass, but avoid damaging new buds and early green growth at the base.
  • Begin planting blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, grapes, asparagus and other perennial garden crops this month. Contact Tulsa Master Gardeners at 918-746-3701 for specifics about these plants.


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