Pruning Crape Myrtle Trees

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Crape Myrtle trees require very little pruning. They do not need to be cut back by chopping off the tops of the tree as shown in image on the left. If the tree is cut back to the same height every year, topping can cause large knuckles to form. Pruning Crape Myrtle Trees severely or hard can induce excess vegetation growth such as sprouting at the base, and fewer flowers. Light pruning is recommended by the Florida Cooperative Extension  Service.

Pruning Crape Myrtle Trees Correctly

Pruning should be done in January or February before new growth begins, so the tree can develop properly by the summer. This will ensure the natural beauty it will display when healthy and vigorous. Pruning Crape Myrtle Trees while dormant will not interfere with blooming, since buds form from new growth.

Prune off any branches that are dead and old seed pods left from last summer. DO Not cut back all branches to the same height by rounding it off. This will ruin the natural form of a Crape Myrtle tree.

Pruning Crape Myrtle Trees is done by, slowly removing one-by-one all side (lateral) branches up to a height of 5-feet or so. Height can depend upon the size of the tree so generally it will be halfway up. Remove any branches in the canopy that are crossing or rubbing another branch.

Cut off branches growing inward towards the center of the tree. All cuts should be made to the trunk (where the branch joins the trunk), or a side branch that is facing out. Sprouts  arising from the base of the tree should be removed while still green. Sprouts can be removed anytime of the year as they grow.

Some types of Crape Myrtle trees can grow to be very large trees. If the location you plan to plant at does not have enough space, then choose a type of Crape Myrtle that will fit at mature size. This will avoid having to chop off the tops every year. Pruning Crape Myrtle Trees the right way assures good health and for them to grow to the shape desired.

Author, Kurt Kmetz

32 COMMENTS

  1. Hi, I have a 40 foot crepe myrtle tree that is beautiful. This year it seems to only be blooming on top. Can you help, so this doesn’t happen again. Thank you Carole Majerus

  2. Carole,
    Here is some information on blooming for Crape Myrtle trees. Full sun is required for best flowering,
    shade can hinder blooming. Powdery mildew can cause buds to fail to open. Severe pruning can cause
    fewer blooms to produce. I do not know if any of these apply to your situation, since I cannot inspect
    your tree. It is early for Crape Myrtle trees to be flowering. I live in central Florida near the west coast
    and they do not start blooming until mid to end of June. Perhaps by summer it will be filled with flowers.

    Kurt

  3. Hi,
    Our backyard fence is lined with crape Myrtle trees. I’m sure they can be gorgeous but they are all 30 to 40 foot tall. We would like them to be closer to the height of the fence, maybe a little taller. Is it possible for us to trim them down that much or will it destroy them. I do realize we will have to wait until Jan/Feb to do any trimming or pruning. With trees this large would it be better to call in an expert to trim them down properly?
    Thank you for any advice or expertise,
    Rebecca

  4. Rebecca,
    Hard pruning of Crape Myrtle trees is not recommended by the Florida Cooperative Extension Service. Severe trimming will ruin the natural sculptural form of the trees. It spoils the beautiful winter branch structure. It will also cause large “knuckles” to form where the branches spread out from the trunk, causing weaker branches to grow which will not hold flowers upright. Severe pruning causes trees to produce fewer flowers and can induce excess vegetative growth. Crape Myrtle trees need to be pruned properly as explained in my article. Most landscaping companies will trim them every year as seen in the picture in my article. Unfortunately this is wrong! This was dubbed as “Crepe Murder” by Southern Living magazine a while back. Plus it won’t take long for them to grow back to the same height. Thus being a waste of money. A species of Crape Myrtle trees that don’t grow too large for the space provide, should have been planted to begin with.

    Kurt

  5. Until what month can you plant a crape myrtle in Florida?
    Can you replant the sprouts in the ground, or is it better to first plant the sprout in a planter?

  6. Zee,
    Crape Myrtles grown in containers ( found mostly at garden centers) are planted during early summer, when in active growth. Balled or burlapped Crape myrtles ( found mostly at nurseries ) should be planted while dormant. As far as replanting sprouts, they would probably die if placed in the ground. You could try to grow them in a planter using a product like “Root Tone” to stimulate root growth , but there is no guarantee they will take hold. I have never seen anyone do it. Crape myrtles can be propagated vegetaitively by softwood, hardwood, or root cuttings. Seed capsules ripening in the fall may be collected, dried, and stored in sealed containers. Seeds should be sown during spring for best results. I recommend contacting your local extension service for information on propagation or seed growing. Both processes need to be done correctly, especially propogation to avoid any severe damage to the tree.

    Kurt

  7. Kurt,

    I live in Palm Coast, FL and have Crape Myrtles and Azaleas that need trimming. What is the best way to find a knowlegeable person to trim these plants at the appropriate time? Most “landscapers” here in this small town are clueless on proper trimming. I have read that Azaleas should be trimmed prior to July 4 and Crape Myrtles in Jan. or Feb. Is that correct? Thank you so very much.

  8. Pat,
    Azaleas that are well established should be pruned shortly after they are done flowering. Azaleas in Florida bloom from late February to early April. Light pruning is recommended for them to grow compact with numerous branches. Hard pruning causes them to grow thin and spindly. That is correct that Crape Myrtles should be trimmed in January or February. Light pruning is also recommended for Crape Myrtles. It is important that proper trimming is done for Crape Myrtle Trees. The correct way to prune them is explained in my article. They should not be hard pruned as shown in the picture in my article ( many landscaping companies do it that way ). To find a landscaping company that is experienced and reputable contact your local county extension service. They should be able to give you a list of names in your area. Companies that are licensed with certified professionals usually know how to do trimming correctly.

    Kurt

  9. Dear Kurt,

    What do you do if you and the people before you have already committed crape murder? I have large knuckles on some of the shrubs. A landscaping company isn’t an option.

    Thanks, Ruth

  10. Kurt, I live on the panhandle and have a crepemyrtle in my front yard that gets full sun. It has been doing poorly; so I pruned it back a couple of weeks ago and noticed there is a circular greenish mold or fungus growing on the bark of the tree. What should I do to help the tree to become healthy again? Thank you for your help.

  11. Ruth,
    Since the crape myrtle tree has not been trimmed correctly causing large knuckles to form, the tree has grown into the shape that it is. Unfortunately it is too late to do anything and the tree will remain with them. The tree will not die from improper pruning, however it will produce fewer flowers and not be as shapely as a tree that was originally trimmed correctly.

    Kurt

  12. Evanne,
    I would treat the tree by spraying it with a liquid fungicide. Make sure the trunk and branches are thoroughly covered so it can soak it up. Repeat treatment after 14 days. You can also do a ground soaking around the base of the tree so the roots can also soak up the liquid fungicide. Make sure you treat the ground area where the roots are extended outward.

    Kurt

  13. Hello Kurt,
    I would like to take a cutting of a red crape myrtle and try probagating it in a container. Can you show or tell me where to take a cutting? I realize it may not take but I would like to try it.

    Thank you in advance,
    Bob Sands

  14. Bob,
    At this time of the year the best way to propagate a Crape Myrtle tree is by softwood cuttings. Softwood cuttings should root easily when taken in spring or summer. Use very tender wood, red or pink growth. Cutting type should be from the stem tip. Time to rooting is 8 to 15 weeks. The rooting environment should be intermittent misting. Garden centers usually sell products to help in root establishment, you might want to inquire about them.

    When fall arrives ripening seed capsules may be collected, dried and stored in sealed containers. No seed treatment will be necessary and seeds should germinate within 3 weeks after sowing. Growth results are best when seeds are sown during the longer days of spring. You might want to try it this coming fall for next year.

    Of course patience is the key, which I’m sure you already know that. I hope this will be helpful for you in having success in your attempt at propagation.

    Kurt

  15. Kurt,
    I have a white Crape Myrtle that has lost all of its flowers and has many seed pods on August 31st. Is there any reason why I shouldn’t cut off old seed pods in late summer or early fall ? Also, I have successfully grown 2 Crape Myrtles from sprouts that sprang up on my side of the fence from my neighbor’s tree. I just dug them up and potted them with no rooting hormone. After a few years, they are over 5 feet tall. One is in a large pot, and one is in the ground.

    David

  16. David,
    I would not cut off old seed pods until you know that your trees are finished blooming for the year. However, it can depend on where you live if your trees are done blooming or not.

    In Florida, Crape Myrtle trees can continue flowering well into the fall. I live in the Tampa Bay area and Crape Myrtle trees are still producing flowers, plus I am now seeing new green seed pods on them.

    Congratulations on your success on growing new trees from propagation! I have information on propagating new Crape Myrtle trees from ripened seed capsules collected in the fall, found in my response to Bob’s comment on 06/09/12. It is listed under comments in my article “Pruning Crape Myrtle Trees”.

    Thanks, Kurt

  17. I have several crape myrtle trees in my yard. I seem to have a problem in that I can’t get them to flower more than once. They flower beautifully in the beginning and are covered with a mass of flowers. After they finish blooming for the first time, they get alot of flower pods, but don’t want to open. In fact, they turn black and die. The trees seem to be healthy. I do have a problem with a green mold from time to time. I spray when I can. Can that be the problem? I live in Florida.

    Thank you,
    Gwen

  18. Gwen,
    If the mold you are experiencing turns a white powder and eventually covers the leaves, stems, and flowers then it is powdery mildew caused by a fungus. Powdery mildew causes the leaves, stems, and flowers to become distorted and stunted.

    In severe cases leaves may drop and flower buds may fail to open. If not treated early it can get out of control and cause these problems. Use a chemical labeled for powdery mildew. If the trees are in a shady location this will always be a problem.

    Tip pruning to remove old spent flower clusters will promote recurrent blooming. Also the suckers that grow on the bottom of the trunk should be removed to allow air circulation and prevent leaf diseases.

    Hard annual pruning as shown in the picture in my article “Pruning Crape Myrtle Trees” can also cause problems with flowering. Hard pruning is not recommended but most landscaping companies do it in January as common practice.

    Thank you for your comment,

    Kurt

  19. Hi Kurt, I have a small (3ft) crepe myrtle that gets 75% full sun. It has 2 problems. 1)The stem and leaves that I see when I arrive mid Nov are always covered with a black film. I have used neem oil spray but it only helps a little. 2) The trunks grow outward more than upward. Can that be fixed. I have a winter home in Lakeland FL. Thanks, Maria

  20. Maria,
    The black film you see on the stems and leaves is called “Black Sooty Mold”. This is caused by “Aphids” insects that occur in the summer months. They are very common on crape myrtles in Florida. Aphids secrete droplets of a sugary solution called “Honeydew”. The drops will fall from the aphids onto leaves and stems below. The sugary solution causes the growth of sooty mold fungi, which turns black.

    Although sooty mold does not directly harm the crape myrtle, the black mold will interfere with photosynthesis, which can reduce the long-term vigor of the plant. The existing sooty mold will eventually wear off from the sun, wind, and rain. Spraying oil like you have been doing does help loosen it and help remove it, but not completely as you have said. Since your crape myrtle is a small one you can wet the leaves using a hose and wipe them off with a rag or wash cloth. Or use a wet rag or wash cloth if you can’t use a hose. Do it when the sun is shining so they will dry quickly. Of course during winter crape myrtles loose their leaves anyway.

    You can use neem oil to kill the aphids when they appear, but unfortunately you are not here during that time as you say. If they are left untreated every year you will continue to have this problem. Aphids can harm your plant if they become an infestation.

    As far as the growth of the trunks, it could be from improper pruning done in January or no pruning done at all at that time. I don’t know how old your crape myrtle is and what kind it is. They do also come in forms as shrubs or small trees, compared to the larger ones usually found in landscaping. If it is a shrub, that is probably why it grows outward. Trees grow more upward. If it is a tree and has been pruned improperly from the beginning and like that every year, it will stay growing in the shape or form it has been trained to from pruning.

    Than you for your comment,

    Kurt

  21. We live in Central FL and have three nice Crepe Myrtles. What is the best fertilizer to use and when is the right time to apply.
    Thanks,
    Mark Hart

  22. Mark,
    The best time to fertilize Crape Myrtle trees in central Florida is in the spring. However, it can be done in the summer, no later then September. They should not be fertilized in the winter months.

    Mature, well established trees only need to be done one time a year. Young trees can be done two times a year. Newly planted Crape Myrtles need to be fertilized within the first 30 days of planting, and up to 3 times in the first year.

    Use a slow-release granular All Purpose Tree and Shrub fertilizer. The information listed on the bag will tell you how much to apply per tree. Broadcast it around the tree where the roots extend outward. Avoid pilling it up against the trunk.

    Mature Crape myrtle trees that are in the middle of a lawn can receive nutrients from granular lawn fertilizer, since their roots can extend out into the lawn. If this is the case and has been done recently, take that in consideration. If the lawn is treated with granular fertilizer following a regular program of treatments, they might not need any at all. Trees in other locations will need to be fertilized.

    Thanks,

    Kurt

  23. Kurt,

    I recently moved to Florida from Ohio. There are several crape myrtles in my yard. One of them is growing next to the base of a Live Oak that is growing next to a very large Cherry Laurel. It has five or six branches coming out of the ground, and it managed to have a few blooms this past summer. It doesn’t seem to get much sun and I am surprised that it actually bloomed although the blooms were wimpy. t am wondering if I should cut all of the branches coming out of the ground and leave just one, or just the whole thing down, and dig it up. Obviously it has survived for several years but it looks pitiful. Any suggestions. Mary

  24. Mary,

    Your Crape Myrtle underneath the large trees is definitely not getting enough sun. IT should have never been planted in that location, Crape Myrtles require full sun and good air circulation to do their best.

    You can transplant it to a better location, otherwise remove it from your landscape. If you decide to transplant it, wait until springtime has arrived and cold weather has ended.

    As far as your other Crape Myrtles in your landscape, now is a good time to trim them. Make sure they are done correctly as explained in my article. If you feel uncomfortable about doing it yourself, I would recommend hiring a reputable landscaping company that does them the right way. Many landscapers don’t, so be sure they will before choosing them. Many of them cut them back as shown in the picture in my article, which is not recommended by the state of Florida Extension service.

    If they are well established fully mature and have been pruned improperly over the years from the time they were young, unfortunately they have already grown to the shape they have been pruned to. Improper pruning can cause “Knuckles” to form on the tree and it can effect them from not blooming their best.

    Thank you for your comment, feel free to ask me any more questions you have.

    Kurt

  25. Carolyn,

    Judging from your description it is most likely “Black Sooty Mold”. This is caused by the insects called Aphids. Aphids secrete droplets containing a sugary solution called “Honey Dew”, which eventually turns into a black mold on leaves and stems.

    Treat your Crape Myrtle with an insecticide. Products are sold at garden centers. Choose an insecticide with Aphids listed on the label. I prefer to use an insecticide that is considered to be “Systemic”. Follow directions on the label for the best results.

    After the insects are gone the mold probably won’t just disappear. It can be removed by using a hose or by hand with a wet wash cloth.

    I have information on Crape Myrtle care for pests and problems in my article “Crape Myrtle Tree Care” that should be helpful. The article is under Site Categories – Trees, on the second page of the category. This information can also apply to Crape Myrtle bushes.

    Thank you for your comment, any other questions feel free to ask.

    Kurt

  26. It is the middle of April and I could not decide what to do with my crape myrtle, i.e. when and how to cut it back. (in the past it has been topped) ..too many different recommendations. Help! What should I do at this stage, if anything. We live in Palm Coast, Florida. A neighbor cuts the limbs under the knobs. I wanted to just trim it but I can’t reach all the branches. So far, I have not been able to find a landscaper that will do as you suggest. Thank you.

  27. Ellen,
    The Crape Myrtle should have been trimmed at the end of January or beginning of February. It is better to do it before new growth appears. You can do some light pruning, but I would wait until the end of may.

    As far as how to trim it, the information in my article is what the state of Florida recommends. When Crape Myrtles are cut back like in the picture, their natural form is ruined and cannot be returned. Plus they will produce less flowers than they should by doing that.
    Crape Myrtles are planted in mediums along county roads, and the county sometimes don’t trim them at all and they look great during the summer.

    If you can’t find a landscaper that trims them correctly call your local extension service and possibly they can recommend someone. Unfortunately I have found most landscaping companies trim them back all the way, because it’s easier and faster for them to use a chain saw and hack them down. This way they make more money, less time more money for them. Or they don’t know how to do it any other way

    Kurt

  28. Hello,
    I have a Muskogee Crape Myrtle that was planted last June. I scrapped the truck in early spring and it was green. Then we got a late frost and now the truck is brown. I have suckers coming up from the bottom (in the ground, not bottom of truck) What do I do?
    Thank you!

  29. Nicole,
    It sounds like it has been severely damaged from cold weather, especially if there was a hard freeze. Scrape the roots and check for green tissue. If you find any it is still alive, if not then it is dead.

    If it is still alive you can treat it with liquid fungicide, by thoroughly ground soaking the roots. You can do this by using a bucket. Plus, you can spread granular fertilizer around the roots and water it in with a hose. Hopefully it will bounce back.

    Kurt

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