Time is upon us again to prune crape myrtles

As I drove around the city and county for the past two months, I started looking to see who was pruning their crape myrtles.

This practice of pruning starting in late October or early November seems to be a common practice here in the South. I have asked several people how this practice came to be and why. I have gotten reasons all across the spectrum, from "I don't know" to "I think it started in the early '80s.

Well, trying to relay the proper pruning techniques and timing has been a bit of a challenge for me. However, I have noticed that there are places where crape myrtles are left alone, slightly pruned or topped. I have even received calls over the years letting me know the crape myrtles were not hacked back this year. I am truly thankful that a type of change was brought about based on unbiased researched information from UGA Cooperative Extension. On the other hand, I still see "crape murder" appearing not only in this area but most parts of the state.

If you have not butchered your crape myrtles yet, please prune them based on the information in this article. Consider the reasons for pruning a crape myrtle: you can prune to shape or size the tree, to remove undesirable limbs damaged by insects and disease problems or to clear limbs from windows or a fence. Whatever the reason may be, all these things can be accomplished without severe pruning.

While severe pruning may not kill or injure a healthy crepe myrtle tree, it is not as aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Yes, the smooth multicolor bark is a welcome attraction to the winter landscape. However, with proper pruning and/or plant selection, you can enjoy beautiful crape myrtles in the landscape all year long.

One way to avoid severe pruning is to plant dwarf (less than 3 feet) or semi-dwarf (3 to 6 feet) crape myrtle cultivars. If you desire a tree shape, select tall (12 feet and over) cultivars, since this is the desirable feature, or prune out all except one to five branches at ground level. You should remove all side branches up to the level where you want the limbs to start. If you desire a medium size shrub, remove all twiggy growth that is smaller than the size of a pencil, thus stimulating healthy growth in the spring.

Yearly pruning of your crape myrtles in late winter (mid-February) or early spring before the new growth begins depends largely on the size and shape of the shrub you want, and it will increase flower production. However, eliminating the top of the tree to the point where it looks like a stick growing out of the ground is not necessary!

For more information on pruning crape myrtles or a site visit, please contact me at the Dougherty County Extension office or e-mail me at morganjl@uga.edu.

James Morgan is the Urban Horticulture County Extension Agent who works at the Dougherty County Cooperative Extension Office in Albany and can be reached at (229) 436-7216 or morganjl@uga.edu.