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Caring for Crapemyrtles: Selection and Pruning

Crapemyrtles are definitely an iconic part of the landscape in Florida. However, many people misunderstand the proper way to care for crapemyrtles when it comes to pruning. Learn how to select the right crapemyrtle for your landscape and the best way to prune for a beautiful, healthy tree.

Right Plant, Right Place

Selecting the right plant for the right place is the foundation of a Florida-Friendly Landscape. Choosing the best crapemyrtle to fit your yard is no exception. Depending on which cultivar you have, mature crapemyrtles can reach up to and even over 20 feet in height. That is why it is important to plant it in a space that will accommodate its full height and width, without having to prune to make it fit the space. There are dwarf cultivars that are more shrubby in appearance and only reach about four feet in height.

Next you will want to make sure that the site conditions also match the needs of crapemyrtles. Choose a location that receives full sun and has well drained soil. A bonus is that they are very drought tolerant once established after planting. In addition to choosing the right cultivar for height, you can then select a crapemyrtle for its flower color, bark appearance, and even leaf color. To learn more about the different cultivars available and select the right crapemyrtle for your landscape, check out Crapemyrtle in Florida by Gary Knox.

Pruning Your Crapemyrtle

Photo by Anne Yasalonis

There seems to be a huge misunderstanding when it comes to pruning crapemyrtles. Every winter when they go dormant many people harshly prune the branches, also known as topping or “crape murder”.  However, it turns out this not necessary.

Crapemyrtles are deciduous trees that go dormant, or lose their leaves, in winter. This is a great time to prune younger trees to remove crossing or broken branches. Additionally, the tree can be pruned to improve shape, if desired. Smaller sprouts or “suckers” at the base of the tree can be pruned anytime of the year to maintain the tree form.

One other question when it comes to crapemyrtles and pruning is whether the seed capsules should be removed. While you can tip prune to remove seed capsules, it is not necessary. They will eventually fall off. For more information on pruning recommendations for crapemyrtles take a look at Crapemyrtle Pruning by Gary Knox and Ed Gilman.

Recovering from Crape Murder

If in the past you have been guilty of crape murder, know that you can help your trees to recover. You have two options. The first one involves working with the branches that have sprouted since the last topping prune. Choose a few of the sprouts to become mature branches and pruning away the rest.  The other option is to start all over during the dormant season by pruning the tree to a few inches above the ground. Then allow three to five of the new sprouts to grow and become your new trunks. For more information on these techniques for rehabbing topped crapemyrtles, check out Pruning Crapemyrtles on UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions.

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