How and When to Prune Crape Myrtles

By: Julie Day
Heavily pruned crape myrtle.

Are you guilty of “crape murder” like this when pruning your crape myrtles?

Driving through town recently, I saw the inevitable signs of spring: blooming daffodils, earthy-smelling mulch, and “crape murder.”

“Crape murder” is the common and unnecessary practice of lopping off the branches of a perfectly lovely crape myrtle, cutting them back to bare twigs of uniform height. Since crape myrtles bloom on new wood (this year’s growth), it’s believed that whacking off ALL the branches will result in an extra flush of growth, and therefore more blooms.

However, this severe annual pruning is really not needed. For the first few years, it might look great, but eventually you’ll end up with knobby, scarred stems and bunchy branches – like those above – that are vulnerable to diseases and pests.

Light pruning is all that’s needed to keep your crape myrtle in shape and blooming like a champ. So how should you prune a crape myrtle the right way? Here’s what you need to know to get – and keep – the crape myrtles in your yard in top shape.

Small shrub sized variety of crape myrtle.

Choose a crape myrtle variety that will stay the size you need.

Shopping for Crape Myrtles

The absolute best way to prune crape myrtles is to not prune them at all! You can avoid many pruning headaches simply by planting the right variety. There are many different kinds of crape myrtles available, from bushy dwarfs with many small stems to graceful small trees with thicker trunks.

Choose your plants carefully and pick varieties that fit your space and needs. Planting under a window? Look for a dwarf variety like “Delta Blush” or “Chica Red.” Want a very small tree beside your driveway? Try “Hopi” or “Zuni.”

Varieties such as “Dynamite” and “Natchez” form trees upwards of 20-30 feet tall, so plant these in an open location, and don’t try to keep them small.

Crape myrtle covered in blooms.

Crape myrtle covered in blooms.

When to Prune Crape Myrtles

The best time to prune crape myrtles is in late winter, before they start growing. Avoid pruning in the fall, since pruning can stimulate the growth of sprouts that may be killed by the coming cold weather.

If your crape myrtle blooms before mid-July, deadheading it (cutting off the dead blooms as soon as they fade) can often make it bloom again.

How to Prune Dwarf or Shrubby Crape Myrtles

Multi-stemmed, shrubby crape myrtles usually don’t need pruning at all, unless they’re growing unevenly. And then, you just need to thin out crowded branches and head back wayward stems.

How to Prune Larger Tree-Form Crape Myrtles

Follow these steps to prune medium and large tree-form varieties of crape myrtle:

Removing suckers on crape myrtle trunk.

  1. Remove Suckers: Suckers are sprouts that emerge from the base or roots of the plant, ruining the graceful shape that’s desired for crape myrtles. Remove suckers by cutting them off flush, or by ripping them downward so that you remove the base of the sucker as well.

Shaped trunks on crape myrtles.

  1. Shape Trunks: If your crape myrtle is overgrown, select three to five main trunks to keep, and remove all other trunks at the base. Choose trunks that do not touch each other and that arch nicely to produce an attractive overall tree shape.

Pruning crape myrtle to thin branches.

  1. Thin Branches: Next, “limb up” the tree by removing the branches on the bottom third to half of the crape myrtle. Also remove any top branches that are crowded or rubbing and any dead wood. Cut branches off at the base to keep them from growing back.

Heading back a branch on crape myrtle.

  1. Head Back: To encourage branching, prune long, leggy branches back to a branch junction. They will sprout the heaviest at the cut site, so prune them back to an open spot in the interior of the tree. Do this carefully to prevent a lot of stubby stems, and plan your cuts so the new growth will fill in where needed.

Further Information

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6 Comments on “How and When to Prune Crape Myrtles”

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  • Winston Says:
    November 23rd, 2016 at 8:32 pm

    My Crape Myrtles are about 25 feet tall and are 20 years old. I have about 20 and only pruned them once. I would like to cut them way down so the flowers can be seen when they bloom. How much should I trim off. I am going to use a small chain saw.



  • Diane Milligan Says:
    July 15th, 2016 at 7:13 am

    I have a beautiful Crepe Myrtle treewith lots of blooms. In the last few days they are looking sick. What can I do to have more beautiful blooms this season? Thank you,



  • Debbra gore Says:
    December 22nd, 2015 at 12:21 pm

    Wish I’d have read this before I got started but…..at least I read before I completed my task. I have the tree like crepe. It’s at least 7-8 ft tall. Maybe more. But not bushy and lately has only bloomers on top of branches. Sooooo……I’m trimming. But….I’ll wait to finds. On to the hibiscus.



  • Mike Says:
    October 25th, 2015 at 8:14 am

    I have several young crepe myrtles about 8′ tall. I want them to create a canopy about 6′ high over time. When should I start pruning the trunks and lower branches? It seems strange to trim the bottom branches when all the branches are 3-4′ high.



  • David Dunlap Says:
    August 26th, 2015 at 6:25 pm

    Well we just moved into our new home this past Jan. 14. And we discovered a young Crepe, so this is going to be my first attempt to seed, cutting and cleaning up a bit and may even try my hand at trying to bonsai a cutting. I will let you know how I do. Leslie can probably catch a video on youtube on how to trim crepes. But I do appreciate your good advice for this novice at Crepe Myrtles.

    David



  • Leslie Boone Says:
    October 25th, 2014 at 8:12 am

    I would love to see a video on pruning a crape myrtle trees. Reading is great but showing is much better.


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