Take an afternoon drive through any residential area of town and you’re likely to see at least one line of crepe myrtles with bushy pink, red, purple or white flowers. These eye-catching trees, which bloom best in warm climates, sure seem to love Dallas. And, on the whole, Dallasites love them back.

Unfortunately, however, there are some people guilty of what has been termed “crepe murder” – an awful horticultural crime that refers to severely pruning the top portion of each tree. This atrocity, also known as “topping,” tends to have a copycat effect. One homeowner spots another using the technique and pretty soon the whole neighborhood is filled with not-so-attractive knobs.

Arborists know that the practice has a detrimental effect not only on the trees’ beauty, but also their health, structural integrity and longevity. While this style of pruning may initially result in larger blooms, the next batch of flowers grows in on thin, weak branches that droop and often break. Furthermore, topping predisposes the plant to diseases and exposes it to dangerous insects. As you can see, it’s for good reason that arborists describe the act as criminal…

If you currently have crepe myrtles – or if you’re considering adding them to your landscape design – you’ll be happy to learn that when properly placed, these low-maintenance plants actually need little or no pruning. If and when your crepes do need attention, Moore Tree Care recommends two ways to properly care for them (and avoid the plant penitentiary for yourself). They are termed Natural Pruning and NewWood Pruning.

The first, Natural Pruning, involves minimal annual shaping that consists primarily of thinning overcrowded canes; removing broken, diseased, dead or conflicting branches; and lifting lower limbs as needed for safety or to enhance the view of the exfoliating lower trunks. This method’s main concern is an appreciation for the graceful shape of each individual tree.

The second, NewWood Pruning, is named after crepe myrtles’ habit to bloom on the newly formed wood of the current growing season. This technique involves carefully and systematically pruning the tree to maximize production of strong, new wood and thereby, large, abundant flower clusters. After removing weak and misplaced branches, the gardener then reduces last year’s growth back to pencil diameter stems 6-8″ long, usually 3-4 nodes.

A third acceptable, but not recommended, pruning approach for crepe myrtles is called pollarding. This method is attempted by many, but done well by few. In addition, only a few tree species respond well to this pruning approach and crepe myrtles, according to experts at Moore Tree Care, is not one of them.

For more information on how to make your crepe myrtles the beauties of the block, visit Moore Tree Care at MooreTree.com or the National Gardening Association at garden.org. You can also find details about all 29 crepe myrtle species at the U.S. National Arboretum website, usna.usda.gov.

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