Question of the Week – Number One: December 17, 2020

“Will topping my crape myrtle help it bloom better?”

For all of my career I’ve been trying with all my heart and soul, words and breaths to convince Texans that topping crape myrtles is really bad business.

“Topping” involves the barbaric whacking of trunks and branches, usually done annually, that results in ugly “knuckles” of stem growth. There is never any redeeming reason to do this. Would we ever consider doing it to any of our other shade or flowering trees? I don’t think so.

• Topping does not encourage more flowering. What it does do is stimulate vigorous vegetative regrowth, which results in very large flower heads that cannot be supported by the fresh and supple stems.

• Topping also slows down the first blooms of the summer by 4 to 6 weeks. You’ll usually get at least one fewer rounds of flowers if you top your plants.

• Topping ruins crape myrtles’ natural growth forms forever. The scars never disappear. They leave telltale crooks or knuckles in their trunks for the five months that they’re bare every winter. No matter how carefully you try to prune to correct it in the ensuing years, the evidence will always be there.

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The one way to turn things around…
The best possible way to salvage topped crape myrtles is to cut them completely to the ground and allow new and straight shoots to develop. You can then retrain the plants into the forms they should have had.

To your specific question…
The ways you encourage better blooming with crape myrtles are (a) by adding nitrogen fertilizer and (b) by watering faithfully. They produce their flowerbuds on new growth, and the nitrogen and moisture (along with full sun) are the best ways to promote it.

Please don’t ever top a crape myrtle. There is no justification for it. Ever. If you have a plant that is growing too tall for the space where it’s planted, either move or remove it. But don’t ever top it.

For lots more information on choosing and using crape myrtles in your landscape, we invite you to visit the website of our Crape Myrtle Trails of McKinney.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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