Pruning Pointers/Crape Myrtles

If you haven’t seen my Facebook page, I post Garden Tips there several times weekly. Here is one that went up only four days ago, and as I looked at it at 2:30 this afternoon, it had been viewed by 420,000 people! That’s the single biggest response I’ve had in more than 11 years on FB.

Here is a link to that post, but in case you don’t get on Facebook, I’ve copied and pasted what I wrote below.

From the Neil Sperry Facebook page this past Sunday afternoon…

Garden Tip: It’s been 2 years since I posted a Tip here imploring my fellow Texans not to “top” our state’s crape myrtles. There is never a justifiable reason to do so, and it ruins the plants’ growth forms forever.

Excuses I hear:
MY PLANT IS TOO TALL. Then my reply is – either move it or re-move it. Get it to a place where it can grow to its full height without topping or take it out entirely. If you whack it, it will only try to grow back. That’s when those big, ugly knuckles develop.

IT MAKES MY PLANT BLOOM BETTER. That’s just not the case. University research has shown that plants that are topped produce their first blooms 6 to 8 weeks later than plants that were not topped. I can show you thousands of crape myrtles in McKinney that bloom 3 times each summer because they have never been topped. Topped plants also produce giant flower heads that their supple stems cannot support. They flop about gracelessly.

THE COMMERCIAL GUYS ARE DOING IT, SO I FIGURED IT WAS THE RIGHT THING TO DO. Well, those guys are wrong. Odds are, their employers who own the shopping centers or office parks have demanded that they do it, or maybe they’re just basically uninformed. But either way, they’re wrong.

Friends, crape myrtles are my favorite flowering shrubs. I helped found The Crape Myrtle Trails of McKinney. We have planted upwards of 30-40,000 crape myrtles in our city since 1999, and I work with crape myrtles one or two days weekly. I have written much of what you will find on the CMT website, and the photos are mostly mine.

If you are choosing a crape myrtle for your own landscape, please look on the website at the lengthy chart of more than 100 varieties and note the wide diversity of mature heights. You will see plenty of options that will allow you to plant without ever having to worry about topping.

Continued Below

If you have a plant that has previously been topped, perhaps by a prior owner of your house, it can still be salvaged. There are complete instructions on our website about how to accomplish that. They may surprise you.

You will also find detailed information about crape myrtle bark scale and sooty mold, but I don’t believe you’ll find reference to “crape murder.” I’m kinda done with that term. I’m sure you will see it posted as a comment here, however.

Is this a matter of personal rights? Sure it is, and if someone wants to top their crape myrtles, it’s well within their jurisdiction. My goal here is simply to educate, so no need to get defensive.

Just a few photos…
For all those Lizzy Bordens who still want to go out and give their crape myrtles 40 whacks, I thought it might be useful to share a few examples of the ugliness it brings.

Crape myrtles topped on Park Lane at the Tollway in Plano 5-6 years ago.
Along US380 in Denton every winter for years.
How ugly in winter in East McKinney.
Posted by Neil Sperry
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