The bad pruning practice called "crape murder" produces ugly knobs on the tree.

The bad pruning practice called "crape murder" produces ugly knobs on the tree.

A bad pruning technique called "crape murder" is often used on crape myrtle. It's not advised because it misshapes the tree, promotes weak branch attachments, encourages insects and disease and does not accent the qualities of the four seasons of a wonderful landscape tree, according to Virginia Cooperative Extension experts.

Unfortunately bad role models for this poor practice are seen around Hampton Roads, Virginia, and other parts of the country where the tree flourishes.

Crape myrtle has become one of the South's most popular landscape plants, thanks to its 100 days of summer flowers in colors like pink, red, white and purples.

It's also become the South's most mistreated plant.

Lopping off the top of crape myrtle causes ugly "knuckles" where you get a disproportionate bud break -- instead of two to three bud breaks per stem, you get a proliferation of 10, 15, even 20.

Your summer cloud of flower power suddently brews problems, such as:

  • Too many flowers vying for nutrients from the root system.
  • Masses of blooms that block air and light getting to the foliage, making everything susceptible to powdery mildew.
  • Succulent stems that spider mites and aphids love to attack.
  • Branaches that become willowy and weak, causing them to bend and break when summer rains collect in the flowers.

Instead of whacking your crape myrtle yearly, prune selectively to remove only crossing and rubbing branches so they don't grow into each other. Disased and dying branches should also go.

You can also leave those teeny twigs and old blooms on the tree because the plant will produce foliage and flowers just fine.

Before you purchase a crape myrtle for your yard this year, consider where you plan to plant it and choose accordingly.

If you plant a crape myrtle meant to grow 25 feet tall and you annually prune it to keep it 10 feet tall, you planted the wrong variety. Crape myrtles come in all sizes, from small shrubs to big trees, so look at the labels and ask your garden center expert to help you choose the right one.

It's best to plant crape myrtles away from driveways, sidewalks, patios and pools because the flowers drop petals that become mess over time. The petals also leave behind a stain on hard surfaces.

  • You can download a publication on how to prune crape myrtles and other help pruning tips under "horticultural publications" through the York County cooperative extension office at www.yorkcounty.gov/vce.
  • Smithfield//// Gardens, Route 17, Suffolk; register at 238-2511.

 

Posted by Kathy Van Mullekom; kvanmullekom@aol.com