Crape Myrtle trees don't need a lot of pruning
A frequent question we get is "How do I prune my Crape Myrtle tree?". Most Crape Myrtle trees do not need much pruning, but you may want to improve their form by judicious pruning.
When should you prune your Crape Myrtle?
When should you prune? Winter is a great time to prune a Crape Myrtle as you can see the branches. Summer's flower buds will form in the spring, so avoid pruning then. You don't want to remove your flower buds! Fall is a good time to prune, but most Crape Myrtles have lovely fall color so you might want to wait until the leaves drop. Minor pruning can be done at any time though.
How much can I remove?
Crape Myrtles are not fast growing, so you should limit your branch removal to no more than 20%. With slow growing varieties, you should remove less if possible. Remember that leaves make the food for the tree, so preserve as many as possible to maximize growth.
In most cases pruning hard isn't necessary for a Crape Myrtle. Hard pruning slows the growth, which means that you get fewer flowers. And weren't those flowers why you planted a Crape Myrtle in the first place?
Pruning too much may also encourage a lot of succulent growth, which in the springtime will likely attract aphids. These little sucking insects leave a sticky mess on leaves and surroundings.
As you prune, make a pile of the twigs next to the tree. Compare the pile to the tree to estimate how much you have removed.
What are your goals for pruning your Crape Myrtle tree?
With all pruning I suggest that you identify your goals before you cut anything. That way, you can address the most important issues first before you get to your removal limit.
Here are some examples of possible pruning goals.
Remove dead or damaged branches
First, remove dead or broken branches. Crape Myrtles are small and have pretty strong wood, so you may not have any dead or broken branches that need to be removed.
Remove suckers, if necessary
Suckers grow from the roots. Crape Myrtles frequently send up suckers, which will be happy to mature into multiple trunks unless you remove them. Multi-trunk or single trunk, either is OK. You choose the form of your tree by removing or not removing suckers.
If you catch them early in the spring, you can rub off the suckers with your fingers. As they grow more you will need pruning shears or perhaps a pruning saw. You will probably need to repeat this every year.
Correct crossing or rubbing branches
Crossing or rubbing branches can cause wounds. One of the great beauties of a Crape myrtle is its lovely, smooth bark, so you don't want to have bark wounds. Where branches cross or rub, choose which branch you want to keep and remove the other.
Control the size or the width of the tree, if necessary
Most Crape Myrtles are small to very small trees, but you may need to prune them to keep them from banging against the house or roof, or from obstructing paths.
Optionally, remove seed pods
No, the seed pods will not reduce bloom next year or cause other problems. You can remove them or not, as you wish.
You can snip them off using pruning shears or a long reach pruner. Leave as much of the twiggy growth as possible, as that is where new flowers form. It is pretty tedious to snip them all off, so feel free to leave them.
A long reach pruner may be helpful for pruning high branches. It works just like a hand pruner, but on a 6-foot shaft.
Here is a nicely pruned Crape Myrtle
The seed pods were removed by carefully cutting the tips of the twiggy branches. It took some care and time to get this effect, but it maintains the normal branching pattern of the tree and looks attractive year round.
Avoid pruning like this
Please do not just chop the branches randomly. If you need to shorten the branch, use your proper pruning cuts, making a thinning cut or reduction cut at a node. This allows the tree to grow on in an organized way bringing extra beauty to your landscape.
This Crape Myrtle was "pruned" by just cutting off the branches below the twiggy growth. This topping causes the branches to sprout multiple new branches off of the ends of the trunks -- not to mention that it reduces the growth of the tree.
The topping was repeated on several occasions causing this unattractive growth form. At some point, the landscape maintenance staff quit topping the tree and let it just grow out.
Topping is a damaging practice that can cause dangerous branch breakage and decay in larger trees, but Crape Myrtles are pretty small and can often close the wounds before decay sets in. But that is no reason to prune like this.
Think first, then prune for good structure and beauty
.Please do not just chop the branches randomly. If you need to shorten the branch, use your proper pruning cuts, making a thinning cut or reduction cut at a node. This allows the tree to grow on in an organized way bringing extra beauty to your landscape. This video shows good pruning cuts.
That being said, Crape Myrtle trees are very tough and they will generally survive, whatever pruning is done to them. But using appropriate cuts will preserve their beauty.