Weatherford Democrat

January 19, 2014

ASK A MASTER GARDENER: How to best prune a crepe myrtle

Weatherford Democrat

Here are this week’s gardening questions and answers, provided by Parker County Master Gardeners. To submit a question, send it to For more information about Parker County Master Gardeners, or to become a member, call 817-598-6096 or visit

How do you prune a crepe myrtle?

Crepe myrtle is probably the best example of a plant that has adapted well to our area. Although native to Japan, it was introduced in Charleston in the 1700s and likely came to Texas with the first American settlers.

This magnificent shrub is drought-tolerant, insect- and disease-resistant and provides a dramatic effect every month of the year. It has a long summer bloom, great fall foliage and exfoliating bark during the dormant months of winter. It can be used as a specimen plant or in mass plantings, comes in sizes from dwarf to large trees, and has a variety of bloom colors.

Although categorized as a shrub, crepe myrtles have particular needs when it comes to pruning. If you look around you will see many examples of it being pruned by topping, a practice of cutting off all the branches to a height of 4-5 feet and leaving ugly stubs behind. This action most frequently occurs in landscapes maintained by commercial companies. I have asked them why they prune in this manner, and the answer is because everyone else does it.

No other flowering shrub is pruned in this way. The result is an unnatural lollipop look that actually interferes with the healthy growth of the plant.

Research has shown that topping produces fewer blooms and increases the risk of insect damage. The truth is that crepe myrtles need very little pruning. You can correctly prune a crepe myrtle by following these instructions:

• Remove any sucker growth at the base of the plant.

• Cut off any small branches in the lower one third of the plant to reveal the bark and showcase its natural form.

• Selectively prune branches on the interior of the canopy by removing branches that are rubbing on each other. You should remove enough of the interior branches to allow for light and air.