Don’t Commit Crape Murder

Don’t Commit Crape Murder

It’s a horticultural crime.  A serious crime.  One with lasting repercussions on the garden and your landscape. What is crape murder? It is the unnatural and unsightly mass pruning of wonderful crape myrtle trees.  These garden trees are hacked down in the prime of life destroying what could potentially be an amazing tree. 

Why do people desecrate such a noble tree?  I hope it is only ignorance.  People for years have trimmed them in this fashion and turned them into lollipops of color.  If you drive through commercial developments you will find many magnificent myrtles murdered in what can only be an ill conceived notion that it looks nice.  OK maybe that’s just my opinion but if you ask me crape myrtles should be allowed to freely express their “inner treeness”.  They should be allowed to stretch into the sky in the fashion that mother nature intended and not pruned into a stubby little shrub.

Go natural!  Keep the suckers away and allow the tree to grow into a 3-5 trunk landscape focal point.  Crape myrtles flower on new wood which is why they are frequently pruned so dramatically but you completely lose the winter bark interest that develops over time. As the trunk gets thicker smooth multicolored peeling bark forms.  Topping the crape myrtle will create thick lower trunks and spindly upper trunks which in the winter look very unnatural without the bark interest.

The Clemson University Extension has a couple of great pictures on their site that illustrate crape myrtle pruning.  The first picture on their page shows one trimmed properly into a natural looking form while the second one shows the results of tree topping.  I know which method I prefer, how about you?


Dave has written since 2007. He gardens on an acre and a half where he raises his 5 children. He enjoys growing vegetables, herbs, and propagating plants. Dave works as a real estate agent in Spring Hill, TN.

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. It’s a crime around here too. They are pitiful looking. I planted 6 of them in my new yard and can’t wait to see them grow into real beauties. Great post.

  2. Thanks Dave for a great post. I just planted a very small myrtle {red} & I don't intend to murder it at all. I like the natural growth. Most around here are butchered horribly. Most are seeding now.

  3. Well, I kind of felt sick for a minute. I only pruned one of my three. Uh, was going to do the other two, but will wait and see what happens come spring. The city always prunes there’s, that is what I have been following. Blind leading the blind I guess.

  4. Like Darla, I pruned our myrtles the first year we were in this house. Then upon noticing some not pruned, I have let my go alanatural… I think they prune them around business so the passer bys can see the business…

  5. People continue to scalp those gorgeous trees! Dave if you want to see a beautiful crape myrtle display…you have to visit Cheekwood!


  6. Thanks Anna!

    What kind of crape myrtles did you plant? There are so many varieties out there now from the dwarf types to the tree types.


    Is it one of the dwarf varieties? I’ve looked at a few of those this year but never got one. Most of ours, and we have about 5, are from cuttings or offshoots.


    It’s OK! Many people do that because it’s what they see everywhere else. The more natural forms look much nicer to me.


    I think you’re right about commercial businesses and pruning. Unfortunately they don’t have the space to let them go natural. That’s where planting a dwarf form would benefit them. Right plant right place!


    You’re right! I need to get up there next summer, and spring, and fall… 😉

  7. Dave, I posted about this on my blog a while back. It’s (C. Murder) a common occurrence in the Nation’s capital. Yep. Thank you for taking up the banner and helping to spread the word. I think maybe we should take up a collection and drop leaflets from planes over the entire growing area. What do you think? If you want to read my post, you can find it here in my other blog, back before I had a garden blog: Murder

  8. I wish we could GROW them here! (too cold) Lowe’s had some marked way down at the end of the season and I nearly bought one. I was going to keep it potted and keep it in our unheated garage over the winter, but decided I didn’t really need it. Now if I could have put it in the ground, that would have been another matter. I love crape myrtles!

  9. I long to grow crepe myrtle here; and I mean a real tree crepe myrtle, like what you’re talking about Dave. I’d never “desecrate” mine if it were possible to grow one. As far as I know, they’re only hardy to zone 6, and that’s pushin it from what I hear. I’ve heard tell of folks a little south of here, say around the Burg, who claim they can grow them. But come to find out, they’re really just growin a crepe myrtle shrub.

  10. Kim,

    What an awful sight your picture was! Those stubby little stalks lining the sidewalk are the perfect example of why it is so wrong to prune a maple that way!


    Every now and then an extremely hard freeze will kill off a crape myrtle to the ground, then it comes back. They’re pretty strong trees and you might be able to chance it in a zone 5 area if they have good winter sun to keep them warm and perhaps a layer of stone for mulch. Sometimes you can cheat a zone! It might be possible to keep them and just expect for them to dieback to the ground each year.


    Much of TN is zone 6 and the crape myrtles do well. It might be possible to cheat the zone if you don’t expect a whole lot from it! Creating a microclimate suitable for the crape myrtle might help.

  11. They are such a great tree and it’s a shame that they are so mistreated this way. I’ve always allowed mine to just be au natural!

  12. Every time I see one of those murdered crepe myrtles I want to bonk the owner over the head with a pair of loppers! Or maybe it’s a conspiracy by the landscape contractors to get work in the fall. 😉

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