When it comes to the Southern garden, Crepe Myrtles are a must. Their late summer blossoms add beautiful color and a graceful canopy to the garden and their sculptural trunk structure is worthy of the spotlights. But care must be taken to keep them in the best shape or they can become unruly and lose their structure. That means bringing out the loppers and hand pruning shears but, please! Keep your chainsaws in the garage!
I always start at the very bottom of the tree with hand pruners, often having to work my way in to the base by loping off wayward branches. I then work my way up from the bottom, noting the structure of the trunks and working with those. I begin pruning off all lateral offshoots up to about 3-4 feet from the ground and these can be large, thus necessitating the use of loppers. Often, suckers appear with the trunks and they should be removed; they are smaller than the trunks and weak. I am ruthless with those shears! Every now and then I step back to see how the tree is coming along and then continue trimming until I get the shape I desire. I also spend time removing all dead branches and old, dried out blooms. I NEVER trim the tops! The beauty of Crepe Myrtles is in their graceful way of “fanning out” where the blossoms are and the branches must be strong enough to support their weight.
In the South, many a poor tree is “Crepe Murdered” by chopping off all that beautiful foliage, leaving only unsightly knobs and bare trunks. Do not, under any circumstances, subject your Crepe Myrtles to this fate. This ruins their sculptural form, causes weak branches that cannot withstand the weight of the blooms and prevents the tree from developing the beautiful, mottled and flaking bark that adds interest to the winter landscape.
My advice is that you not attempt to control the growth of the plant by severely pruning, but rather by carefully planning your landscape prior to planting and choosing a dwarf variety of Crepe Myrtle that will grow only to 5 to 8 feet.
You can see that with only a couple of hours of time invested and some sweat equity (a gardening necessity in the South), you can restore your Crepe Myrtles to the graceful and lovely specimen trees that add unbeatable beauty and interest to any Southern garden.