How To Prune Crepe Myrtle Correctly (Plus What NOT To Do)

The crepe myrtle is a popular element in gardens, admired for its striking flowers and elegant appearance. However, maintaining these lovely trees requires regular attention from a skilled gardener.

Pruning, a vital part of tree care, can seem daunting to the uninitiated. Fear not! This guide is here to demystify the process. So, roll up your sleeves, grab your pruning shears, and let’s explore the world of crepe myrtle pruning!

Key Takeaways

  • Pruning serves to control the size and shape of your crepe myrtle, remove dead or diseased wood, encourage flowering, and improve air circulation within the canopy.
  • Heading back pruning, selective pruning, and deadheading spent flowers are effective techniques for different pruning goals.
  • Avoid harmful practices such as topping, excessive branch removal, and pruning during the wrong season.
  • After pruning, provide proper aftercare including adequate watering, mulching, and regular monitoring for signs of disease or pests.

Don’t leave the care of your crepe myrtle to chance. Gain expert insights and guidance from my comprehensive article, Crepe Myrtle Care and Maintenance, to ensure your tree receives the best care possible.

Pruning Basics

Pruning is more than just cutting off branches. It’s a strategic practice aimed at promoting the health, aesthetics, and productivity of your trees. Let’s explore the basics:

Purpose of Pruning

Pruning serves several purposes. It can control the size and shape of your crepe myrtle, remove dead or diseased wood, encourage flowering, and improve air circulation within the canopy.

Benefits of Pruning Crepe Myrtles

Pruning crepe myrtles can enhance their natural form, promote more vigorous blooms, and increase their life span by removing diseased or pest-infested branches.

It also allows you to manage the tree’s size and shape to suit your landscape design.

Pruning Tools Required

The right tools make all the difference. For pruning crepe myrtles, you’ll need:

Always ensure your tools are sharp and clean to make precise cuts and prevent disease transmission.

Best Time To Prune Crepe Myrtles

Timing is crucial when it comes to pruning. For crepe myrtles, the best time to prune is late winter or early spring just before new growth begins.

This timing allows you to see the tree’s structure clearly without the leaves getting in the way and encourages vigorous growth and blooming in the upcoming season.

However, the removal of dead or diseased wood can be done at any time of the year as soon as you notice it.

The bare tops of two crepe myrtle trees on a cloudy winter day.

Pruning Techniques for Crepe Myrtles

Different pruning techniques serve different purposes. Understanding these techniques will help you make the best decisions for your crepe myrtles.

Heading Back Pruning

Heading back pruning involves reducing the length of the branches to control the size of the tree and encourage bushier growth.

Pruning Goals: Control tree height, encourage denser foliage, and stimulate growth of new shoots.


  1. Identify the branch you want to shorten.
  2. Locate a bud or side branch facing the direction you want the new growth to go.
  3. Using your pruners, make a clean cut about 1/4 inch above the bud or side branch.
  4. Be careful not to leave a large stub above the bud as this can lead to disease.

Selective Pruning

Selective pruning is a more careful and thoughtful process. It involves removing specific branches for the health, aesthetics, or productivity of the tree.

Pruning Goals: Improve tree shape, remove diseased or damaged wood, increase air circulation, and enhance flowering.


  1. Identify the branches you want to remove. These could be dead, diseased, crossing or rubbing against each other, or growing in undesired directions.
  2. Make a clean cut at the base of the branch, close to the trunk or a main branch.
  3. Be careful not to damage the branch collar (the swollen area at the base of the branch) as this helps the tree heal after pruning.

Deadheading Spent Flowers

Deadheading is the process of removing spent flowers. This can encourage a second bloom in crepe myrtles and keeps the tree looking tidy.

Pruning Goals: Encourage a second bloom, improve aesthetics, and prevent disease.


  1. Identify spent flowers. These are blooms that have faded and are starting to dry out.
  2. Using your pruners, cut the flower cluster off just below the base.
  3. Be careful not to cut into the new buds below the spent flowers as these will be your next round of blooms.

What To Avoid When Pruning Crepe Myrtles

While pruning is essential for maintaining the health and aesthetics of your crepe myrtles, certain practices can do more harm than good. Here are some things to avoid:

1. Topping or “Crepe Murder”

Topping, often referred to as “crepe murder,” is a harmful practice that involves cutting back all the branches of a tree to stubs. This practice is detrimental because it:

  • Disrupts the natural form of the tree and results in a less aesthetically pleasing shape.
  • Causes the tree to produce a flush of weak, thin branches that are more susceptible to breaking.
  • Stresses the tree and makes it more vulnerable to diseases and pests.
  • Can lead to a shorter life span for the tree.

Instead of topping, consider selective pruning or heading back pruning to control the size and shape of your crepe myrtle.

2. Excessive Branch Removal

While it’s important to remove dead, diseased, or crossing branches, removing too many branches at once can stress the tree and hinder its growth.

As a general rule, try not to remove more than one-third of a tree’s branches in a single pruning session. If a tree requires heavy pruning, it’s better to spread it out over several years.

3. Pruning During the Wrong Season

The timing of pruning can significantly impact the health and growth of your crepe myrtle.

Pruning during late summer or fall can stimulate new growth that won’t have time to harden off before winter, making it susceptible to cold damage.

It’s best to prune crepe myrtles in late winter or early spring just before new growth begins.

Aftercare and Maintenance

After pruning your crepe myrtle, it’s important to provide proper aftercare to ensure the tree recovers well and thrives. Here are some tips:

  • Cleaning Up: Disinfect and airdry your tools before putting them away. Pick up and dispose of all limb, twig, and leaf debris. Do not compost diseased plant matter.
  • Watering: After pruning, ensure the tree receives adequate water, especially during dry periods.
  • Mulching: Apply a layer of organic mulch around the base of the tree to help conserve moisture and suppress weeds.
  • Monitoring: Keep an eye on your tree for signs of disease or pest infestation. If you notice anything unusual, take action promptly to address the issue.

That’s a Wrap!

Pruning is an essential part of crepe myrtle care, allowing you to shape your tree, promote vibrant blooms, and maintain its overall health.

While it may seem daunting at first, with the right knowledge and tools, you can master the art of pruning.

Remember that the goal is not perfection but progress. Each cut is a learning opportunity, and each season brings a new chance to grow alongside your crepe myrtle.

Happy gardening!

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