a tree with pink flowers

How To Properly Prune a Crape Myrtle

Do's and Dont's For Proper Crape Myrtle Pruning

A crape myrtle is a gorgeous accent, perfect for just about any landscaping solution. In the summer, they bloom with gorgeous, sweet-smelling flowers and have a beautiful and interestingly textured bark. In the autumn, long cool fall months yield incredible displays of leaf color. Here are some quick tips for proper Crape Myrtle Pruning.

However, they do require some maintenance - and proper care is crucial to bringing out the best of these beautiful plants. Incorrect pruning methods can lead to gnarls and large knots in the bark, weak branches, and poor bark health, among many other problems.

So we've put together a quick guide on the dos and don'ts for proper crape myrtle maintenance.

What is Crape Murder?

The phrase quite simply refers to improper pruning by cutting the tops out of your crapes. This is a copy cat crime. One person sees a neighbor or maybe even a "professional" company doing it so that person thinks they need to do it to their own crape.


There is not a horticultural expert in the south that will argue for topping crape myrtles.

  • What is topping? Topping is the process of removing significant amounts of plant growth, lopping off a large portion of a limb, and leaving a stub behind. These stubs often have problems healing correctly, and if they fail to close their wounds, decay can easily seep into the tops of the crape myrtle. These weakened branches have issues supporting healthy flowers and can result in broken, rotting limbs.
  • The more I chop, the more blooms I get right? WRONG. Don't over-trim in an attempt to promote more flower growth. Excessive pruning and trimming beyond "deadheading" (the removal of the flower alone) does not encourage further flower growth, and weakens the tree, leading to an unattractive appearance and potential health risks. Crape myrtles do flower on new growth. Growth is coming in spite of us, not because of our pruning. The tree needs structural strength to support new growth.
  • Don't trim just for the heck of it - the knots resulting from over pruning lead to dense bulbous new growth. These clusters trap the Georgia heat and reduce air flow becoming a breading grounds for aphids and other harmful diseases. The more air flow through the foliage, the stronger the tree will be. If you like how your crape myrtle looks, you don't need to do anything beyond removing basal suckers, and trimming away any small branches that look unappealing to you.


A crape myrtle does need maintenance, especially if you're looking to maintain a more "tree-like" form in your crape myrtle. Here are some quick tips on what to do if you're looking to trim and prune your crape myrtle correctly.

When should I prune?

If you decide pruning is best, prune your crape myrtle in winter. Crape myrtle flowers on new growth, so winter is an ideal time to trim down your flowering shrub and put it in the best position for new growth during the spring. Remember new growth is coming and does not require cuts.

What do I prune?

Prune the base and lower limbs of crape myrtle, as well as branches that are growing inward, if desired. This will allow you to expose the large, handsomely-barked trunk of the shrub.

  • Remove basal suckers, crossing branches, and twiggy growth where desired
  • Allow the top of the shrub to grow and flower freely
  • Trim away flowers during the growing season to encourage a second, lighter growth, if desired.


Just because you have a friend or a neighbor who works at a nursery doesn't mean they know what's best for your crape myrtle - these tips and pruning advice are directly from the experts at NCSU and Michael Dirr, a horticultural expert at UGA.

Properly maintained, a crape myrtle is gorgeous - but if you fail to take care of it correctly, or "top" and over prune it, you'll encounter problems including weak limbs, rotten and gnarly bark, decreased airflow leading to aphid and other insect infestations, and poor flower growth.

So read up, get knowledgeable, and take care of your myrtle - correctly.

And if you'd rather leave it to a professional, contact O'Neill Landscape Group today. Whether you're looking to keep your myrtle tree-like, or just want to encourage plenty of healthy summer blooms, we're horticultural experts and can help you take care of all of your landscape maintenance and pruning needs.

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