Are my crape myrtles dead?

inaleaMay 11, 2011

We just moved into this house last August and the crape myrtles were beautiful when we moved in. I've never had crape myrtles before. I did some research and saw that they are one of the last shrubs to get their leaves in the spring, but surely they should start showing some life by now.

We are near Grove in NE Oklahoma and we had 25"+ of snow and temps of almost 20 below this past winter. My crape myrtles still look totally dead, except that there are some sprouts coming up at the bottom of each one.

Should I cut away all the dead parts? Am I starting all over with just the little sprouts? They were over 6 feet tall and I hate to think that they are gone after only getting to enjoy them for a couple of months last summer. Is it just my bad luck that we had a hard enough winter to do that to them, my first year here?

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I think it was probably the -22 temperature we had rather than the snowfall. I don't have crepe myrtle, but my neighbor has 3 that were about 8 feet tall last year. He sawed them back to about 2 feet tall and now they are greening up and growing. This is the first year I have seen them die back.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2011 at 4:40PM
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mksmth zone 6b Tulsa Oklahoma(6b)

mine got to about 7 feet last year and I was planning to let them grow from there instead of doing the crepe murder rout. Mine are doing the same as yours and the top limbs snap like fire kindling. we had -teens this year so that my have done them in also. they are showing signs of growth about 3 feet up so thats where I cut them back to.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2011 at 4:54PM
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helenh(z6 SW MO)

All my crepe myrtles are coming up from the roots. In the south the woody part of the plant survives the winter. In my area, I am about 25 miles from Grove, sometimes crepe myrtles make it for several years, then a cold winter comes and the tops have to be trimmed off. You will be surprised how big the plant will grow from those bottom sprouts. Some people in my area cut them down to the ground every year. I love the beautiful bark and wood, but I can't depend on it here.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2011 at 4:55PM
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sammy zone 7 Tulsa

I have 12 crape myrtles, and have had them for years and years. I always cut mine down to about 4 feet, then they grow a size I like that goes well with my roses.

This year nothing has appeared on the canes. The growth is coming from the ground, and they will be beautiful. I asked on the Trees Forum about getting rid of the older tree trunks -- using my electric saw. A respondent said to use it, then make a final cut with a very good hand saw.

My plan is to cut "V" shapes in the trunks because my saw will vibrate like crazy if I try to saw the trunks across. If someone has a better plan, I would love to know about it.


    Bookmark   May 11, 2011 at 5:57PM
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Sammy. if you are using a recip saw, push against the limb with the foot of the saw, run at high speed and feed very slowly. A fine tooth blade will not grab or hang as bad as a course blade, and if it has the wobble action, turn it off and just use the straight line action. Cutting on the high side of the limb will reduce pinching.


    Bookmark   May 11, 2011 at 8:17PM
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sammy zone 7 Tulsa

Larry, my name is rather misleading. I am female 5 ft.2". I am not too strong, and my saw is a Black and Decker hand saw that has two batteries.

It is great to use for the small limbs on crape myrtles, and for cutting back rose bushes. But trying to cut out these large stalks of wood will be a challenge.

It seems like the higher I go, the more it vibrates. I did cut some of the large trunks earlier in the season, but none were as large as what I have to cut now.

Considering what type of saw that I have, should I put the base of that saw on the trunk? I wear goggles, and am very careful with it. I thought carving it down would be the most logical way to cut them. This will be a huge chore because each crape myrtle has 3-5 trunks.

I would appreciate any adivce I can get here. I guess I don't quite understand what you are suggesting.


    Bookmark   May 11, 2011 at 9:14PM
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I'm in central Oklahoma and our temps were low but didn't reach the extreme lows that you got up there. Even so, the crepe myrtle I planted last year is also coming out from the ground and there is some growth on the very bottom of the old limbs. I'm trimming off the upper limbs that are bare. But have no fear .... crepe myrtles are pretty resilient and usually fairly fast growers, so they'll be tall again eventually. Hopefully it will be years before you get extreme low temps like that again.


    Bookmark   May 11, 2011 at 9:33PM
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Sammy, I'm not sure of the type of saw you have. The type of saw I thought you were talking about would be like the one I use for this type of project, which is a craftsman #17549. I have 3 saws of this design, but only the craftsman is battery powered. Blades can be purchased up to 12" long and can through most anything. I have even cut through 3" cast iron sewer pipe with a Lenox blade.

Do you have a friend with a chain saw?

You may be better off with a bow saw.


    Bookmark   May 11, 2011 at 10:18PM
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I have a 20ft 25 year old and a 15 ft 8 year old crepe myrtles and thought both were dead as they were putting up shoots from the roots. I figured I would have to cut them down. THEN in two days (Monday and Tuesday this week) leaves popped out all the way to the top of both of them. So I am glad I waited. I am in Adair Co tho. but if I were you I would give them a couple more weeks and then cut if they don't leaf out.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2011 at 11:42PM
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Thanks everyone! I think I will wait another week or two, just to be sure. But it's good to know that even if I am starting over, they should grow back fairly quickly. I was so excited to finally have some, then thought they were goners after our first year here! My hummingbirds loved them last summer.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2011 at 9:35AM
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