When To Prune Crapemyrtle in Virginia?

summerstar(Z7VA)March 12, 2007

I have three 'Tonto' watermelon red variety of crapemyrtle that are about 4 years old and are 5 to 6 feet tall. They look like shrubs, but I would like to train them to have the appearance of a small tree.

Can I do this type of pruning now---in March? And how many stems can I safely prune out without ruining the health of the plant? One-third? Could I prune out half the stems, or would that hurt the plant?

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shadygrove(z7 VA)

Inspired by the beautiful bark of artfully pruned "Acoma" at the Lewis Ginter botanical garden, I decided to tackle my eight-foot specimen over the weekend. I think it will be fine it you do the pruning now. I took out quite a few bottom branches and any number of smaller twiggy ones to open up the shape, give it more of a tree form and expose the bark better. I don't have information on how much you could safely remove--I would think that if you believe the plant needs to have half of its branching structure taken out then you might be happier with an entirely different sort of plant. I would just work slowly, evaluating with every major cut, but I think this time of year is A-okay.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2007 at 6:03AM
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Brent_In_NoVA(z7/6 VA)

I suspect that this is about the ideal time of year to prune a Crape Myrtle (and most summer flowering deciduous trees/shrubs). Crape Myrtles are one of those tough plants that you could cut to the ground and it would send up new shoots so I doubt that cutting back 1/3 of the stems would cause any problems. My opinion is that Crape Myrtle look best when they have about 5 "trunks". I purchased a tree form one a few years ago with 3 trunks and it looks a little spindly.

- Brent

    Bookmark   March 15, 2007 at 12:10PM
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Armed with your replies, what I know about shrubs, and several pruning tools, I tackled the three crapemyrtles. I'm really very pleased with the results. They look so much better. Even though they're just 4 - 5 years old, the oldest stems are already turning lighter and losing their gray bark.

I took out almost all the twiggy growth from the ground up to about three feet. Then pruned out about a third of the "trunks" coming up from the ground. I decided that was enough. It pay to be a little cautious and I can remove more next year. And I think you're right, Brent, about keeping five good stems to have a good look.

By the way, Andre Viette advises using plain shellac to seal cut branches.

I called Andre's "In The Garden" radio talk show for advice regarding a 12 ft. Smoke bush. It had been trained into four "buggy whip" trunks by the grower and planted by my landscaper before I okayed it. Needless to say I was pretty disappointed by the leggy appearance.

Viette suggested taking off three feet from the tops the first year and then bringing it down to four or five feet in height the second year. He warned that it won't look all that great after the second pruning, but it will push out dormant buds to fill out the following year. The poor thing can't look any worse than it did after it was "massacured" (Viette's term) by the grower. I'm banking on his experience and will do some praying.

Happy gardening!

    Bookmark   March 15, 2007 at 6:19PM
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Too late now, but there is a very nice little article in today's Washington Post Home section, with illustrations, on proper pruning. They had a separate little aside for CMs and even had before and after pictures.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2007 at 9:29PM
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