Proper pruning is vital for the health and appearance of crepe myrtle trees. However, many gardeners make mistakes when pruning these beautiful trees, often causing more harm than good. In this guide, I’ll cover the dos and don’ts of pruning crepe myrtles, including whether using a chainsaw is a good idea. My goal is to provide tree owners with the knowledge needed to properly care for their crepe myrtles.
Can you trim crepe myrtles with a chainsaw?
In short, it is possible to trim crepe myrtle trees with a chainsaw, but it is not recommended. Chainsaws lack the precision required for pruning crepe myrtles and increase the risk of damaging branches and making improper cuts. For the healthiest trees, hand pruners or loppers should be used instead.
While a chainsaw provides the power to cut through thick branches, it is an imprecise tool. Crepe myrtles require careful, selective pruning to maintain their natural shape and growth habit. Making cuts haphazardly with a chainsaw can leave stubs, promote weak growth, and open the tree up to pests and diseases. The powerful cutting action of a chainsaw also makes it easy to accidentally remove too much live wood, damaging the tree. For large crepe myrtle pruning projects, consider hiring an experienced tree care professional rather than attempting to use a chainsaw yourself.
The importance of proper pruning for crepe myrtles
The importance of proper pruning for crepe myrtles cannot be overstated. Pruning is essential to maintain the tree’s natural form, produce strong branches that can support blooms, and create a canopy that allows air circulation and sunlight exposure for all branches
Benefits of proper pruning
Pruning is beneficial for crepe myrtles for several reasons. Thoughtful pruning improves the tree’s health by removing dead, damaged, and crossing branches. It also enhances the form and structure of the tree by directing growth. Additionally, proper pruning encourages prolific flowering by ensuring sunlight can reach the maximum number of buds. Overall, correct pruning techniques keep crepe myrtles attractive, vigorous, and blooming their best.
Risks of improper pruning
Unfortunately, crepe myrtles are victims of improper pruning more often than not. Aggressive pruning techniques like “crepe murder,” “topping,” and “heading” may seem to manage size or improve flowering but actually have the opposite effect. Removing too many branches or shearing the top growth stresses the tree and leads to weak, thin shoots with fewer blooms. Drastic pruning also opens the tree up to disease and pests like powdery mildew and sooty mold. Crepe myrtles pruned incorrectly tend to decline over time.
When to prune crepe myrtles
When to prune crepe myrtles is an essential aspect of their care, as proper timing can significantly impact the tree’s health and blooming potential. The ideal time to prune crepe myrtles is during late winter or early spring, as this is when the trees are dormant and leafless, allowing for easy access to branches and ensuring that pruning does not affect blooming
Best time for pruning
The ideal time to prune crepe myrtles is during the dormant season, in late winter or early spring before new growth emerges. Pruning in winter allows cuts to heal quickly once growth resumes in spring. It also enables easier identification of dead branches that should be removed. In mild climates, anytime from January to March is suitable. Further north, late February to early April is preferred.
Pruning timing also depends on the age of the tree. Young crepe myrtles can be pruned in summer to shape and direct their growth. However, limit summer pruning on mature trees since it removes the current season’s flower buds.
Signs that your crepe myrtle needs pruning
How do you know when your crepe myrtle requires pruning? Look for these indicators:
- Dead, damaged, or crossing branches
- Excessive growth beyond the natural shape of the tree
- Lack of flowers due to overcrowded interior branches
- Suckers emerging from the base of the trunk
Routine thinning helps maintain the crepe myrtle’s natural form. Prune any time major branches sustain damage from weather too.
Choosing the right tools for pruning crepe myrtles
Hand pruners are ideal for pruning small branches up to around 1⁄2 inch diameter. Their sharp bypass blades make clean cuts without crushing or tearing live wood. Hand pruners allow for precision pruning of individual branches. Look for ergonomic handles to prevent hand fatigue.
For cutting branches up to 11⁄2 inches thick, a pair of loppers is necessary. The long handles provide leverage for making cuts through slightly larger growth. Select compound action anvil loppers if pruning old, dead branches. Bypass lopper blades make cleaner cuts through live wood. Extend your reach further with loppers mounted on telescoping poles.
Pole pruners enable pruning beyond arm’s reach. They are useful for working on large crepe myrtles or those planted in difficult to access spots. Pole pruners come in manual and power versions. For crepe myrtles, manual pole pruners provide more control than powered alternatives. Choose a pole pruner with a comfortable handle and triggers properly positioned for your hand size.
Why chainsaws are not recommended
While chainsaws are helpful for removing entire trees or large limbs on other species, they are not well-suited for pruning crepe myrtles. Chainsaws lack the detailed control required to selectively thin out small branches. Their cutting power leads to frequent accidents removing too much live wood. Chainsaws also make ragged cuts that won’t heal cleanly. For general garden use, chainsaws are unnecessary for crepe myrtle pruning.
How to properly prune crepe myrtles
Proper pruning of crepe myrtles is crucial for maintaining their health, appearance, and blooming potential. To prune crepe myrtles correctly, start by assessing the tree and identifying any dead, damaged, or inward-growing branches
Assessing the tree
Before making any cuts, assess the crepe myrtle’s overall form and condition. Identify branches that are:
- Dead, damaged or diseased
- Crossing, rubbing or crowded
- Violating the natural shape of the tree
Also look for suckers emerging from the base, which divert energy from the rest of the plant.
Making the right cuts
Always prune just above leaf buds or branches, at about a 45-degree angle. This encourages outward growth away from the center of the tree. Avoid cutting into the branch collar, which can hinder wound closure. Smaller cuts should be made with sharp bypass hand pruners for a clean finish. Larger branches may require 3 steps: undercut, top cut, and final cleaning cut.
Never make heading cuts that truncate branches back to stubs. This leads to the proliferation of weak new shoots called water sprouts. Also avoid topping, which is cutting main branches back to lateral branches. Topping destroys the natural form and leads to problems.
Pruning for shape and structure
The goal in pruning crepe myrtles is revealing their natural elegance, not shearing them into unnatural shapes. Allow branches some space to arch and provide an informal look. Remove any growth heading back toward the center. For trees with multiple trunks, favor 3-5 main trunks spaced at least 3 inches apart. Prune to create attractive branching patterns and open the canopy for light penetration.
Caring for crepe myrtles after pruning
Caring for crepe myrtles after pruning is essential to ensure their continued health and vigor. After pruning, it is important to maintain a proper watering schedule, providing enough moisture to support new growth without overwatering, which can lead to root rot and other issues
Watering and fertilizing
Providing adequate water and nutrition supports vigorous regrowth after pruning. Water thoroughly after pruning and as needed through the growing season. Fertilize using a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer or one formulated for trees and shrubs in early spring before new growth emerges.
Monitoring for pests and diseases
Inspect crepe myrtles frequently after pruning for potential problems like powdery mildew, sooty mold, and webworms. Catching issues early makes treatment easier. Using preventative measures like drip irrigation for watering and cleaning up fallen leaves helps limit disease spread.
Frequently Asked Questions
How often should I prune my crepe myrtle?
Plan to prune crepe myrtles at least once per year. Younger trees may need more frequent pruning to shape growth. Large, mature crepe myrtles can be pruned every 2-3 years to thin out new growth. Avoid going more than 3 years without pruning or heavy growth will need removal.
Can I prune a crepe myrtle in the summer?
Limit summer pruning to light shaping of new shoots on young trees. Extensive pruning removes buds that would bloom that same summer. Only prune mature crepe myrtles in summer if branches sustain storm damage or for safety reasons.
How do I revive a crepe myrtle that has been improperly pruned?
Harshly pruned crepe myrtles can recover over time with proper follow-up care. Remove any weak or damaged shoots. Slowly shape new growth back to a natural form over successive growing seasons. Provide ample water and fertilizer to encourage vigorous regrowth. New flowers and branches will return with patience.
Can I prune a crepe myrtle to keep it small?
For crepe myrtles that outgrow their space, try pruning to contain size rather than shear into formal shapes. Remove tallest branches at their base to reduce height. Thin interior growth to open the canopy. Removing just the most vigorous upright branches can keep crepe myrtles smaller without sacrificing their natural form.
How do I encourage more blooms on my crepe myrtle?
Pruning is key for abundant crepe myrtle flowers. Thin dense interior branches and avoid topping to allow sunlight to reach more flower buds. Remove the spent flower clusters after blooming finishes to promote reblooming. Providing consistent water in summer and fertilizing early in spring also encourages prolific flowering.
Is it possible to transplant a mature crepe myrtle?
Transplanting older crepe myrtles with dense root balls is difficult but possible. Time the move while the tree is dormant in late winter before new growth emerges. Dig out an extensive root ball and replant at the same depth. Stake the tree and water thoroughly until established in its new location. Some branch loss may occur but flowering will resume once recovered.
What other plants can be grown alongside crepe myrtles?
Crepe myrtles pair beautifully with ornamental grasses like switchgrass and fountain grass. Shrubs like spirea, hydrangea, and rose of sharon also complement their summer blooms. Perennials such as coneflower, yarrow, lantana, and verbena add pops of color at their feet. Choose plants with similar light and water requirements.
I hope this guide provides the advice needed to properly care for crepe myrtle trees through correct pruning techniques. While chainsaws may seem like a quick option, they can easily damage crepe myrtles and lead to ongoing problems. Stick to hand pruners, loppers, and pole pruners for careful, selective branch removal. Prune to maintain the crepe myrtle’s natural shape, open the interior to light, and remove any dead, damaged, or crossing branches. Combined with proper watering, fertilization, and pest monitoring, regular pruning will keep crepe myrtles thriving for years of beauty.
Michael Boyle is the founder and main author of Chainsaws Finder, boasting over 20 years of experience in the chainsaw industry. Hailing from Texas, Michael combines his extensive knowledge and hands-on expertise to provide reliable advice and top-notch service. His vision is to empower chainsaw users to tackle any project with confidence, making Chainsaws Finder a trusted resource in the field.