What’s Growing On: How to avoid “Crape Murder” this spring

Published: Feb. 24, 2022 at 6:24 PM EST
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) -The term crape murder is used a lot this time of year, which is referring to over-pruning crape myrtle trees.

A controversial topic among horticulturists, over-pruning is usually done for aesthetic reasons during the dormant months.

Cynthia Nazario-Leary, an Extension Agent from UF IFAS explained how Crape Myrtle trees do not need pruning to grow or survive, but once you start, you must continue every year.

“You’re most likely going to have to continue that pruning. The tree adjusts its habits to form to that pruning, it responds to it, and in some cases, especially severe pruning, you can actually change the habit of the tree,” Nazario-Leary said.

There are a few ways to prune a Crape Myrtle tree, but some are more invasive than others.

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Topping, or bluntly chopping a mature branch, can produce aesthetically pleasing regrowth, but has many downsides.

This method can kill off strong limbs and only promotes growth for weak and flimsy shoots.

Over time, Crape Myrtle trees can grow water sprouts at the base and create an unpleasing sight. This is a stress response to over-pruning.

Some arborists recommend selective pruning by pollarding, or cutting above the same mature spot on the branches every year.

This method keeps the tree from getting too tall without sacrificing the overall strength and structure, but creates a knuckle that will grow over time.

“Pollarding is a great technique because it keeps the decay from the pruning cut in a localized spot. Research has shown this is a great way to prune trees. It can take some getting used to, how it looks, but it has a certain aesthetic quality,” Dave Conser, the City of Gainesville Arborist, explained.

If you’ve already hacked your Crape Myrtle tree, not all hope is lost.

Experts recommend reaching out to local arborists to find solutions to limit the future damage to your trees.

“When you’re pruning a tree, it’s both an art and a science, so you need to know a bit about the structure of the tree and how it grows,” Lacy Holtzworth, the Alachua County Arborist, said.

If you insist on pruning yourself, click here for some helpful hints from UF IFAS.

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