If you're new to the Southeastern United States, you may have heard the term "crepe murder" tossed around and wondered what the excitement was about when all it seems to be is a form of tree pruning. After all, it's not an uncommon sight to see cities and commercial centers bring in tree-trimming crews each year to lop the heads off of each tree they see. Yet when this is done to crepe myrtles (or crape myrtles, if you prefer that spelling), it can be particularly damaging. Unfortunately, the practice of cutting crepe myrtles down to a stubby trunk is still too widespread, leaving scarred, weakened trees in its path, leading to the nickname of "crepe murder."
Why Do People Think This Is a Good Idea?
Crepe murder is a good intent gone bad. The intent is to cut away old growth to let new growth take over and bloom more intensely, as well as to ensure better airflow between branches. It's also thought to be used as a way to control the growth of the trees.
But while that works for some other trees, it doesn't work for the crepe myrtle. Lopping off the canopy of the tree results in thinner, weaker branches sprouting from the leftover trunk, often with a visible scar left at the point at which the tree was cut. The new branches can be so weak that they can bend under the weight of any blossoms they do produce. The new shape of the tree can be awkward as well, and the lack of canopy means the rest of the tree will have to deal with a lot more summer sun and heat than it normally would.
I Committed Crepe Murder -- Now What?
If you left the main trunk alone but lopped off the ends of lots of branches, look over the cuts and see how many new branches emerged from the cut. There should be one branch only; if more have grown, cut those away. If the crepe murder was severe, and you cut the tree back to one stump, you may have to cut the tree down and let it start growing all over again.
How Am I Really Supposed to Trim These Trees?
Preserving the shape of the crepe myrtle is essential. You do want to look for branches that are growing inward into the canopy and trim those away to increase airflow. But don't cut the branches too close to where they sprout off the main trunk; if you do, those scars won't heal. Also remove any suckers that are sprouting around the base of the trunk. As the tree grows taller each year, train it by cutting lower branches away while still leaving a sizable canopy.
If you really want your crepe myrtles pruned correctly, contact a tree-pruning or landscaping service that has experience with properly cutting crepe myrtles. If they talk about topping or removing the canopy, you need another service. Look for one that will preserve the shape and most of the existing branches on the trees. To learn more, contact a landscaping company like E & R Landscaping & Trees.