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Don’t Top Your Crepe Myrtles!

by Keith Brown
July 4, 2010

I don’t know where it started, but there is a wives tale out there crape_murder1.jpg that you need to cut the tops off your crepe myrtle to get them to flower properly. This is absolutely not true! Crepe myrtles will produce abundant flowers and be healthier if you let them be.

The reality is that they will tolerate malicious topping style pruning as long as they get full sun. The pom-pom like growth that comes out from this kind of pruning gives the illusion that there are more flowers. It is important to know that they must get full sun to tolerate the abuse of topping. If they only get sun half the day or live in the shade it is likely your crepe myrtle tree will die within a couple years if you top them every winter.

One thing I have learned through my years of experience and a little education is that no tree grows branches and leaves for the purpose of people to cut them off. Topping your crepe myrtle is stressful, but they will tolerate it if the growing conditions are very good.

I cannot stress enough that you shouldn’t top your crepe myrtles, but if you must here are a few tips. First, don’t cut them in the exact same spot every year (like in the picture near the top) or unsightly knuckles will develop from the wounding. crape.propertopping.JPG Either leave an additional 18″ of stem up from where you cut last time or cut below where you cut last time. It’s good to alternate; some years cut lower and other years leave them taller.

Normal pruning of a crepe myrtle would be to remove dead limbs and prune as needed for clearance, such as roof or driveway clearance. They don’t need any other creative pruning techniques. If your main problems is that your tree is not flowering like you want, look at the growing conditions. Any crepe myrtle will produce abundant flowers without topping. crepeMyrtleShade.jpg The main two things to look for are sunlight and irrigation. Crepe myrtles demand full sun all day to produce robust flowers. You may need to prune back some adjacent trees to help get additional light.

If maintained properly crepe myrtles can be beautiful shade trees. There are many varieties of crepe myrtles ranging from dwarfs to tall shade trees growing 30′ or more. Rather than top a tree lower than it wants to be naturally, why not just plant something that wants to be the height you demand. There is always a better solution than topping.

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  • crazy jimmy says:

    Im gonna borrow this blog one day and let a few of our clients read it.

    • Keith says:

      It’s crazy how many people think they need to do this. All it takes is one landscaper to talk somebody into it, then the whole neighborhood plays follow the leader.

  • David Valentine says:

    I have two very tall 20 year old crape mytles in my front yard. I think I want to prune them but aren’t sure its good for them. They get full sun all the time. We live in northwest Florida/ What is your opinion?

    • Keith says:

      If you are going to top them, now is the time. However, I do not recommend this style of pruning. If you are going to do some normal pruning ( deadwood removal, canopy raising ), the pruning can be done any time.

  • Cooper says:

    Hi. I recently moved in to a house and the landscaper that works on the yard is insisting that topping the crepe myrtles is correct. They have been topped every season before we moved in. Will they grow normal and can they be saved? I don’t like topping any tree but what can be done now? Thanks in advance for your advice.

  • Val says:

    My mother’s landscapers butchered her crepe myrtles like this…is there hope for it to come back…this year, or at all?

  • you sy not to prune at all on crepe nyrtle. the ones that i seen having minor pruning down to about l” form minor fork of branch but not ruining canopy of tree have bloomed very good. i ask this because there is a very large tree out from my balcoony that i would like to see bloom profusely. it did not get any attn last season and has hardly bloomed. i do know that the hotter the weather the more blooms. is there a particular fertalizer that i can put on it for more bloom? possibley those fertalizer spikes so iit doesnt run off when the sprinkler systemm comes on. thanks for any info to make the tree beautiful. it is the watermelon color, my faboriite. what i see on it now looks like some type of pod that has followed the insignifficunt blooms. again thank and will be looking forward to hearing from some. i know not prune until fall when tree becomes dormand but is is ok to seriously fertalize for blooms the rest of this hot season here in austiin,tx

  • nico@hou says:

    I just bought the house. I would like not to have a tree next to my house, which is taking on the foundations, and have the flower hidden between the roof of the garage and another tree.
    If topping is bad what can I do then, removal and replacement?

  • Frankie Bates says:

    Mr. Keith, we have recently moved to Shiner, TX. And we have 3 very tall Crep Myrtle . The vertical trunks number 10 to 15, some caliper at 2″ to3 1/2″. They seem spindly. I’d like to trim the to aprox 8′ tall, also possibly MOVE or Transplant one that is not in the same alignment as the other two. Should I dig it up, trying to save as much root ball as I can? Or, have a professional tree company come in with a tree planter machine. Also, what would be your suggestion on Fertlizer to mak them more healthier ? Your articles are helpful, I plan on studying your site in detail. Also in your opinion when you trim a limb, how much length can you expect from the NEW growth ?
    Frankie Bates
    Shiner, TX.

  • Lori says:

    My neighborhood has topped all the crape myrtles and Bradford pears in the common areas. It looks like a war zone. I’ve sent all the board member articles, yet it continues. I live in SC. I even sent them an article from Clemson. Idiots. I’m so upset.

  • sas says:

    I have been told that a crepe myrtle tree will blossom more fully if deadheading the old blooms in the early spring. Is this true?

  • linda dillon says:

    I was told the White Crepe Myrtle makes the largest tree. Is this true, or not?

    Can you tell me name of crepe myrtle and color which grows tallest, into trees?

    Thank you for your help. Have a good evening