It’s Crape Myrtle, Not Crape Murder!

What’s wrong with these pictures?

Unfortunately, we see a lot of this around the South this time of year.

These are Crape Myrtles.  They are typically beautiful trees with smooth trunks and blossoms that occur in the mid to late-summer, with colors ranging from white to lavender, red to pink.  They are such a refreshing sight in the heat of the year, and I have an affinity for them.

So it absolutely makes me cringe to see them in this shape!

I heard someone refer to it as “crape murder.”  And from what I’ve learned from this type of “pruning,” they are spot on!

Arborists and tree specialists refer this kind of cutting as TOPPING.  Topping is, for the most part, very bad for your tree.  So why are so many people doing it?  Why is it so accepted around the region?

I still haven’t fully figured it out, but my best guess is because they want to control the shape of their tree.  For example, in the photo above, the crape myrtle was planted beneath a power line.  Duh.  Next time, choose a better spot for your tree.  Planting the right tree in the right place is the first step in ensuring your tree has a long, healthy life!

Another reason I believe people top their trees, is because, in a few months, the topping will become barely noticeable.  Instead, there will be several sprouts coming out of the branches where the cuts occur, giving the tree a full look again.  The tree does this because it’s in emergency mode, so in reality, those extra branches aren’t really so pretty after all.    Here’s an example of a topped tree where the branches have grown in:

Notice the “knobs” where the tree sprouted out new branches due to stress

Therefore, an amateur will say something like, “But it grows back.”  Yes, but at what cost?

A good rule of thumb is to not prune more than 25% of the crown (branches) of the tree at one time.  When you top, you prune 100% of the tree’s crown!  Not only does it look hideous and choked for those few months while it’s growing back, it also causes the tree tremendous stress!

In fact, the Arborists’ Certification Study Guide (ISA) lists Eight Good Reasons Not to Top your tree.

1.  Starvation.
2.  Shock.
3.  Insects and Disease.
4.  Weak Limbs
5.  Rapid New Growth
6.  Tree Death.
7.  Ugliness.
8.  Cost.

Beware of tree services that practice bad pruning.  Think about it: if the tree grows back at this accelerated rate, then guess what, you have to call the tree guys again to come cut it again.  I smell a money-making scheme.

But now that you are educated on the matter, you can insist that they only prune a quarter of the tree’s crown in order to keep it in its natural form.  Tell them that hacking off branches like that are not proper pruning techniques, to boot.  If they try to talk you out of it, call another company that has a certified arborist on staff.  Or heck, call me!

When properly cared for, trees will give back exponentially.  Here are some crape myrtles in their natural form taken after their bloom….   Pretty, huh?   They are known for their graceful shape — let’s keep them that way!

Crape Myrtle in its natural form 

Rows of Crape Myrtles at the Birningham Botanical Garden

  • Linda

    Nice article about a horrid practice. Keep up the good arborist watch!

    Trees need people and people need trees!

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