Crape Myrtle Maiming Season Has Begun

CRAPE MYRTLE MAIMING SEASON HAS BEGUN “I ventured out into the burbs this past weekend (Katy) and witnessed the unthinkable — crape murder!” reports a reader. And here’s a photo, sent in from the scene of the triple-massacre aftermath, near the intersection of Pintail and Spoonbill streets in Hunters Terrace. Just a little off the top, please. [Swamplot inbox] Photo: Swamplot inbox

36 Comment

  • I always wondered what those were and why they got chopped every year.

  • Hate to break it to you but they cut them back inside the loop as well. We have a few we cut back every 2 or 3 years because they are under the canopy of a larger tree, should we just remove them?

  • Sweet story Swamplot.

  • They actually grow back again from that stage pretty quickly, and end up looking better. I’m not an expert on those things but we have some around here (Westmoreland sub of Montrose) and they look pretty good after they’ve grown back from a heavy trim.
    Is that type of cutting viewed negatively for some reason?

  • This is an almost universal practice around this time of year. There are purists who view it with abhorrence, but crapes do look better when cropped yearly, and anyway, they’re not even native so why get exercised about it?

  • it is a personal preference. Some folks like the look of the heavy growth that comes from taking one off at the knees and others like a long and lanky tree-like crepe myrtle that takes a decidedly lighter touch. I think we’ve run into a crepe myrtle snob.

  • Yes Cody, unfortunately the general public is largely ignorant of the skill set and decisions made by competent real estate managers…and this seems especially true of young apartment-dwellers. They mostly just want the promise of an idealized lifestyle, instant gratification, big things, and shiny new things (with exceptions for preservation of ecology or old buildings, and even then only when such things can be promoted as fashionable).

  • Cody: Over time, crepe myrtles develop monstrous “knuckles” where they’ve been so drastically pruned. Because of their unnatural appearance, I find them unattractive. The difference in size between the knuckles and the fresh sprouts looks odd to me.

  • They generally look better when they’re cut back yearly. That way they stay smaller and denser. Otherwise they grow tall and thin, and dead branches tend to hang around unattractively.

    In a highly visible area like the front yard, it makes sense to do a yearly trimming for appearances sake.

  • The problem where I live deep in the East End is the locals do the same thing to century-old pecan trees, which stresses them to where some die and the rest just look permanently maimed. Instead of researching it first, they either imitate the crepe murders or call Chuy with a Chainsaw, who imitates the crepe murders.

  • It’s called “Crape Rape”. People lopping the tops of of Crape Myrtles is one of my wife’s pet peeves. I don’t know where or when this got started… but every new gardener who sees it done on a commercial property or by some other ill-informed gardener thinks it’s the correct way to prune them. It’s not – Crape Myrtles are trees, not shrubs. Crape Myrtles flower on new growth and cutting them back produces new shoots, therefore, more flowers at a height where they can be admired. But… this new growth is weak and makes the tree prone to wind damage and are more sensitive to cold. Really, just cutting flowers to bring inside is all the trimming that’s usually needed. Crape Myrtles are prone to powdery mildew so you want to maximize the amount of light and air flow in the center of the tree. Crossing branches should be pruned since if they rub against one another the bark will be damaged which may lead to disease. The tiny side branches won’t stay tiny forever and anyway, if you remove them, the plant will shuttle it’s energy to the main branches. It’s really up to you. The main idea is for the tree to retain its natural shape but with fewer main branches. Just please do not commit “crape murder” or “crape rape”.

  • A few years back some of the garden folks in East Texas had bumper stickers printed up that said “Stop Crape Myrtle Muitilation”. Severe pruning like pictured results in thick woody trunks and spindly branches. It doesn’t help the tree flower all summer. Mostly it is done this time of year by landscapers who need to send their crews out to do something to justify billing a client. Since the grass isn’t growing much, and the pansies are blooming just fine, this becomes the excuse of the month to bring in some revenue.

  • I have crepe myrtles near my house, planted too close to the foundation by my cut-rate builder. They are impossible to kill. My definition of impossible is: drill holes in the stump and pour in undiluted Roundup concentrate. Wait a few days and watch for the green shoots to start coming up.

  • Crepes must be pruned like all other trees to prevent tangles, shape the canopy and to allow air/light circulation. When done correctly, the crepes’ canopy will be full and beautiful. Lazy landscaping companies just pull out the loppers and hack the trees down to the ugly knucles every year because it is far less trouble than having to learn how to properly prune the tree. The result is an unhealthy tree that only produces a limited number of whip-like flowering branches rather than a large plume of flowers that a healthy canopy has.

  • This is not an uncommon practice. It really does help them grow back nicer. It is unfortunate that they have to be so drastic.

  • This phenomenon is recent and has been perpetuated by landscapers/gardeners from south of our border. Ask any Master Gardener and they will all tell you that these trees do not need anything but light pruning. If you need to control the crape myrtle for height or width then it’s probably not in the right location. Based on the photo above, there doesn’t seem to be any height restrictions. Any other reason why they should be cut back this heavily is pure ignorance.

  • When my husband and I bought our first house 27 yrs ago I too noticed that all the neighbors “trimmed their Crapes”, so I, being a new homeowner from the north thought that is what one does….That following weekend my dear hubby of one year decides he needs to trim the oak tree out back…yup, he trimmed it like the Crapes. Needless to say that Oak tree is gone. To top it off it was Arbour day. We learned alot that year and we no longer mutilate our Crapes and they are beautiful!

  • Our two Crepes haven’t been trimmed in at least 20 years. They are huge and they are bad-ass. Chopping them is just lazy Chuy style landscaping.

  • The big circles of crapes in the Waugh/Memorial interchange are an example of how big and fine those trees can grown when they are basically left alone. A COH Parks Dept horticulturist told me once that they leave those stands alone, except for a bit of clean-up.

  • The late Burdette Keeland, professor of architecture at UH, once proposed using plantings of colored crapes to define neighborhoods. Light pink for one neighborhood, magenta for another, white for the next. The idea was to beautify and create identity at the same time.

  • TheNiche: Huh?
    Marmer: I had one in back by our pool and, as much as I hate knocking down a tree, had to get rid of it. I cut it to the stump then rented a stump grinder from home depot for about $60 and it was gone (bonus: I had about 5 old stumps around the front and side of the house that I also dug out while I had it). Maybe try to get one of those?

  • Yes, Phil, Crepe Myrtles are Trees and can reach 50’, adding a sort of splattering of bright color to the forest-scape. There are DWARF varieties available for those who want more of a shrub.
    Yes, ali bubba, those in the photo could produce a nice, arching canopy with shade below.
    Marmer, try placing a bucket or pot over the stumps, depriving them of ALL light. This should kill em. Alternatively, you could yank them out of the ground with axes and chains and then sell them – they’re that tough.
    These bloom (prolifically) on old wood greater than ¼” diameter. Trim and shape them now by removing all the tiny bits.

  • The crepe myrtle in my dad’s backyard is over 30 years old and has never been trimmed. It’s big and beautiful and healthy and full of flowers. I don’t see a need to trim them.

  • My blood pressure rises each spring witnessing this annual ritual. This practice will never be stopped as its unfortunately taken root.

    Some of the most beautiful homes in Texas are now marred by embarrassing crapemyrtles. On the other hand, take a trip to Baton Rough, Mobile, or Charleston. They have an enduring admiration for their beautiful crapemyrtles and wouldn’t think of undoing what nature has perfected.

  • I know a woman who claims her path towards divorce began over what she refers to as “The Crepe Myrtle Incident”
    Had no idea that hers was not an isolated event

  • @marmer, Roundup won’t work in that application. You need to get some stump rot at the hardware store. it will kill the tree and rot the stump.

  • Don’t plant one over the driveway, or you will no longer refer to it as a “crepe” myrtle.

  • That’s a stupid way to prune crape myrtles.

    They come in all sizes–from bonsai to trees. Plant the right variety for the space you have. Then learn how to prune it properly. It isn’t hard!

  • @marmer – I agree about the stump rot. Pour that & a beer on the stump & then cover well with a black plastic trash bag weighted down with rocks. It’s worked for me!

  • OK, I’ll try it. For all the crape lovers, I admit it was a pretty tree, but it was a foot from the corner of the house and contributed to lots of foundation problems. It may have also contributed to damage from Ike (I think the wind whipping it destabilized the foundation at that corner.) I have tried Stump Rot. Before Roundup.

  • seriously? We are tallking about a plant, right? You people must be mortified when you walk into a produce section … all the “murdered” veggies.

  • If people lopping off their crape myrtles makes your blood pressure rise, you should really reassess your priorities.

  • Wow, is it crape murdle season again???

  • A pet peeve of my landscape architectural profession. Crape murder = bad. Crape pruing = good. (They’re not the same thing.) Generally speaking, “more pain, more gain” is not a theory the natural world subscribes to.

  • *pruning…. (where’s the dang edit button when you need one?)

  • Doesn’t Randy Lemmon define this as the Great Crepe Myrtle Massacre?