February 25, 2013
Crape murder is a term affectionately used by concerned landscape and nursery professionals in relation to pruning practices of one of the most popular Southern landscape icons, the Crape Myrtle.
Crape myrtles are summer flowering trees that grow from 3’-40’ tall; they are most often used as accent trees, but some varieties are well suited as small shade trees. The typical bloom period is June – August, some flower a little earlier and some last a bit longer.
The most common abuse of crape myrtles is the severe pruning that is done during the winter months. A light pruning is recommended to remove the unsightly seed pods and to provide a clean look for the dormant months, in preparation for spring growth. However, many maintenance companies are looking for work during the slow winter months, prior to the spring rush. Consequently, it has now become common practice to severely cut back crape myrtles this time of year. Other owners of crape myrtles then see the commercial maintenance companies applying this practice and mimic the so-called professionals.
Ultimately the responsibility falls on the designer, architect, landscaper or maybe even the non-savvy home-owner who specified the variety of crape myrtle that was installed. The best way to avoid the butchering of this beautiful flowering tree is to choose a variety that suits the height requirement for the specific location. Failure to select a variety which will not outgrow the intended space often prompts the topping of the tree, leading to the gnarly looking trunks that are so often associated with crape myrtles.
A crape myrtle that has not been butchered over the years is a very graceful looking tree even in the dormant months when the leaves have fallen. Proper varietal selection will lead to many years of enjoyment throughout each season and you won’t find yourself on the “Most Wanted” list for Crape Murder!