Stop Crape Murder!

— Written By and last updated by Nancie Mandeville

Topping trees is something we often see with large shade trees and it is never a recommended pruning practice. I am seeing many residential and commercial properties where “Crape Murder” has occurred. This is the practice of indiscriminately cutting back the ornamental crapemyrtle too severely. Though the practice does not kill the tree, it can weaken it making it more susceptible to insects and disease and it reduces the natural beauty of the plant.

Topping results in basal sprouting, profuse growth at the pruning site giving the plant a witches broom look, and large knobs that form where the plant has been pruned repeatedly. Flowers produced on the new growth will often be bigger, but because they are produced on weaker branches they will droop, and may even break.

If you choose the proper species for your site and space, the only pruning that is usually needed is to remove any broken or damaged branches and perhaps remove a few stems or branches to open the center of the plant for better air and light penetration.

Best management practices for pruning crapemyrtles are:

Remove suckers from the bottom of the plant

Remove crossed, rubbing, damaged, or diseased branches

Remove small twiggy growth

Remove spent flowers from the tip

If you have a crapemyrtle that has been topped, you can rehabilitate it by choosing 2-3 of the strongest stems that grow from each stub. Using this method for 2-3 seasons will produce a tree that has a better appearance and will be healthier. A more drastic method would be to cut the plant back to within a few inches of the ground while it is dormant. The plant will regrow from the roots and you can choose 3-5 of the strongest to leave. Within a few years the plant will have returned to its natural form.