There seems to be no end to the severe “pruning” taking place on established crape myrtle trees along highways, businesses and even homes. This unwarranted and unnecessary practice causes disfigurement and usually only increases future maintenance.
Crape myrtles left alone grow to be small upright trees with something of interest in all seasons. Many newer varieties have mottled bark that is especially beautiful. Allowing them to grow normally shows off all the attributes of flowers, fall color and branch structure. Whacking off the stems of older trees at eye level or even severely cutting back the branches may look neat for the moment, but new growth will come back as many sprouts below the cut, resulting in an unsightly brush pile.
I remember a thoughtful planting of trees between a street and sidewalk that was treated this way; now the shape of the trees is ruined and branches on the sidewalk side need frequent pruning to keep people on the sidewalk from being hit in the face. This butchering has even been done in open areas where the trees would never interfere with structures or power lines.
Crape myrtles do not require this severe cutting back to produce flowers. If a tree is not blooming there are likely other factors such as light or fertility involved. Some occasional pruning may be needed to remove crossing branches or seed pods. To see how beautiful these trees can be, look at any old natural specimen, or drive along St. Andrews Road in Irmo, where they have never been severely pruned.
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