It is already occurring, garden fans. Innocent crepe myrtle trees being “pruned.” More like being hacked. The excessive pruning practice of “topping,” or “Crepe Murder” as it is often called, usually begins in February. Well meaning homeowners and commercial property managers have their reasons for reducing the height of these summer bloomers. The tree is “too tall,” “not shaped,” or my favorite “it promotes flowering.” This crime against arboriculture has to stop!
The crepe myrtle, Lagerstroemia indica, is native to China and Korea, but has been grown successfully in America since the late 18th century. They are a favorite of southern gardeners for several reasons including their tolerance of heat and drought and their ability to grow in sandy or clayey soils. The crepe myrtle a low-maintenance tree, which is always a good reason for selecting any specimen. It blooms in the summer with colors of white, pink, purple, and red when most deciduous trees are just green leaves. The blooms are on new growth, or new wood as it is commonly called. This is one reason why people severely prune crepes; to promote flowering. In reality, this practice shortens the life of the tree. A tree produces its own food source by a process called photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is where light from the sun, carbon dioxide from the air, and water from the roots produce simple sugars. Portions of the simple sugars are converted to carbohydrates, which are transported down to the roots. Take away one of these three for long enough, or often enough, and the plant will die.
Crepe myrtles come in a variety of heights that can be used in most landscape situations. Crepes are generally wider than they are tall, making them excellent trees for screening decks and patios. Use them also as specimen trees or group planting of three trees. There are semi-dwarf varieties whose mature height is seven to eight feet as well as varieties whose mature height is over 30 feet.
Crepe myrtles have their issues as well. Powdery mildew, black leaf spot, aphids, and Japanese beetles are known pests. All are preventable and treatable if discovered early. No tree is pest-free except for the plastic ficus found at home decorating stores.
Do your part to prevent future arboricultural crime. Put the saw down, do your research, and enjoy crepe myrtles the way they were intended to be.
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