The Q&A Archives: Crape Myrtle Pruning

Question: Good morning... I planted a crape myrtle the summer of 2004. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you any botanical info on her other than I believe she is supposed to be hardy to 0 or -10(I am in Zone 5). This spring she showed what I thought was dead wood, but I pruned her back and she came alive. Last year was rather mild, but in Indiana one never knows. I would love to see her gain a lot of growth, but I don't want to lose her this winter. I've read opposing viewpoints on this subject and don't know what to do. Shoud I leave her to prune in the spring, prune now and mulch well, etc? I appreciate your time in answering my question. Have a blessed day. Chandra Ringo

Answer: Growing even the hardiest crepe myrtles in zone 5 is somewhat risky in terms of winter hardiness. The best you can do is mulch generously over the root area in late fall after a few freezes have occurred. You might also consider a windbreak if it is in a windy or exposed location.

Do not prune it now. The branches provide a certain amount of winter protection to the crown. Wait until late spring when the buds begin to swell on it and at that time remove any winter damaged branches, cutting back to live wood. This plant blooms on new growth of the season, so it should still grow and bloom for you even if it is killed back to the ground in the winter.

Crepe myrtles do not actually need much pruning apart from removal of dead wood, although in southern areas where they are not killed back at all they may need a bit of shaping or can be trained into a tree form. When winter damage is usually severe, as will probably be the case for you, they generally are maintained as multistemmed shrubs.

Enjoy your crepe myrtle!

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