Joseph De Sciose
Each Saturday morning after football season ends, legions of bored men armed with saws and loppers emerge from their garages to commit "crepe murder." They needlessly reduce majestic crepe myrtles to ugly stumps--in many cases, ruining them forever.
In South Carolina, the Spartanburg Men's Garden Club is working to end the slaughter. Last year, one of its members, Henry Pittman, sent me a copy of the club's excellent brochure, "Crape Myrtles: Four Seasons of Beauty" (yes, I know--they spell it with an "a"). It covers all aspects of selecting, growing, and pruning crepe myrtles. We thought so highly of its advice that we visited Spartanburg to see firsthand what they were talking about so we could tell you.
The objectives of pruning a crepe myrtle are to maintain its natural sculptural form, produce strong branches that hold flowers upright, and open up its center to reveal the smooth, multi-toned bark that forms on mature trunks and branches.
Cutting it back to thick stubs each year makes these goals impossible. A graceful tree quickly becomes a fencepost or hat rack. Pretty bark never appears. Each beheaded trunk grows a Medusa-like tangle of spindly whips too weak to hold up flowers.