Restoring a butchered plant takes less time than you think.


Crepe murder is in full swing in the South. Every where you look up, corpses of formerly beautiful crepe myrtles lay stacked at the curb, victims of a myth that these iconic trees need to be hacked within an inch of their lives in late winter and early spring. Grumpy has railed against this misguided and ignorant practice for years. So imagine his shock upon visiting the garden of one of Southern Living's own and finding a maimed crepe myrtle at the corner of her house.

Ivy Odom Crepe Murder
Credit: Steve Bender

The home belongs to Ivy Odom, youthful star of Southern Living's "Hey Y'All" video series about Southern culture. Grumpy was there to film a segment on planting her veggie and herb garden (I was brilliant, as you'd expect). After the shoot, though, I chanced upon a large crepe myrtle pruned back to roughly Ivy's height. Oh, the shame!

It was clear as I interrogated her that she wanted to place the blame elsewhere. She identified her father as the perp. I contacted her dad and he vehemently disagreed. Although he admitted being the pruner, he insisted he had wanted to prune it correctly, but she had overruled him. I just love it when father and daughter throw each other under the bus.

No matter the truth, though, the deed was done. The question from Ivy was could anything be done to fix the damage? Always the bearer of good tidings, I informed her it was indeed possible and, more than that, easy – if you adhere to the following steps.

Step 1. A murdered crepe myrtle typically possesses a multitude of thick, flat-topped trunks. If any are rubbing against an adjacent trunk or growing towards a nearby house, cut them off at the ground.

Step 2. A plethora of thin, fast-growing shoots will sprout from the end of each remaining trunk. Left alone, they'll be too weak to hold up the flowers, and after a rain your tree will bear a remarkable resemblance to a sheep dog's face. Therefore, select one or two shoots on each trunk to save that are growing up and out. Remove all the others. The saved shoots will become new, restored trunks.

Step 3. For the next three years, maintain these saved shoots as the only ones allowed to grow from the old trunks. Prune off any side branches on these shoots that grow through the center of the tree. Before you know it, your formerly sad and ugly murdered crepe myrtle will regain its natural, beautiful form.

Get to it, Ivy, or you'll make Grumpy mad. You wouldn't like to see me mad.