I have this pet peeve that I must simply get off my chest. Why do people cut their crepe myrtles back so severely. Around my home we call it “crepe murder”, though it isn’t an original term for us. We got it from somewhere else.
The other day I was visiting my aunt and uncle. My uncle is a retired nurseryman, so I was surprised when my aunt made a comment about cutting back the beautiful crepe myrtle she had in her front yard. The tree was full of blooms and had a beautiful shape. When I complimented it, she said that unfortunately they had never had the time to properly cut it back so it would bloom better.
What the heck? I spent almost a decade working for the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida, and we had an active horticulture research program as well as the university’s extension service and master gardener program. I learned that this severe pruning of crepe myrtles not only maims the plants and leaves them misshapen, but it also weakens the plants and allows pests and diseases to invade.
I let my aunt and uncle know what I had learned about over-pruning crepe myrtles. They were both surprised and said that they had always heard that you had to prune them or they wouldn’t bloom very well. I realized that it was probably the landscapers who were pushing this agenda. Here in Florida the nurserymen combined with the landscapers years ago to form one single professional association.
But is it an agenda or just a regurgitation of bad instructions? I also have to admit that it has occurred to me that the pruning of these plants might just be another way for my landscaper to make a few extra bucks.
My crepe myrtle trees are big enough that no one prunes them, unless the limbs bow down to our roof. I had asked that these limbs be taken off at the trunk. But my mother-in-law’s landscaper scalped hers smaller crepe myrtle while she was away one day. She was crushed, and the crepe myrtle never looked the same again. As you can see below, the trunks themselves are beautiful. Severely pruned crepe myrtles have misshapen trunks.
My daughter, who lives in Atlanta, bought a new home and inherited several murdered crepes. She has stopped the torture, but she says that they still aren’t beautiful like the ones she grew up with. She is waiting and watching the new trunks grow beyond their gnarled limbs, just hoping they will look ok in the end.
There is a myth that seems wide spread that you must cut a crepe myrtle so it will bloom. This year alone, though, the proof is on the mature unpruned trees. They are blooming like crazy.
I love the drive between Tallahassee and my hometown of Monticello. It is lined with crepe myrtles first planted in the late 1950s by Mr. Mahan a nurseryman from Monticello. It is a beautiful scenic drive, one of the prettiest in Florida. In some places the crepe myrtles form a floral canopy over the road. Those mature trees are not pruned; and they bloom beautifully, especially so this time of year.
I love to garden, and I spend a good bit of time in my own. Because of my busy schedule, I look for plants that do not require a lot of maintenance. Crepe myrtles are perfect for my lifestyle. You just need to make sure you plant them in the right place. The extension service can help you determine which kind to plant and ‘where’ you should plant your crepe myrtle(s).
By the way the Extension Service is an organization that you should get to know if you don’t already. There is probably one in your county.
So who is the extension service? And who are master gardeners? The Cooperative Extension System is a non-formal educational system designed to help people use research-based knowledge to improve their lives.
The service is provided by the state’s designated land-grant universities. The University of Florida is a land-grant university. In most states the educational offerings are in the areas of agriculture and food, home and family, the environment, community, economic development, and youth and 4-H. The National 4-H Headquarters is located within the Families, 4-H, and Nutrition unit of the extension service. I have a picture of my great-great grandmother at a Home Demonstration event, which was done by the Jefferson County Extension Office in the early 1930s. She was very elderly but was there showing some younger women how to shell peas. Also, both me and my Dad were 4-H members. So the extension service has been around for a long time.
There are approximately 2,900 extension offices nationwide. In Florida there is at least one in every county. Miami/Dade has several.
Since 2005, the Extension system has collaborated in developing eXtension.org (pronounced “e-extension”). eXtension is an Internet-based learning platform where Extension professionals and citizens nationwide and beyond have 24/7 access to unbiased, research-based, peer-reviewed information from land-grant universities on a wide range of topics.
The Master Gardener program, typically offered through these county extension offices, provides intensive horticultural training to individuals who then volunteer as Master Gardeners in their communities by giving lectures, creating gardens, conducting research, and many other projects. When you call an extension office and ask for help with something in your garden, you are usually talking to a volunteer Master Gardener. I have future retirement plans to become a Master Gardener.
So I guess that’s all I should say about this. I’ll just crawl down from my soapbox now.