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Crape Murder

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In the landscaping world, just like any other profession, there are those little things that “do it yourself” guys do that make the pros cringe. They are our “nails on the chalkboard” experience.   I, like many of my colleagues, have my personal pet peeves. Let’s go through a few of them and hopefully you can gain some insight as to how a professional landscape designer looks at your landscaping.   By avoiding or correcting your landscape mistakes you will have healthier plants as well as knowledge that can give your home that extra something. This will make your neighbors stand up and take notice and hopefully show some of the guys who call themselves “pros”, why these things are not helping to achieve the goals of good landscaping. The topics we will discuss include:  Green Meatballs; The Green Necklace; A Whole Lotta Nothin; Seeing Red; The Minnie Pearl Syndrome;  Crape Murder; Runway Lights; Volcanoes; and The Real Thing.  We will be addressing these issues over the next several newsletters.   This month we will tackle “Crape Murder”

       Crape Murder. This is perhaps the most tragic of landscape mistakes. It refers to the practice of cutting the plant all the way down, leaving a few feet of trunk. A Lagerstroemia is a tree. It should not be placed where it cannot grow into a small ornamental tree.   If a shrub is what is required for a particular space, then use a shrub. There are now shrub form Lagerstroemias that can be used in these places. To cut these beautiful trees down the way they are commonly done destroys the best qualities of the species. Lagerstroemias have a beautiful exfoliating bark that gets more remarkable with age. They have a very pleasant branch structure that is frequently highlighted with landscape lighting. The branch structure is also destroyed when the tree is chopped off. Think about this…would you cut any other ornamental tree like this? The obvious answer is no. Then why do you do it to this ornamental tree which has more desirable characteristics than most other trees in this category? I have seen some landscape companies do a “compromise” pruning on Lagerstroemias. They don’t cut the tree down to a short trunk, but they do cut all the branches off and leave a naked trunk. This looks almost as bad and is totally unnecessary.   Again, would you do this to any other tree? This tree does not need any more pruning than any other ornamental tree.   Any trained horticulturist would never do this or recommend it. Choose a reputable landscape company who doesn’t commit Crape Murder. Here are some common alibis homeowners use to justify crape murder from an article entitled “Crape Murder” in Southern Living Magazine.

      My neighbors pruned theirs. Improper pruning is a copycat crime. Each tree has a different form, and its role varies from one landscape to the next. Therefore, you need to figure out why you are pruning before you cut a branch.

       It’s getting too big. If your tree is too tall, then you have the wrong one. Pruning to reduce its height will only create a maintenance battle that you will never win.

Fortunately, even large crepe myrtles can be transplanted with success. Replace yours with a different kind of plant or a shorter selection of crepe myrtle. Acoma, Catawba, Cherokee, Comanche, Hopi, and Sioux are a few of the semi-dwarf forms that reach 8 to 14 feet in height in about 10 years. If you want a shrub, try Centennial, Victor, Prairie Lace, or Hope; these grow 3 to 4 feet tall. Natchez, Muskogee, Fantasy, Dallas Red, Byers Wonderful White, Watermelon Red, and Biloxi all grow at least 20 feet, so plant them where their height will be an asset.

       If I don’t prune my tree, it won’t bloom. Pruning will not inspire flowering; it will just bring the flowers down to where you can see them. Often, trees that fail to bloom are growing under too much shade, so move them to the sun.

     It looks scraggly. Lagerstroemias naturally send up new shoots called suckers from their base. While multi-trunk trees are handsome, too many trunks can appear unkempt. Use hand clippers to cut off all unwanted suckers at the surface of the soil. Now is a good time.

     I’m just shaping it up. Don’t cut to see over them, cut to see through them. Remove limbs from the inside of the tree, especially limbs that cross or hang so low that they hit you in the face.  If you leave a stub, four or five new shoots will grow in place of the one you removed.

Proper pruning of any tree is to remove the limb back to the branch bark collar. Do not cut it flush with the main trunk. This is very unhealthy for the tree.

To be continued…


Rick Rice


Crape Murder… 

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