How and When to Prune Crape Myrtles

Heavily pruned crape myrtle.
Are you guilty of “crape murder” like this when pruning your crape myrtles?

Driving through town recently, I saw the inevitable signs of spring: blooming daffodils, earthy-smelling mulch, and “crape murder.”

“Crape murder” is the common and unnecessary practice of lopping off the branches of a perfectly lovely crape myrtle, cutting them back to bare twigs of uniform height. Since crape myrtles bloom on new wood (this year’s growth), it’s believed that whacking off ALL the branches will result in an extra flush of growth, and therefore more blooms.

However, this severe annual pruning is really not needed. For the first few years, it might look great, but eventually you’ll end up with knobby, scarred stems and bunchy branches – like those above – that are vulnerable to diseases and pests.

Light pruning is all that’s needed to keep your crape myrtle in shape and blooming like a champ. So how should you prune a crape myrtle the right way? Here’s what you need to know to get – and keep – the crape myrtles in your yard in top shape.

Small shrub sized variety of crape myrtle.
Choose a crape myrtle variety that will stay the size you need.

Shopping for Crape Myrtles

The absolute best way to prune crape myrtles is to not prune them at all! You can avoid many pruning headaches simply by planting the right variety. There are many different kinds of crape myrtles available, from bushy dwarfs with many small stems to graceful small trees with thicker trunks.

Choose your plants carefully and pick varieties that fit your space and needs. Planting under a window? Look for a dwarf variety like “Delta Blush” or “Chica Red.” Want a very small tree beside your driveway? Try “Hopi” or “Zuni.”

Varieties such as “Dynamite” and “Natchez” form trees upwards of 20-30 feet tall, so plant these in an open location, and don’t try to keep them small.

Crape myrtle covered in blooms.
Crape myrtle covered in blooms.

When to Prune Crape Myrtles

The best time to prune crape myrtles is in late winter, before they start growing. Avoid pruning in the fall, since pruning can stimulate the growth of sprouts that may be killed by the coming cold weather.

If your crape myrtle blooms before mid-July, deadheading it (cutting off the dead blooms as soon as they fade) can often make it bloom again.

How to Prune Dwarf or Shrubby Crape Myrtles

Multi-stemmed, shrubby crape myrtles usually don’t need pruning at all, unless they’re growing unevenly. And then, you just need to thin out crowded branches and head back wayward stems.

How to Prune Larger Tree-Form Crape Myrtles

Follow these steps to prune medium and large tree-form varieties of crape myrtle:

Removing suckers on crape myrtle trunk.

  1. Remove Suckers: Suckers are sprouts that emerge from the base or roots of the plant, ruining the graceful shape that’s desired for crape myrtles. Remove suckers by cutting them off flush, or by ripping them downward so that you remove the base of the sucker as well.

Shaped trunks on crape myrtles.

  1. Shape Trunks: If your crape myrtle is overgrown, select three to five main trunks to keep, and remove all other trunks at the base. Choose trunks that do not touch each other and that arch nicely to produce an attractive overall tree shape.

Pruning crape myrtle to thin branches.

  1. Thin Branches: Next, “limb up” the tree by removing the branches on the bottom third to half of the crape myrtle. Also remove any top branches that are crowded or rubbing and any dead wood. Cut branches off at the base to keep them from growing back.

Heading back a branch on crape myrtle.

  1. Head Back: To encourage branching, prune long, leggy branches back to a branch junction. They will sprout the heaviest at the cut site, so prune them back to an open spot in the interior of the tree. Do this carefully to prevent a lot of stubby stems, and plan your cuts so the new growth will fill in where needed.

Further Information


  1. Well we just moved into our new home this past Jan. 14. And we discovered a young Crepe, so this is going to be my first attempt to seed, cutting and cleaning up a bit and may even try my hand at trying to bonsai a cutting. I will let you know how I do. Leslie can probably catch a video on youtube on how to trim crepes. But I do appreciate your good advice for this novice at Crepe Myrtles.


  2. I have several young crepe myrtles about 8′ tall. I want them to create a canopy about 6′ high over time. When should I start pruning the trunks and lower branches? It seems strange to trim the bottom branches when all the branches are 3-4′ high.

  3. Wish I’d have read this before I got started but… least I read before I completed my task. I have the tree like crepe. It’s at least 7-8 ft tall. Maybe more. But not bushy and lately has only bloomers on top of branches. Sooooo……I’m trimming. But….I’ll wait to finds. On to the hibiscus.

  4. I have a beautiful Crepe Myrtle treewith lots of blooms. In the last few days they are looking sick. What can I do to have more beautiful blooms this season? Thank you,

  5. My Crape Myrtles are about 25 feet tall and are 20 years old. I have about 20 and only pruned them once. I would like to cut them way down so the flowers can be seen when they bloom. How much should I trim off. I am going to use a small chain saw.

  6. Hi, I live in NC and I have 2 crape myrtles that are approximately 15 ft. tall. They have never been pruned. When they were given to me I was told they were bushes. But they are growing straight up. Not bushes at all. We cleaned all around them the other day but we didn’t know how far down to prune them. Please help because I was told now is the time to get this done. Thanks

  7. I’ve got a few varieties of Lagerstroemia indica hybrids and they all require different pruning or none at all. One of the older types I have is a thin limbed type about ten foot tall, it needs yearly pruning or it hardly flowers at all as the branches peter out into brittle twigs eventually if left alone, as I’ve done for a few test cases. Some just die producing fewer and fewer leaves as well. I don’t use the knuckle pruning but halve the strongest of the previous years shoots and remove all the thinner ones. When it gets too tall to prune it stops flowering as the shoots are too thin, only supporting a very scarce sprinkle of blooms so I have to start again by topping and repeating steps as above. Its the only way I can get flowers off of these cultivars. Bear in mind breeders don’t often take into account the affect of mixing different shaped and sized species so that pruning can be the only way to get anything decent out of them. The very big tree types are best left alone after some light formative pruning perhaps but many of the shrubbier, semi tree hybrids and dwarfs will only perform satisfactorily year in year out with annual pruning to encourage satisfactory flowering shoots. Think roses but with bigger plants. You can manage for a number of years to avoid actually topping but eventually it becomes unmanageable due to height and width and you lose the flowers. These types might also need replacing more regularly as a result as wood decay inevitably sets in after a couple of decades of intermittent topping and growing out. Not slow growing at all so not much of a problem but also not absolutely ideal. Tea-roses too, they don’t live for ever producing copious blooms like a true unpruned rambling rose might. Growing for posterity, for avenues and landscapes etc choose the big tree species that don’t need this treatment, rather than the exciting new hybrid leaf and flower colours. Meantime stop getting excited about knuckled shrubs. Some of the most evocatively lovely and memorable landscapes are created with pollarded trees and hedgerows, think Spain, Holland and the UK for wildly different effects. It can be interesting, dramatic and rustic.

  8. My crepe myrtle is under 3 feet tall. I’ve only had it for a couple years. Also, it’s not zoned for my area (Rochester, NY), but I bought a small one at my local garden store and thought I’d try it. It’s very pretty and
    maybe another 8 inches this year, but it’s still young. I really don’t want to prune it or cut even half of it. How old, or tall, should this be before I would prune it? It made it through our winter and seems to be good and healthy. Just wondering what hints you could give me to keep it growing.

  9. Several years ago my cape myrtle tree died or at least I thought it died 2 years later it came back as a bush. I’d like to get it to thicken up what do I need to do prune it? If so what should I do just take off 3 or 4 inches from the end? When should I fertilize it ?

  10. Live in Dunnellon Fl. My crape myrtle has started to sprout new growth before I could cut it back to the knuckles. It’s been cut back to the knuckles every year by the lawn care service . I’m doing my own lawn now. Is it too late to cut back to the knuckles ?

  11. I live on Long Island,ny
    My crepe myrtle has leafed but there are branches that look dead. Can I cut these out at this time of year without hurting the shrub?

    • Hi, Jim,

      Gardening questions can be tricky since the rules can change based on the region. We would suggest contacting your local Master Gardeners association.
      Master gardeners train on a range of topics so they can provide advice, at no charge, for people in their area.
      Here’s more information:

      Thanks for your question, and good luck!


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