Last week as I parked by the office I looked up to see my worst fears realized. The carnage had begun. Our city is under siege as crepe murderers, emerging from their cold dark garden sheds are on their annual winter rampage.
By the end of March, dozens - no - hundreds of unsuspecting Crepe Myrtles will be left horribly disfigured by lopper-wielding gardeners and landscapers who believe a hatchet-job is the answer to a beautiful tree. They are wrong.
Unfortunately, The News now claims ownership of two hat racks jutting from the ground. Come spring, they will join the multitude of what will resemble wad of spindly whips and later a popcorn ball perched on a stick. Oh, the horror!
You’d think by now, with all the information out there, this extreme pruning technique would have been wiped from the annals of “good gardening gone bad” history forever. But bad habits are hard to break. Last year at this time, I embarked on a reconnaissance mission to record how many Natchez, Tuskegee, and Catawba crepe myrtles succumbed to the butcher. A tear ran down my bruised cheek (bruised from hugging the exquisitely exfoliating bark) as I realized the widespread devastation. “Why?” I cried out to the dormant, leafless stump. “Why must you endure such humiliation year after year?”
Ok, I didn’t really hug a tree. But I was surprised at how many fall prey to this hideous ritual. On the bright side, I found many instances where qualified landscapers gave the rightful trimming they deserve. They followed the experts’ lead.
Over the years, magazines and other publications have reported on the atrocities against this beautiful specimen. Southern Living comes to mind and so do the fine folks at Clemson University’s Cooper-ative Extension Service. Horticulturalists at Clemson Extension say there are some instances in which heavy pruning is necessary, but light pruning is usually all that is needed.
The type and amount of pruning depends on the desired shape and size of the plant. Corrective pruning (removing defective or dead branches) should be done when you detect the problem. Otherwise, Clemson advises removing lateral branches or small branches in the center to create more space for sun and air movement while the plant is dormant (winter or early spring). And no matter what, whacking off the top is not an option.
Therefore, I plead to my fellow card carrying crepe owners that it is time to take a stand. For the sake of this southern garden favorite, if we don’t put a stop to this grisly deed then who will?
For a complete list of crape myrtles and how to care for them, visit Clemson Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center at Clemson.edu.