Crape Murder: The Ugly Truth Lurking in Southern Gardens

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 11.48.07 AMA Graceful Southern Beauty

Take a look at this beautiful specimen. This is a gorgeous crape myrtle that I encountered yesterday at the Brazoria County Master Gardener Demonstration Garden. Even without leaves it is absolutely spectacular! The thing that makes it so is the structure of the tree. Notice the graceful curves of the branch, how they taper to a natural point.

Exposing the Slaughter

Now is there something that you don’t see on this tree that you see on many other crape myrtles around town? How about those ugly, knurled lumps formed from incorrect pruning of crape myrtles from what we in the gardening world refer to as “crape murder.” Allow me a moment to get on my soap box. If you learn nothing else about gardening please, please, please learn that not only do you not have to hack crape myrtles like is often seen, but it is actually bad for them causing:

  • An invitation for pest and disease problems.
  • Ugly lumps that form from being cut in the same place over and over.
  • Interruption of the naturally graceful growth pattern of the tree.
  • An abundance of skinny, wispy branches at the end of the lumps that do not allow for good air circulation.
There are some misnomers floating around out there that erroneously lead people to annual “crape murder.”




  • They won’t bloom if you don’t prune them.
  • Trees know how to bloom on their own. They do not need pruning in order to bloom.
  • The tree will get too big or crape myrtles need to be kept small.
  • Crape Myrtles are slow growers, but naturally grow around 30 feet. Give them room to grow. Do not place them close to the house. There are new dwarf varieties that stay small. Bottom line, know what you’re buying.
  • My neighbors will think I’m lazy if I don’t prune my trees.
  • Never mind your neighbors! You’ll be the one smiling when your crapes are blooming in their natural, graceful glory while your neighbors’ are dead and ugly.

Now all that being said, there are times when you do need to prune myrtles or any other tree. Feel free to prune when:

  • Branches are too close together. (Crape murder causes this.) Branches, especially the main ones should have about a foot of space between them to let in light and air. See photo below.
  • Branches are too close to a structure. If your tree has been planted to close to the house, by all means trim.
  • Suckers form at the bottom of tree. Cut completely away from tree base.
  • Shaping is desired. For those tree artists who love sculpting, shape away! Notice the photo below and how artfully the branches have been sculpted.

Crape MyrtlePruning Basics

If you do decide to prune, gather up your sharpened loppers to cut branches 1/2-inch to 1-1/2 inches thick and pole pruners to cut higher branches and those more than 1-1/2 inches thick.

Late winter is the perfect time to prune most trees as you can see the structure of the tree better with no leaves and pruning promotes new growth.


]To achieve the optimal vase shape shown, prune

  • Branches growing inward towards the center of the tree.
  • Branches coming from the lower third of the tree, about 4 feet up from the bottom.
  • Touching or crossing branches.
  • Obviously dead branches. If you’re unsure whether a branch is living, scrape it with your fingernail. If you see green, leave it.

There! This should be enough to keep you out of gardening jail for crape murder.

JaniceBrownOn the Grow is a garden coaching service launched by Janice Brown to teach people how to be successful gardeners in the sometimes difficult, Gulf Coast climate. On the Grow provides garden education for the home gardener, children in outdoor classrooms, neighbors in community gardens, and employees in workplace gardens. Whether you want a new idea for a girls’ night out, a new way to engage children in nature, or want to implement a fresh wellness program in your company, On the Grow is here for you. Your coach will take you step by step teaching you the basics, while presenting you with a fresh perspective by helping you experience the healing benefits of gardening. Our mission at On the Grow is to help everyone experience the joy of a garden and build a greater connection to Mother Earth. Connect with One The Grow on Facebook and Twitter!

DON'T MISS OUT! Get Texas Home and Garden email updates. SIGN UP