There once was a man with some gall,
Who wouldn’t let his crapemyrtles grow tall,
When asked why he did it, he replied like an idiot,
Because that’s what they do at the mall!
I can handle this one of two ways. I could say that folks who unnecessarily butcher their crapemyrtles each year are senseless morons that have no concept of natural beauty, obviously can’t read, and most likely tortured helpless animals as children. But I won’t. After all, I’ve tried that approach in the past and obviously failed. It just makes people childishly spiteful who in turn, botch more crapemyrtles in a grand show of mindless horticultural insubordination. But let’s get one thing straight right off the bat. I don’t care if you have ugly crapemyrtles! I have beautiful ones of my own and I do precious little to deserve them. Why should I care if yours look hideous? I actually look forward to my annual dose of dormant season amusement when both homes and businesses hang big signs in their landscapes that boldly state “I AM STUPID!” But I am a teacher, so this month let’s cover some crape murderous facts, then next month I’ll get back to my normal blog where I tell you which dog I love the most, what I’ve eaten, and which body part fell off last.
Like many gardeners I’ve spent a good portion of my life planting plants and watching them die. But unlike most, I’ve also spent an even greater amount of time traipsing through long abandoned gardens and old cemeteries learning which plants are truly adapted to Southern gardens. Amazingly enough, some of the prettiest plants I’ve ever seen have received no care at all. These include fields of naturalized jonquils that had never been watered, gorgeous tea roses taller than your head that were never sprayed, and spectacular old crapemyrtles that looked like something Michael Angelo would have sculpted. Unlike finicky box store annuals, many plants get better with age. And even more amazing is that some plants actually do better with less care instead of more. Certainly crapemyrtles fall into that category. Show me a crapemyrtle untouched by the hands of man (or woman) and I guarantee it will be more beautiful than one sweated over by a typical landscape crew. And that brings up a good point. Although I do see crapemurder in front of residential homes, the majority of these crimes are committed around commercial establishments. This means that the slashing and burning is mostly being perpetrated by commercial landscape crews, not typical Joe homeowner.
I’ve always wondered if the folks beating up the crapemyrtles knew they were doing wrong since I’ve never in my life witnessed the practice in action, which is truly amazing considering I’ve seen thousands of damaged crapemyrtles. I can only assume they are stalking the helpless crapemyrtles at night and attacking them while they are sleeping.
Occasionally, home gardeners will defend the practice with a semi-legitimate excuse, “But, Greg, they got too tall.” This immediately tells me, somebody didn’t do their homework when they planted the crapemyrtles. Crapemyrtles range in ultimate sizes from 3 feet to 30 feet and should be sited accordingly. Why would anybody plant a plant knowing they will have to perform annual major surgery? And why would anybody plant a plant that grows into a beautiful architectural specimen on its own and then make it ugly each year? It’s not that difficult to understand. Don’t plant a crapemyrtle that grows 30 feet under a 20 foot power line. Don’t plant a crapemyrtle that grows 15 feet under your 10 foot eves. And don’t plant crapemyrtles that grow 8 feet tall in front of your 3 feet high windows. However, many of the topped and disfigured crapemyrtles are growing out in the open, nowhere near power lines, buildings, or homes. How do you justify that?
Then there are the lame excuses about making it bloom better. Topping crapemyrtles does not make them bloom better. It does make them produce larger (although fewer) flowers, but unfortunately in addition to ruining their natural shape, it causes the bloom stalks to bend under the larger flower weight. I’ve even seen crapemyrtles bound with ropes to hold the flower stalks upright. Topping does lead to excess sucker formation at the base of the tree, decreased cold hardiness, and there’s even some evidence that it leads to an increased risk of the dreaded crapemyrtle bark scale.
But even more importantly, it’s about basic floral design. A typical crapemyrtle rises from the ground with a single trunk which branches into something like 3, then 15, then 30, then hundreds of smaller twigs and blooms. But once they get topped, the progression goes from 3 to 15 to 100 and looks unnatural and unattractive. Imagine purchasing a dozen stems of Valentine’s Day roses with 100 more stems and roses crowded at the tips. Though you might be proud of the extra rose bargain, this wouldn’t look natural. I would assume somebody sprayed them with 2, 4-D herbicide to produce the effect or the equally dreaded rose rosette disease was to blame. Worst of all, the more they are topped, the more grotesque callused “scar tissue” forms. Before long they look like the botched plastic surgery folks on shock TV.
There are also those who say the trees won’t bloom unless the seed pods are removed. Hogwash! The only time removing seed pods increases re-blooming is if they are removed immediately after the petals fall, when the pods are still green. Removing dried seed pods may be aesthetically pleasing to some but has no effect on the next season’s bloom. Name any other tree in the landscape where we take the time to cut off perfectly natural dried seed pods? None. Seed pods on crapemyrtles are perfectly natural like gumballs on gums or pine cones on pines. And for that matter, name any small ornamental tree that we top annually and make up lame excuses why we did it? None. No matter what the location or what the size, I never see Bradford pears, dogwoods, fringe trees, Japanese maples, loquats, Mexican plums, or Texas mountain laurels hacked on with such smug confidence. Sadly, the fact that crapemyrtles produce showy annual blooms in spite of our ignorance makes them the perfect candidate for this maltreatment.
I have friends and colleagues who wish I’d shut the heck up about this. My dear friend Felder Rushing says it’s everybody’s right to top their crapemyrtles if they see fit. He’s right. However, millions of dollars, gallons of fuel, and man hours are spent on this practice that isn’t recommended by a single expert or gardening manual on the planet. Every last authority on the matter says this is wrong yet it has now become the norm. It’s the most unbelievable phenomenon I’ve ever witnessed in the landscape.
But, I’m not going to lose any sleep over it. As long as I’m alive I’ll always have my beautiful unmarred crapemyrtles and surely there will always be a few abandoned crapemyrtles somewhere looking spectacular and beautiful the way nature taught them over thousands of years. But if not, I took pictures just so I’ll remember what they looked like. Until next month, cut the crap, not the crape! –Greg
I once had a class vote for a crapemyrtle slogan to put on bumper stickers they were printing in Nacogdoches to help educate homeowners on this subject. Our top three were “Cut the Crape, not the Crap!” “Stop Crapemurder!” and “Drop Your Girdle, not the Myrtle!” Unfortunately they ignored our wishes and printed “Stop Crapemyrtle Abuse” which obviously did nothing to help!
At last! Someone with the insight to solve the prolmeb!
OOPS! I meant “Cut the Crap, not the Crape” for one of our top three!
OK, I take back what I said about the commercial folks being the main problem. After recent trips to Mobile, Longview, and College Station, crapemurder is alive and well in a plethora of homeowner landscapes! I’m sure the crapemyrtles wish they would die of embarrassment. Didn’t have time to stop but I thought I saw crapemyrtle bark scale on Hwy 80 through Longview as well. Sad.
Greg, Sweetie, you cannot cure stupid. I too am sad to see all the crepe murder in my neighborhood. I have 30 year old “mini” crepes that are 3 feet tall and all I’ve ever done is remove crossing branches and remove seed heads. They look great.
That kind of thkiinng shows you’re on top of your game
thanks. I hope your bluebirds, chickadees, tufted titmice, and brownheaded nuthatches are all nesting and happy!
The bluebirds fledged on March 17! First egg was February 9. I’ve got house sparrows taking over the other box. Trapping and dispatching one at a time. I’m in Illinois right now. Spoiling my granddaughter which should give the sparrows enough time to lay eggs.
Your’s is a point of view where real inlncligeete shines through.
Thank you for another great article. I look forward to my monthly dose of Greg Grant humor 🙂
Keep preachin’ brother. This is one of my biggest pet peeves in gardening. Crape Myrtles are so lovely as nature intended, so why do people ruin them by mutilating this natural beauty? Ignorance I suppose. Keep the landscape people busy spreading mulch rather than murdering the lovely crape myrtles.
It’s a plrausee to find someone who can think so clearly
I hate crepe murder and drive my friends nuts constantly telling them not to commit this crime. They never listen. SAD
I am one of those peeps that like cutting my crape back. I also like cutting my grass back. I say enjoy what makes you happy in your garden, its a place to relax and call your own.
Very, very true. I do cut some crapemyrtles to the ground each year and grow as shrubs (as they do in the north as perennials). I do this to some Acomas and Catawbas like many in the world do butterfly bushes. This allows them to grow into a natural shrub shape without all the ugly stubs and scars. It doesn’t work well with 30 foot tree types though. I would suggest cutting those to the ground that have been butchered and starting over however. I enjoy cutting grass too but it evolved through natural grazing for low growth whereas crapemyrtles didn’t. I also like trimming hedges and perennials. Plenty of work to do training and trimming without marring and maiming. But then again if that’s what turns you on then hack away. That’s the beauty of calling one’s garden thine own. I promise I have crazy garden secrets I’m NOT sharing!
Way back when I was a kid. Mimosa trees were butchered in a simlar way. We now have very few mimosas around . Don’t know what happened.
Thank you so much for your article. Thia has been the worst year ever for butchering crape myrtles in my area og houston I have ever seen. I could drive with blinders on in order nor to see the destruction of these trees, I would! I grew up with crape myrtles in my mother’s yard as a child. They were tall and beautiful and never cut like a shrub. And Montrose and the Heights in Houston have beautiful old examples of crapes also. But the landscapers and yard crews in the 1960 area make a fortune in butchering these trees. I convinced one neighbor this year that there was no need to pay money to have her crape’s “cut back”. They are trees, not shrubs, I pointed out. Why don’t we butcher the oaks and pines and sweet gums, etc., to all other trees? I don’t know if she got the full message, but she was glad not to spend the money to have it done.
Yep, my Papaw pollarded mimosas and Chinaberries too. Mimosas generally die early from mimosa wilt (fusarium) disease now. -GG