What is 'crape murder'?

TYLER, Texas (KETK) - East Texas is known for its beautiful landscape. Just like our loblolly pines stand out in the winter, our vibrant crape myrtles are the star of summer.

It's what we do with those flowering trees during their dormant season that has landscape experts baffled and East Texans re-thinking their late winter "to do" list. 

Every year, around this time, East Texas curbs are lined with piles of crape myrtle limbs, a distant reminder of last summer's blooms. All that remains is something resembling a mangled fencepost.

It's called "crape murder" and landscape experts say it has to stop.

"We don't prune dogwood back, we don't prune our oak trees back, we don't prune our pear trees back, but for some reason, people have this approach that they're supposed to prune crape myrtle back," Landscaper James Wilhite says. "I always wonder, where on Earth did that come from?"

After years of research, Wilhite says he discovered "crape myrtle pruning" originated from a nursery scam.

"The nursery men, early on understood they needed cutting wood, so they would go convince a homeowner that had a beautiful crape myrtle, that if you let me cut that back, it'll be prettier for you," Wilhite explained.

He says the nursery men would then take those cuttings, root them over winter, and sell them as next year's trees. Why gardeners believe they still need to prune their crape myrtles today, Wilhite says is beyond his understanding.

However, there are some online resources like FineGardening.com. They say correct pruning yields gracefully shaped trees with more blooms, arriving earlier on stronger stems, but very few people prune correctly.

Wilhite agrees, there is one benefit to pruning back your tree, but says it's not worth it for people who want to get the most out of their summer landscape.

"It does actually promote large blooms, however, it's been proven time and time again...there's a whole lot fewer blooms, but you get a couple of big ones," Wilhite says.

So the next time you get the urge to pick up those trimming sheers to commit "crape murder," remember this advice from Wilhite: "Crape myrtle, if it's left on its own, develops a nice full canopy, a rounded shape, and I think that's the way crape myrtles should be."

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