Ask the Arborist: Crape Murder

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There are many terms for the improper pruning of crape myrtle trees; Crape Murder, Hat Racking, Topping, Butchering, and Maiming, among others. No matter what you call it, the practice of topping trees is a bad one. Most people would be horrified to see a topped-out oak, maple, dogwood, or pine. So, why do we do it to our crape myrtles? The topping of any tree produces trees with poor structure, multiple leaders, scars, and weak branch attachments. Crape myrtles do not have to be pruned. But, when it is desired, they should be pruned like any other tree for form, structure, clearance, and aesthetics. Above all, the practice of crape murder is not aesthetically pleasing. Just picture a Hat Racked crape myrtle in the winter. You would never hear anyone say - “Ooooooh! That looks good!”

Why do we do this? My feelings are that we do this because everyone else does it and we all just want to fit in. It brings up the famous question your mother or father asked you when you were a teenager - “If Johnny jumped off a bridge would you?” Think about it - a bad idea is always a bad idea no matter how many people do it. My request to you is to be brave enough to stand up for these poor defenseless trees and stop the senseless butchering of one of the prettiest, hardiest, and most common flowering trees in the southern landscape.

This practice has been perpetuated for years on wrong information. Topping does not promote more blooms or better blooms. All it does is leave the poor tree maimed with scars and wounds for the rest of its life - kind of like the tattoo you got as a teenager. It also promotes the dreaded drooping branch syndrome. The large showy blooms of a crape myrtle are too heavy for the new sprouts to support so they droop over walkways and parking lots. So, the next time you get smacked in the face by a crape myrtle bloom drooping over the sidewalk or a parking lot, remember the tree is trying to tell you something.

If you’re still tempted to top your crape myrtles, GOOGLE “Crape Murder.” You will get 150,000 or more hits, but you won’t find one educated Horticulturist or Arborist that endorses this practice. If you would like more information about pruning your crape myrtles, just check out this link https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/EP/EP39900.pdf, contact me (David Shostak), the Alpharetta City Arborist, at dshostak@alpharetta.ga.us, or visit the Alpharetta Natural Resources Commission Facebook page and post your questions there at http://www.facebook.com/AlpharettaNaturalResources.