I think there are bush type crape myrtles and tree type crape myrtles. However I have some fairly old ones that are tree type, but without pruning I think they would look like huge bushes. I have a couple I have rooted and planted and did not prune, they don't look like trees, they look like a large shrub. I have to keep the suckers pruned off and I have to keep the occasional lower growth trimmed. As the tree gets older I seem to have less and less lower growth that needs pruning.
The crape myrtle in the first picture and the one in the last picture are about the same age, one is a miniature with multicolored flowers the other is a large tree type. You can get them in different sizes: small, medium and large and of course bush types.
Also depends on hardiness.
In the northernmost zones where it is marginally hardy,
even the tree forms will grow essentially as a die-back shrub,
resprouting from the crown each year as a flowering bush.
That's what mine did 20yrs ago, before global warming turned them into trees.
Usually they are pruned that way to begin with to allow light and air in besides the aesthetics. As they age and become small trees (some get quite large) they do seem to stay limb free on the bottom but I don't know if this is natural forming or from previous pruning(s).
They sucker vigorously so if you ever plant a crape myrtle it seems like you will always have it where you planted it despite cutting it to the ground or even digging it up because the severed roots will sprout new shoots (good if you need more, bad in that you never seem to get rid of them).
The CMs on the left are the mother plants and were dug up from the right side. There is now more CMs on the right side and a bit taller than the mother plants from severed roots.
We experienced the same thing Weerobin in Atlanta in 1984 and 1985 (back to back) - high temps in the 70's or 80's in Dec/Jan and then plunged to 5 to 10 degrees overnight - killed very large old CMs to the ground but they all suckered out in summer. Some at Georgia Tech had to be 30 feet tall or more - killed to the ground.
Thank you everyone for all the great information (especially about the suckers)! We purchased our CM in June of last year and it has more than doubled in size. I had asked the question about the bare bottom third because ours (pictured below) is really full at the bottom and I didn't know if it is supposed to be trimmed. If I remember correctly it is supposed to get to about 12' and I think it may look pretty if the bottom was trimmed. Will it injure the CM to trim all bottom branches off? And when would be the best time to do the trimming?
You can prune the bottom limbs off at any time. You can also prune any wayward, interior, and crossing limbs as well. You may want to cut out some of the trunks as it ages to 1 to 3 (or more) trunks for a more "classic" look for crepe myrtles (depending on the ultimate size of the CM you own)
Get out much? Travel to Richmond within consideration?
A visit to a place like the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens will give you some idea about what Crape Myrtle can be as a single or multistem plant. I visited there last year, and observed many very well grown plants that display the full value that a crape myrtle can bring to one's landscape. I'll attach some images below.
If you know the name of your fine pink-flowered selection, tell us what it is.
It is amazing to see the full extent of bark expression - right down to the exfoliating buttress root surfaces.
For those of you of more southern persuasion, this aspect of Crape Myrtle ought to be in the forefront of how the plant is used and displayed - in addition, of course, to its nominal flowering performance...
I have one big old (for me) 'Sarah's Favorite', which froze to the ground after the vicious 1994 winter here. It is now a handsome tree, and its bark is my favorite feature - followed closely by its stunning array of fall foliage.
It really wouldn't matter to me if it never flowered.
Very interesting photos VibuurnumValley. Our Crape Myrtle is a Hopi.
Guess I will prune the branches off the bottom third of the plant, though I'm a little nervous about taking off so much. I would be heartbroken if the CM ended up dying.
This garden was established as a remembrance of my Mother who passed away Spring 2012. The cement birdbath in the garden was in her backyard for probably 40 years. Prior to that it was in my paternal Grandmother's yard for who knows how long.
The photo below shows the size of the CM when we planted it in the Spring of 2012. It's grown a little since then. : )
Pruning the bottom limbs and suckers won't kill it. They are vigorous growers. I have trimmed many CMs over the years (yes including myrtle murder before it became a no-no) and never killed one. Wanted to get rid of two due to the color of the blooms so cut them to the ground, planted variegated privet in their spots and yet the CMs kept coming back from the roots no matter how many times I cut them. Many years later I got rid of the privets and the CMs were still there.
I dug up four seedlings when they were about 4 feet high in the middle of summer two years ago and moved them to the backyard. While that was a stupid time of year to do it since only 2 survived, the roots where the plants were dug from sprouted and are blooming this year.
Here are two different colored CMs that got planted together at my parents' home in middle TN (dug up from my old house). Everyone thought it was the same plant until we traced the blooms to different stems..
Next tow pictures are what I think is a CM too that I saw it in Okinawa last year. The tree in full and a close up of the extra large florets.
I agree wholeheartedly that the beautiful trunk is the best feature of CM's. My sister lives in Hampton Roads and I drool over the beautiful CM's which thrive around there. (As much as I love them, clearly overplanted.) When I first planted mine, they weren't supposed to be hardy here, so I used them as die-back shrubs. But now mine are ?15-20ft tall. I've tried to isolate a few individual trunks to show off the ornamental bark, then I remove the new suckers. Pic #1 is a cultivar specifically selected for it's ornamental bark (L. fauriei Townhouse. Unfortunately, around here, I have to protect it against deer antler rubbing, so the pretty bark is obscured. Frustrating to say the least.
Another aspect of CM's which I think is often overlooked is the pretty fall color (#2).