Tall, leggy (spindly-looking) crepe myrtles

Tullahoma, TN(Zone 7a)

My husband and I recently bought our first house, and we inherited a beautiful yard with lots of plants for me to learn about. (I'll probably be posting in the beginners' section quite a bit for the foreseeable future! lol) My first question is about crepe myrtles. I've searched the forums and couldn't find my issue exactly, so I hope you'll be able to help. :-)

Across our back fence, crepe myrtles have been planted every 10 feet or so. The fence is 4 ft high, so I'm guessing the myrtles vary in height from 15 to 25 ft. The light pink flowers mark the top of the plant in this picture. I don't mind the height so much, but rather the fact that they are so leggy. None of them get full sun, and many are in mostly-shade. Is there anything I can do for them where they are? Moving them *all* is not much of an option for me because there are so many plants and no full-sun spots in the yard. Thanks in advance for your help!

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Tullahoma, TN(Zone 7a)

Here's another one, but this one is next to the house...bushy at the bottom, but *very* spindly at the top.

P.S. The dates are wrong on the photographs; they were taken this morning. 8/2/2010

This message was edited Aug 2, 2010 9:22 AM

Thumbnail by landmouse
Scott County, KY(Zone 5b)

You could cut them off at the ground, one by one, and allow them to resprout with more stems - creating more density initially. Then, because they will be shorter, you will at least get to enjoy the flowers down where you can appreciate them more.

These plants will always become "leggy" again, as they are stretching for the limited available light. Cutting them off midway up will only give a "bad hair day" look. Crepemyrtles do better with limbing up their natural habit, or rejuvenation by cutting to the ground.

Scott County, KY(Zone 5b)

Looks like we posted over one another.

That second picture is a Hoot! Knowing that Crepemyrtle can be 25' tall and nearly as wide, plastering that one right against a wall is a "Lesson in What Not to Do".

If you want to keep that one there, you could simply prune out the really long shoots to keep the crown balanced......but I'd transplant it somewhere with adequate space and light to truly appreciate its value. If none of those conditions are available, then create some handsome exfoliating bark firewood.

Great thing about Crepemyrtle is that they are easy to find new ones, and they grow pretty darn fast in the south.

Tullahoma, TN(Zone 7a)

Lol, after reading your last post I just *had* to post a picture of the one in the front of the house -- yup, right near the foundation. Maybe I should purchase a subscription to Dave's Garden as a gift to the previous owner...

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Scott County, KY(Zone 5b)


Not sure that would be the wisest use of your funds - they were probably incorrigible and irretrievable.

Tullahoma, TN(Zone 7a)

I've been reading a bit today...would it be possible to try "heading back" the plant to force lateral growth? I don't *think* this counts as Crepe Murder as long as I stagger the cuts (and don't make it a yearly practice), but please correct me if I'm wrong. Also just to make sure, major pruning should happen in early spring, and transplanting in late fall, yes? Can they both occur during the same rolling year, or should there be a year of rest between?

Sorry about all of the questions, and thank you for the feedback so far!

Scott County, KY(Zone 5b)

I think you'd have a tough time killing those vigorous growers, even if you transplanted them NOW.

Heading back tends to create the bad hair day look. Again, with the vigorous growth these are showing, you could try about anything and then decide differently afterwards if you don't like the look.

Flowering occurs on new growth, so early spring pruning is the latest to do so if you want flowers that summer. I imagine you could transplant in the fall or in late winter in Tennessee. If you transplant, I'd give the plant a full growing season before cutting off any stems. The plant will appreciate all the leaf tissue it has in order to generate energy to grow new roots.

Ask away - that's what this site is all about.

Bella Vista, AR(Zone 6b)

I think I am in your same zone, or close. One note about the timing of pruning. . . I can deadhead the first blooms on my crepe myrtle and there is plenty of time for another round of blooms. I also "thin" the centers out of my shrubs and it seems to help keep them healthy and mildew free. Since yours are thin already, you pretty much HAVE to prune them to get them to branch out.

If they are really shaded, you will have to get them some more sun before they will give you lots of blooms. Can you prune whatever it is that is shading them? Or, hate to say it, remove some of them to give more sun to the remaining ones.

Also, I would not have a problem moving them and pruning them in the same year.

Prairieville, LA(Zone 9a)

I agree with Julie and VV.....crepemyrtles are rather like weeds in the south. They are very forgiving of pruning...and yeah, lots of folks around here perform "Crepe Murder" every year and the Crepemyrtles still come back and bloom. I prune mine to keep the tree form by cutting off the "suckering" growth at the ground so they only have 2 or 3 actual trunks growing. My neighbor keeps his pruned into multi-truck large shrubs by top pruning. The neighbor across the street cuts the tops back and keeps a single trunk. They all bloom.

Julie is right, they do need as much sun/bright light as possible, so maybe limbing up what is growing above them, or re-spacing them would help.

Tullahoma, TN(Zone 7a)

There is an ENORMOUS holly tree that badly needs limbing up, and there's also a water maple that might have to come down (for other reasons, not just for the myrtles). I *think* I will be able to let more light through this way to all but 2 crepe myrtles. These I can move to sunnier places.

BTW, there are 2 young, healthy holly trees that need to go; if anyone wants to come dig them up, you're more than welcome to!

Prairieville, LA(Zone 9a)

Sounds like a plan landmouse. No thanks to the hollies....my neighbor has a couple and i am always pulling babies our of my beds on that side.

Virginia Beach, VA(Zone 8b)

If you are able to do something about the shade such as cutting a few limbs from another tree to allow more light that would help from the branches reaching for sun. You also will need to cut back the branches that are growing beyond the shape of the tree to fit more into the form of the Crepe Mrytle. Your best bet would be to prune in the spring (or fall as I sometimes do).

Okeechobee, FL(Zone 10a)

I was advised to prune mine in Feb, while they are dormant.
Here in Jax I have noticed several that are trained as 'standards' (single trunk)
They are beautiful.
Do get rid of the overgrowing trees and enjoy your Crepe Myrtles.
Also dead head those rascals and they bloom twice.

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