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Extension: The case against crape murder – in pictures
Crape myrtle

I’m often asked why homeowners and landscapers prune crape myrtles so harshly. Cutting branches back nearly to the trunk is a European practice known as pollarding. While pollarding has its purposes, it prevents crape myrtles from achieving their naturally beautiful form and size.

Natural form and size
Crape myrtles bloom on new growth, and pollarding causes copious branch sprouts for flower production. Most of these sprouts grow straight up, creating a crowded crown. 

Crape Myrtle

Crape myrtles that were pollarded in February.

Crape myrtle

How the pollarded trees appear in July.


Repeated pollarding causes swelling at the cutting site. Smooth, graceful trunks and branches are one of the beautiful features of natural form crape myrtle trees.

Crape myrtle

Pollarding creates a tight canopy and knobby branches. 

crape myrtle

Long, graceful branches are one of the beautiful features of natural form crape myrtle trees.


In some cases, pollarding is used to manage a tree that is too large for its planting site. Fortunately, crape myrtles are available in dwarf cultivars and shrub forms. 

Selecting a crape myrtle with the appropriate mature size for the planting site is a better option than annually cutting back a large tree. 

Crape myrtle
Crape myrtle


Crape myrtles don’t require heavy pruning to stimulate blooming, but selective pruning is occasionally needed for tree health. In late winter, remove dead and damaged branches, branches that cross over or rub other branches, and branches that turn into the tree canopy. 

Prune out interior branches that are smaller than the diameter of a pencil to open the canopy for light and air circulation. 

Also remove sprouts that emerge low on the tree.

Crape myrtle

The interior crossing branch should have been pruned out. 

Crape myrtle

It has fused to other branches.

crape myrtle


Above, selective pruning includes removing sprouts that emerge low on the trunk below the canopy and root sprouts at the base of the tree, below. 

Pollarding can increase root sprouting.


crape myrtle


Recovery for pollarded crape myrtles

To restore crape myrtles to natural growth after pollarding, in the spring, select 2-3 strong, well-placed sprouts to keep on each stub; prune away all other sprouts. Allow these sprouts to grow as branches and practice selective pruning as necessary in successive years. 

UGA Extension strives to translate the science of life for use in everyday living. Forsyth County Extension is supported by the University of Georgia, Forsyth County Board of Commissioners, Forsyth County Board of Education, and United Way of Forsyth County.