January 9, 2013

Our Crepe Myrtle Gets A Major Trim

Back patio trees in March, 2012

Now that spring is coming closer and while the weather has been giving us a little warm streak, we've been excited to get back outside to focus on garden projects and prepping again. Last spring, you may remember we tackled trimming back the three trees on our back patio. We really wanted to get to a place where we were providing additional light to the space, clearing the electrical cables and making it easy to just lightly prune each year moving forward.

While we got a huge chunk of the trees trimmed and cleared, it wasn't quite to the degree we were ultimately going for since we didn't have the ideal trimming tools at the time — so we knew we'd be back at it to finish things up this year.

So, this past weekend, we really tackled the job and completely trimmed down our crepe myrtle that had been reaching for the stars ever since we moved in. While my son, Brandon, was here and able to help, we pulled out the pole pruner and took to the crepe myrtle. Being winter, while the tree is completely bare of leaves and flowers and still in dormancy before the new growth period comes in spring, it was the perfect time to prune this tree.

Here are a ton of "Before" shots of what we were working with from different views:

My secret to cutting down the tree this year over last year? I had my pole pruner. You can find these at most any hardware or garden store, but this is one tool that's come in handy more than I ever thought it would. It's like a saw, pruner, pair of loppers and a grabber all in one. I hadn't yet brought this tool over to the new house when we tried to tackle trimming last year and didn't want to go back to the other house to get it at the time, figuring we get to it in a more aggressive way this year.

When it came to the trimming, Mary and I wanted to shorten the entire tree pretty drastically so we could start from ground zero on growth and proper pruning from here on out. I first cut out two of the largest portions of tree trunk that were twisting with the other branches to free everything up for more vertical growth:

I'm serious when I say we took down entire branches:

Then Brandon and I headed up the back landing to tackle the upper portions of the tree.

With a few cuts here and a few snips there, we were beginning to see the light and I was excited to see some of our electrical cables becoming less burdened with branches. Brandon and I alternated holding/pulling back branches while the other would saw them down. Serious sawing faces applied to getting this job done (sorry Brandon, pics or it never happened):

Here's a good example of the multiple uses for the pole pruner — see me trying use it as a lopper on a thinner branch up there while Brandon was able to pull the rope down to make the cut?

At one point, I was literally handing huge branches from the landing down to Brandon:

Basil was thrilled once again this year that larger than life sticks were falling from the sky.

He couldn't have been happier to have bits of sawdust falling all over him like snow.

Once the tree was cut, we trimmed up all the fallen branches, saved many of them for future projects and made a brush pile with the rest.

It was good timing since we'd scheduled for our Christmas tree to be picked up for proper recycling this same weekend, so we laid the leftover brush right out with the tree:

Having this tree fully trimmed feels like such an accomplishment for us. Even though it only took about a solid hour of Brandon and I working on it, the change makes such a big difference in the space — and it's something Mary and I have had on our minds for the last year.

When all was said and done, we'd cut the main tree branches back down to just above the middle of our back landing. We are just loving the more open feeling of the back patio, the ability to see out past our garage and already see a much bigger pocket of sunlight reaching our yard since trimming down the tree. The sunlight is important for us as we continue to try to get to know the best areas of our space for gardening and growing.


A big difference from before, right?

Tackling this project has certainly been a good start and motivator for more outdoor activities ahead this year.

So! All of the above being said — cutting the tree down so far below the latest growth isn't actually the proper way to prune a Crepe Myrtle tree and might actually be seen as a form of butchering in the eyes of those that really know what they are doing with these trees. We did it this way since we were both dead-set on having the shorter size and were OK with experimenting in our own yard. If you have a tree you already like the size of and want to know the proper way to seasonally prune, check out this diagram we've been studying from gardenality on how to do it:

 Images from gardenality.com

You cut all stems of new growth (some might have seed pods at the end where flowers were) back to about 6 inches from where they sprung from their anchor branches. Cutting them back this much ensures these younger branches will be strong enough to support and sustain new growth in the coming season. Much more on this here.

From here on out, if we didn't cause any damage to our tree from the drastic cutting, we are hoping it will now grow back like the diagram above and that we'll be able to properly trim the new growth this time each year moving forward. We just wanted to get it back down to a starter height we both liked.

What outdoor or garden related projects have you been up to this winter? Trimmed any trees lately or kept up with regular pruning? Mary really wants to plant some indoor winter bulbs, but we haven't gotten around to it just yet.


  1. Crepe murder! You vicious thing. However, I see the reasoning behind it.

    1. Trust me we thought long and hard about this! Thanks for understanding.


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