You don’t have to watch Netflix to observe this heinous crime. On trees.
Crape murder is quite a dramatic statement, isn’t it? It does capture the attention of gardeners and homeowners across the South. And it’s time again. Late January and early February signal aspiring Paul Bunyan’s across the South to gather their weapons.
Before you go chopping away on your crape myrtle trees…
I can’t mention Paul Bunyan and walk away…this link explores whether he was a real man. Whether Paul Bunyan was real or not, he did have a way with chopping down trees, and that’s what we are all here for today. The pruning of our treasured Crape Myrtle trees across the South.
Crape murder is the practice of pruning your crape myrtle back on the main trunks, often to the same location each year, and often to a height of 4 to 5 feet. The misconception is the tree will produce more new growth the following spring and summer. Many believe this result in more bloom, but it really just means more shoots. Weak shoots that will be weak and will place stress on the tree.
Why do crape myrtle trees need so much pruning?
Many times, crape myrtle trees need severe pruning because they are planted in improper locations. Reminding us of the importance of a good landscaping plan! But if your trees are in need of pruning, don’t commit crape murder, but follow these guidelines:
- Don’t prune far down onto the main trunks
- Don’t cut out large sections
- Remove branches that cross one another
- Remove seed pods from last year
- Allow your crape myrtle to look like a tree
- Your crape myrtle should look like an umbrella from a distance
- If your Crape Myrtle is too tall, you can prune it back down to a more appropriate height, but not every year!
While Lawn and Pest Solutions does not offer a pruning service, we want to help you maintain a beautiful lawn. We have licensed technicians ready to assist you with all of your lawn and pest control needs. We serve Mississippi and Tennessee and are always available to take your calls, texts or messages. You can contact us here for a quote. If the mention of Paul Bunyan has you sentimental, check out these statue locations.
Crape Myrtle Bark Scale, it’s still here!
Crape Myrtle Bark Scale (CMBS) is still a “thing” here in North Mississippi and the surrounding areas. Just because we aren’t currently talking about “Crape Murder” (also still a “thing”) doesn’t mean this especially ugly and pretty gross scale insect isn’t making its’ presence known around here.
First of all, what is a “scale insect”?
Oh, you didn’t know either? Well, I googled that for us. If you just want a one click answer, here it is. The easy explanation is that they are insects that suck on a plant, they have a waxy and protective outer coating. They don’t have wings, so they can’t move and their outer coating eventually turns to a matted felt like texture. They secrete a fluid (called honeydew) that is sticky and attracts other insects like pests. The CMBS is tiny and about the length of the thickness of a dime. Once it lays eggs on your Crape Myrtle, it dies.
So what’s the harm?
Crape Myrtle Bark Scale isn’t as harmful as some of the other things that might be lurking in your lawn, that’s the good news. But let’s be honest, the reason we all love a Crape Myrtle is that it is a beautiful tree. It is pretty tough, it grows back even when you try to murder it and it just exudes Southern charm. So, we don’t want our lovely Crape Myrtle to be covered in this gross, sticky, layer of life sucking scale insects, right? Not only does CMBS make the trunk and limbs of your tree look and feel yucky, it also tends to exude a black or gray sooty mold. This mold makes your tree dark and it also falls over everything under your tree. You may have noticed the black mold that appears on driveways, sidewalks, garbage cans, children’s toys, etc.
Sooty mold isn’t the only problem.
Again, we planted this Crape Myrtle for the beautiful flowers…right? When the trunk and limbs are covered in scale insects that are slowing sucking life from the tree, guess what happens? It is going to affect not only the quantity of your flowers and blooms, but also the quality. It won’t kill your tree, but your tree won’t be living its’ best life covered in this pest. This expert from Oklahoma gives us a great up close view of Crape Myrtle Bark Scale and discusses ways a homeowner can treat it. Oh, and one last really gross issue with CMBS, when you crush it, a pink blood-like liquid is exuded. I couldn’t let that go without being said.
What can be done?
One of the zillion cool things about nature, is that sometimes, nature can try and take care of itself. In this instance, it’s the lady beetle . If you are so lucky to be visited by her, she can attack and eat up lots of Crape Myrtle Bark Scale. Before the Lady Beetles pupate, they can clean up a lot of problems, so if you see these friends, leave them alone! Let them do their job. Here’s a cool and short video of a lady beetle feasting on Crape Myrtle Bark Scale.
If you like to think of yourself as a “Do it yourselfer”
As mentioned above, you can wash off the trunks and limbs that you can reach. You can also cover the tree in dormant oil for the winter to kill off any remaining scale. You don’t have to commit “crape murder” and you don’t have to cut down your trees. If you decide to do just that, please be careful in the removal of the cuttings, as this can easily spread to other healthy trees and lawns if not handled properly.
We can help you.
Climbing ladders and scrubbing your trees may not be in your fall plans, but saving your trees and lawns, it’s what we do.If you have determined that you have a tree or trees that are infested with Crape Myrtle Bark Scale, give us a call. These scale insects are laying eggs now, and now is as good a time as any to handle this problem. If you want the pros to help you, click here to leave a message with our office. If you call during regular office hours, we always answer the phone. If you want to get in touch with us after hours, leave a message on our easy to use Podium link (the photo of the girl in the bottom right corner) and you will be not be missed.
Good news, the murder rate of crape myrtles is declining
Kudos to the person who first coined the term “crape murder”…it worked. Today, I drove around my beautiful small town in North Mississippi looking for photo opportunities of crape murder. As small towns and gossip go, I knew better than to post a picture of my neighbor’s lawn (yikes, they really committed a heinous crime). So, I changed my search for a public property, one where the crape myrtles have been hacked off by chainsaws and look like scary stumps with big knots at the top. To my surprise, people have been listening! Our crape myrtles along the main street area are in lovely condition for this time of year. The canopies of crape myrtles in our parks have been lovingly and appropriately trimmed. Even those in neighborhoods throughout town look like they are going to blossom out and be strong for the season. Though there were plenty of knotted, gnarled and shrunken “victims”, it looks like people are getting the message!
Am I a murderer?
Many crape murders are committted by cutting back on the main trunks, on the same location every year and often to a height of around 4-5’. Yes, some of these practices will lead to many new shoots and lots of blossoms, but these new shoots will be very weak. The weak shoots can’t support the heavy blooms and they will droop and weep from the strain. Each year, as the pruning occurs in the same spots, knots will develop on the trunks. These knots are not only unattractive, but they also contribute to weakness in our trees. This is crape murder.
I don’t want to be a murderer!
First of all, timing is everything! WHEN you prune your crepe myrtle is of utmost importance! In North Mississippi, the ideal time to prune is late January through February. You can still make corrective pruning as late as March or April, though. If you missed your chance already this year, just mark your calendar for next year, and make notes….
Repeat after me, “it’s a tree, not a bush”
Don’t prune far down onto the main trunks; allow your crape myrtle to look like a tree. Ideally, your crape myrtle should look like an umbrella from a distance.
Don’t cut out large sections, just remove branches that cross one another. If there are seed pods from last year, remove those, too! If your tree is too tall, you can prune it back down to a more appropriate height, but don’t do this every year.
Ok, I want to plant a crape myrtle…
If you are considering planting crape myrtles, consult with a professional, or at the very least, do a little research first. Here are a few big ideas:
Where you plant your crape myrtle will either contribute to the successful life or the untimely death of your beautiful ornamental tree.
Crape myrtles need lots of sun but not a lot of water to live in our area.
Pruning and long-term care is just as important to the lifespan of a crape myrtle.
For more reading on crape murder,proper care and planting*, read this great article in Southern Living.
While Lawn and Pest Solutions does not offer a pruning service, we want to help you maintain a beautiful lawn. We have customers all over North Mississippi and our licensed technicians are ready to assist you. You can contact us here for a quote.