You get what you pay for, except when you don’t. I decided to splurge on a high-dollar haircut a few years back. Long story short, I ended up at a chain-franchised salon to get that expensive mess fixed. Fortunately, hair grows back quickly enough. Unfortunately, trees have a much harder time recovering from a poorly executed cut. Improper pruning can permanently impact a tree’s appearance, stability and health. Don’t spend your time or money on poor pruning because once it is cut it cannot be put back.

Crape myrtles are commonly victims of repeated topping, sometimes known as “Crape murder.” Contrary to popular belief, topping a crape myrtle is not proper maintenance. In fact, professionals and homeowners alike continue to prune this way, disfiguring trees as they go. So, your tree was murdered, what now?

First, consider whether the tree is actually planted in a good location. Will limbs interfere with walkways or vehicles? Is the tree planted too close to a home or structure? Is the tree directly below power lines? In some cases, the best course of action may be to remove the tree and find a suitable replacement for the space. Don’t spend time trying to restore the appearance of a tree that has become a nuisance in its current location.

You might have noticed that topping a crape myrtle causes many thin, whip-like branches to grow from the cut trunk. To approximate more natural growth, remove all but two or three of those sprouted branches. Carefully select outward growing branches to remain and remove those that are crossing other branches or directed towards other obstructions. New shoots will likely appear due to pruning but continue to remove those suckers entirely as the selected branches become established.

If the trees have been pruned to the same spot year after year (repeatedly murdered), the trunk can get swollen into a club shape. That swollen growth will always look odd. As a last-ditch effort, you can cut the tree down at ground level and start fresh. Crape myrtles are very resilient, and most will sprout back from the stump. However, there is a slight chance that it will not, and the tree will need to be replaced. After a year’s growth, go in and select three sprouts as the main trunks and remove all of the others. From that point forward, use accepted pruning practices as found in the HGIC online factsheet 1009, Crape Myrtle Pruning.

The Extension Fruit and Vegetable team will host several commercial crop webinars in January and February, including tomatoes and peppers, cucurbits, and more. Visit for more information. Visit the online calendar here to register for upcoming extension events and classes:

Our office will be closed Monday. Contact me at or 864-889-0541. The Greenwood County Extension office at 105 N. University St. is open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. Call the office at 864-223-3264 for assistance via phone. Visit our Facebook page,, for timely information.

Stephanie Turner is the Greenwood County horticulture agent for Clemson Cooperative Extension.