Pruning 101-Easy Crape Myrtle Pruning

While crape mytles will grow and bloom without pruning, a neater, tidier and more floriferous tree can be maintained with proper pruning.  And while decapitating crape myrtle trees in the style semi-jokingly referred to as “crape murder” is still common, it is not the correct way to maintain these beautiful trees. While proper crape pruning is more time consuming, the results are more attractive and lead to a healthier, better shaped tree over time.

Proper crape pruning is not difficult. You’ll need a good set of hand pruners, pole pruners and possibly a hand saw and a ladder.

How to Prune a Crape Myrtle

(We'll assume you know how to make basic pruning cuts. If you're unsure, see illustrations in our pruning guide here.)


Renovating Crape Murder

Let’s say you've inherited a crape myrtle that’s been chopped in previous years. Can it be fixed? The answer is yes-in most cases you can repair previous poor pruning.  It will take a few years to reverse the damage but here's what to do:  


2014 Perennial Plant of the Year: Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’

Every year the Perennial Plant Association chooses their “perennial plant of the year” based on the criteria that it be suitable for a wide range of climatic conditions, have low-maintenance requirements, be relatively pest- and disease-free and have multiple seasons of ornamental interest.

This year’s winner is Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’, also known as panic grass or switch grass. Switch grass is a native ornamental grass that tolerates a wide range on conditions in the garden.  ‘Northwind’, a cultivar introduced in the 90’s, is particularly useful for its strongly upright growth habit and steely blue color.  It resists opening even in high winds and drought conditions.  This makes it ideal as a specimen, in a mixed border (where it will not lean on its neighbors), or even as a screen planting, where it remains standing through the winter.  This clump forming perennial reaches 4-5’ in height (up to 6’ when in bloom) by 2-3’ wide and has an attractive yellow-gold fall color, turning beige in winter.

Switch grass prefers full sun, but will survive in part shade where its upright habit will become more arching.  ‘Northwind’ tolerates clay soils well.  Like most plants, average moisture is ideal but it’s tolerant of drought and occasional periods of “wet feet” also making it ideal for a rain garden.  And like most ornamental grasses, it is deer resistant.

If you are looking for screening or accent in a tough area, tough as nails switch grass is low maintenance, virtually pest free and still remains graceful and elegant.

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What is a Rain Garden?

Simply, rain gardens are small bio-filtration features in the landscape that slow and collect storm water runoff from paved areas and roofs, preventing pollutants from entering waterways and overburdened sewage and storm water systems. They also provide habitat for beneficial insects, birds and other wildlife.  Because they are designed to hold water intermittently and for only a few days at a time, they do not allow mosquitoes to breed in them.  Rain gardens can be installed in both commercial and residential settings.

Click to enlarge

Unlike a swale, the rain garden does not redirect excess water flow elsewhere, but captures it and disperses it by slow filtration into the soil and evaporation. It is ideal for capturing driveway runoff and downspout or sump pump flow, reducing washout and areas of standing water after storms. The natural filtration and absorption process of plants and soil can remove fertilizer, pesticides, oil, pet waste and other pollutants from storm water.

While they are slightly depressed, they are usually not as deep as a swale and easily blend into existing landscapes.  Water can be directed to the rain garden passively or by way of drain pipe, swales, or dry creek beds. The most important step is calculating the correct size garden to hold the water from the drainage area.  Construction is fairly easy, requiring excavation of only 3” to 6” of soil. The excavated soil is used to create a low berm on the side away from the incoming water flow, to slow and contain the water. No additional amendment in needed in fairly well-drained soils; heavier clay soils may need amending with gravel or mulch.

Suitable plants for rain gardens are must be tolerant of both drought and of periods of standing water.  Natives are preferred, and encourage birds, butterflies and other wildlife to use the rain garden as source of food and shelter. Once established, maintenance is the same as for any other garden bed.

A well placed, designed and planted rain garden can handle the water flow from a 1” rain event, reducing the amount of pollutants entering local creeks, streams and lakes and providing habitat for birds, insects and other wildlife. Adding a rain garden can benefit both your property and the environment. See the resource links below for more information on rain gardens.



NC Cooperative Extension: Backyard Rain Gardens  

The Rain Garden Alliance

Sample Rain Garden Designs

Rain Garden Plant List for the Piedmont 


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