Don’t commit ‘Crepe Murder.’ It’s not only wrong — in Charlotte, it’s against the law

Don’t commit ‘Crepe Murder.’ It’s not only wrong — in Charlotte, it’s against the law
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As the winter turns to spring, you may have seen landscapers or your neighbors lopping off the tops of crepe myrtles. This practice is also known as “topping.”

Although it’s the easiest way to prune these trees, it actually keeps your crepe myrtle from looking as pretty as it possibly can. Plus it hurts the tree, and in Charlotte — it just might be illegal.

crepe-murder

You do need to prune crape myrtles. Late winter and early spring is the best time to do it, so if you haven’t already, it would be a perfect time to take care of it. All you really need is a pair of garden shears, and I would recommend gloves. If your crepe myrtle is a little bit older, you may need a lopper to take off some of the thicker branches.

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It is good practice to trim off any offshoots around the base, any that face down or any that face into the center. Many people also like to trim all the branches below about chest height to show off the crepe myrtle’s beautiful bark, but please don’t just hack off thick vertical branches. 

pruning-tools

At 16 percent of Charlotte’s street trees, the crepe myrtle is by far our city’s most common tree. In fact, the only other two trees above 5 percent are the willow oak and the red maple.

But they are also regulated. According to the city of Charlotte tree ordinance, topping of protected trees (including crape myrtles) on commercial property can even result in a violation. 

Yes, this has been an issue. Back in 2011, Albemarle Road Presbyterian Church was fined $4,700 for its crape myrtle trimming. Nine other businesses were fined nearly $14,000 or required to replace their trees that year.

crepe-myrtle-close-up

Trimming your crepe myrtle propertly takes about 30 or 40 minutes per tree once or twice a year. I enjoy the satisfaction of seeing mine bloom in May and knowing how beautiful they’re going to look because I took a few minutes in the spring to prune them. 

If you receive Charlotte-Mecklenburg garbage collection, you can even pile up the limbs by the road on your trash day and the city will take them away for you. The limbs can’t be longer than five feet and shouldn’t be tied up, just make small piles.

Please remember, don’t lop off big thick vertical branches, willy-nilly. It’s jokingly called “crepe murder” and it’s unnecessary and you’re really doing the plant a disservice. If it’s on a commercial property, you might even be risking a fine. 

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