RECOVERING FROM CRAPE MURDER

The term "crapemurder" was coined in an article by Southern Living Magazine to highlight and decry the wrongful pruning practice of topping or stubbing back a crapemyrtle tree. David Byers of Byers's Nursery, and author of a relatively new book, "Crapemyrtles", has worked with the city of Decatur, Alabama to reach its goal of being known as the "Crapemyrtle City". Having this name carries the responsibility of setting an example on how to properly maintain and prune crapemyrtles.

Mr. Byers talked with the city officials about their common practice of topping their crapemyrtles and how they could bring these trees back to their natural form. An educational opportunity materialized and Mr. Byers contacted the Alabama Extension System to instigate an educational event that would benefit other cities engaging in these poor pruning practices. A demonstration will begin on March 8, 1999 on one of the main streets in Decatur to show the proper remedy for crapemurder. A video is being made of the process for later teaching purposes.

A small research project was also begun this year at the Cullman Agricultural Experiment Station to look at different pruning practices of crapemyrtles and the effects on flower numbers and incidence of disease and insect problems. The following information describes the crapemurder recovery demonstration scheduled for Decatur.

Recovering from crapemurder is a drastic process, but easy to do and you can expect rapid recovery. When trees are topped or stubbed back to chest high, a profusion of sprouts or a witches broom develops below the cut. The attachment of these sprouts is weak, dense and susceptible to breakage and more disease problems. The winter silhouette is crapemurder ugly. The best recovery method is to cut the tree to within 1 to 2 inches of the ground in early March before new growth begins. Shortly thereafter, new sprouts emerge in clusters of growth. All the stored energy in the roots is forced up into a number of new buds. These buds break and grow very fast. After 2 to 3 weeks, select 3 to 5 of the most vigorous new shoots, arranged around the tree, growing out from the center. Sometimes a single trunk is desired when you have a tree close to a sidewalk. In this case, select one sprout and remove all others. Keep the tree clean of sprouts except for the one you selected. Remove and continue to remove other existing shoots and any new ones that emerge later.

There is a product that we will demonstrate at our Decatur Crapemurder Recovery Event called Tre-Hold. Tre-Hold is a chemical growth regulator which was evaluated by Dr. Gary Keever, who is in the Horticulture Department at Auburn University. Dr. Keever found that when Tre-Hold was sprayed on the trunk of the tree, it suppressed continuing bud break and reduced the labor required to remove these new sprouts. This is very important to grounds maintenance professionals and municipalities as a means of cutting expensive labor necessary to revisit the trees on a regular basis for sprout removal. Without a chemical like Tre-Hold, sprouts need to be removed every 2 to 3 weeks during the recovery from crapemurder. If you catch them early, you can easily rub them off with a gloved hand. Results will be rapid and, within 3 to 5 years, you should have some completely recovered, natural crapemyrtles. This harsh pruning technique does make a drastic change in the appearance of your landscape but since flowers of crapemyrtle bloom on new growth, you will not go a year without being able to enjoy the flowers of your crapemyrtle. This should ease the pain and concern as you make the major surgical cuts to recover from crapemurder.

(by Ken Tilt, Auburn University)

Send questions and comments to bfischma@acesag.auburn.edu.