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February Landscapes – Don't Hack Your Crapes!


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Don't Hack Your Crape Myrtles!

A pruning practice that has grown over the years is actually bad for your Crapes

I almost always use this column to discuss some of the things we are to do each month in the landscape.

This month, I will headline this column with what we are NOT to do in the landscape this month.

Each year during February, you will begin to see Crape Myrtles being “hacked” wherever you go. I’m not sure how or why this practice began, but doing this is detrimental to the health of the tree. Some folks, namely the Texas A&M Horticultural Science Department, calls this practice “Crape Murder.”

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Crape Myrtles will occasionally need pruning, that much is true. This species features an erratic growth habit that sometimes needs to be kept in check for the sake of the health of the tree. The most common trimming that is required is the removal of the “sucker growth” at the bottom of the tree. Crape Myrtles are one of those trees that is always trying to become a bush. This instinct of theirs is utilized as a way of protecting the tree’s root zone area. Trees do not understand that there’s an owner around to provide them with water. So this instinct is always in play.

But the pruning we’re addressing specifically is the hacking process some homeowners and landscape companies (unfortunately) use in trimming Crapes. The result is what looks like sticks sticking up from the ground. For a few months, it just looks, at best, odd.

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Many folks declare that the reason for doing this is to create a more lush growth, one that appears to be vigorous. However, it is instead becoming structurally weak and more vulnerable to fungus diseases such as powdery mildew, leaf spot, or black soot mold. Fungal diseases cause stress in the tree. Predatory insects, namely Scale and Aphids, can pick up on a tree in stress and attack the tree. So in a very direct way, you’re causing your own problems here.

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When pruning is conducted this way for several years, large knobs are created and become unsightly.

Some gardeners say that this annual pruning creates larger clusters of blooms on the Crape. This is inaccurate. The larger flower groupings create heavier weight on the ends of the branches, causing them to bend over in an unnatural fashion. When the tree is smaller (due to the heavy pruning), fewer flowers are created.

So how and why do we trim a Crape Myrtle?

My suggestion is to trim and prune them as you would other trees. Eliminate the erratic growth habits that come up, such as crossing limbs or limbs that rub. Trim them for shape. Trim them to reduce clutter in the middle of the tree. At some point, you may need to raise the canopy line by trimming the lower branches. You will have a much healthier and more beautiful Crape Myrtle if you approach trimming them in this way.

 

Other items on our February list!

Trim back your ornamental grasses this month. You should trim them to about 6 to 10 inches, depending on their current size. Pampas Grass can be cut back to a foot or so. The purpose here is to make it where the sun’s light can hit into the center of the plant, keeping it alive. So often, ornamental grasses not properly maintained can lose their center and the result is a gangly looking plant with no center growth.

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The same applies for Liriope or (monkey grass). This would be a good month to trim them up and remove the wild shoots that pop up outside of its area. Again, trim them straight across and short. Also trim the sides for an even look. This will allow new, lush growth in early spring.

• If you haven’t put down your pre-emergent yet, better late than never.

• If you’re a vegetable gardener, make sure you get your potatoes planted on Valentines Day.

Go ahead and get your bird houses back out. Make sure you’ve cleaned them and conducted any needed repairs before doing so. Some species of birds will not nest in a house that already has a nest in it.

Old Man Winter is not ready to leave us just yet. Some of our coldest air of the year will be entering Texas in a week. Keep your spigots covered and your Palms wrapped, for the time being.

I welcome any questions anyone might have. I’ll be glad to answer anything you have.

 

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  • joeywa pinned this topic

good advice.  also on at least one of the "hacked" crape pics you posted, someone put WAY too much mulch up on the trunk of the tree.  The trunk is not meant to be covered in ground material, the moisture during the winter & spring could cause problems with the trunk bark. Trees should not look like they are coming out of the ground like fence posts.

Also, if you havent done so already, now is a good time to trim back your summer flowers such as Lantanas. My Lantanas stayed green much later than they normally do so I cut them to the ground this past weekend. 

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2 hours ago, Soldierhorn said:

good advice.  also on at least one of the "hacked" crape pics you posted, someone put WAY too much mulch up on the trunk of the tree.  The trunk is not meant to be covered in ground material, the moisture during the winter & spring could cause problems with the trunk bark. Trees should not look like they are coming out of the ground like fence posts.

Also, if you havent done so already, now is a good time to trim back your summer flowers such as Lantanas. My Lantanas stayed green much later than they normally do so I cut them to the ground this past weekend. 

So true. I wrote a column several months back that was dedicated to the mulching problem (covering the root flair). Drives me nuts.

Trimming back your Lantana is an optional thing. They will reclaim what they left behind in Fall. Same holds true for Hydrangeas. In fact, trimming those will cause later blooming and fewer blooms. But they do look kinda bad in the winter.

 

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10 hours ago, Sirhornsalot said:

So true. I wrote a column several months back that was dedicated to the mulching problem (covering the root flair). Drives me nuts.

Trimming back your Lantana is an optional thing. They will reclaim what they left behind in Fall. Same holds true for Hydrangeas. In fact, trimming those will cause later blooming and fewer blooms. But they do look kinda bad in the winter.

 

WRT over-mulching, yeah, I see it all over town, exp in business centers. it must be a monkey-see, monkey-do type of thing where one does something (wrongheaded) and then other landscape companies copy it thinking it's gotta be the right thing; otherwise, why would the other guy do it.  smh. 

yeah, cutting down the lantana stems is mainly for aesthetic purposes. I dont like the dead stems sticking up in the yard and it's easier to rake when they are cut back.   

I should have added previously that the only cutting I do on my crape myrtles (after I have decided how many trunks I want the tree clump to have; usually around 3-4, and how high I want the canopy to be; usually 5' or so) is to prune the twigs that sprout out below 5-6 ft down the trunks and the ones that want to grow to the center of the tree up to about 6-7 ft.  I think the yard looks MUCH better if one can see through the yard past several trees.  Even my Burr Oak is manicured up to 5-6' and looks great.  The reason I cut the twigs growing towards the center is to keep twigs from growing into branches that will rub and compete against other branches that I want established.  once they get to the canopy areas to the outside and above 6-7' then it is less of a concern.  this is just my preference.  

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3 hours ago, Soldierhorn said:

WRT over-mulching, yeah, I see it all over town, exp in business centers. it must be a monkey-see, monkey-do type of thing where one does something (wrongheaded) and then other landscape companies copy it thinking it's gotta be the right thing; otherwise, why would the other guy do it.  smh. 

yeah, cutting down the lantana stems is mainly for aesthetic purposes. I dont like the dead stems sticking up in the yard and it's easier to rake when they are cut back.   

I should have added previously that the only cutting I do on my crape myrtles (after I have decided how many trunks I want the tree clump to have; usually around 3-4, and how high I want the canopy to be; usually 5' or so) is to prune the twigs that sprout out below 5-6 ft down the trunks and the ones that want to grow to the center of the tree up to about 6-7 ft.  I think the yard looks MUCH better if one can see through the yard past several trees.  Even my Burr Oak is manicured up to 5-6' and looks great.  The reason I cut the twigs growing towards the center is to keep twigs from growing into branches that will rub and compete against other branches that I want established.  once they get to the canopy areas to the outside and above 6-7' then it is less of a concern.  this is just my preference.  

You, my friend, are a garden warrior. I would place a medal around your neck right now if I had one. lol. Bravo, well done!

 

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To everyone in North Texas, East Texas, Panhandle and even Central Texas – the season's coldest temperatures are forecasted for our area starting Thursday and continuing to at least Wednesday of next week.
In being pro-active about this, we should water our lawns and beds thoroughly between now and the arrival of the cold weather. This is a protective measure for your plants as wet soil is more difficult to freeze than dry soil.
We have not had much rain in the past several weeks so its important to do this before the cold weather hits. Saturday's low is supposed to be 12 degrees here in Denton County.
If you do not have a freeze sensor on your sprinkler system, you will want to shut it off after getting everything thoroughly watered.
You should also make sure your spigots are covered in advance of this event.
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In advance of the coming winter storm this weekend and into next week, there is not much I can offer unfortunately that I haven't already listed.
Covering some types of shrubs and Palms does protect them from our normal winter weather. However, regretfully, there is not much you can do when it's – 2 or – 3 outside. The forecasted low for Denton County where I live is –3 Tuesday morning. 
There will be some plants that go down due to this weather, unfortunately. While there will be others that survive.
This is a historic weather event we're about to see, as far as temperatures go.
One of the things I look at when winter weather hits, is the amount of time we will spend below freezing. When we receive the most damage to our landscapes is when the temperatures stay below freezing for several days at a time. This could be one of those times.
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well, I spent several hours yesterday moving a LOT of potted plants to the southside of the house and workshop to protect them from the north winds.  the temp is suppose to get down to 2 degrees in central Texas (not considering windchill) and I expect to lose some plants that dont go dormant such as my lemon trees (I dont have room to take them inside and dont have the green house built yet) and probably all my fish in my above ground ponds and tanks will die.  I'll just have to replace the stuff that dont make it.

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9 hours ago, Sirhornsalot said:
In advance of the coming winter storm this weekend and into next week, there is not much I can offer unfortunately that I haven't already listed.
Covering some types of shrubs and Palms does protect them from our normal winter weather. However, regretfully, there is not much you can do when it's – 2 or – 3 outside. The forecasted low for Denton County where I live is –3 Tuesday morning. 
There will be some plants that go down due to this weather, unfortunately. While there will be others that survive.
This is a historic weather event we're about to see, as far as temperatures go.
One of the things I look at when winter weather hits, is the amount of time we will spend below freezing. When we receive the most damage to our landscapes is when the temperatures stay below freezing for several days at a time. This could be one of those times.

 

I have a small layer of ice on my palms, along with everything else. Does the ice not act as some sort of insulation and will actually help them as the temperature drops? As for as "covering the palms" where should I put blankets/towels to try to help them, around the trunks?

Always good info/advice, appreciate it Sir.

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7 hours ago, Soldierhorn said:

well, I spent several hours yesterday moving a LOT of potted plants to the southside of the house and workshop to protect them from the north winds.  the temp is suppose to get down to 2 degrees in central Texas (not considering windchill) and I expect to lose some plants that dont go dormant such as my lemon trees (I dont have room to take them inside and dont have the green house built yet) and probably all my fish in my above ground ponds and tanks will die.  I'll just have to replace the stuff that dont make it.

What kind of fish do you have in that pond?

I have a Koi pond in my back landscape. There are about 9-10 Koi in it and a few Goldfish. When temps get down to 20 and below, the pond freezes over. If it gets down to 0, it will likely freeze solid.

This has happened to my pond over and over again through the years. And when the pond thaws out, the fish just swim right out of the ice. No problems. Its amazing to me that this happens but it never fails that they're all just fine when it's over.

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3 hours ago, tejasrulz said:

 

I have a small layer of ice on my palms, along with everything else. Does the ice not act as some sort of insulation and will actually help them as the temperature drops? As for as "covering the palms" where should I put blankets/towels to try to help them, around the trunks?

Always good info/advice, appreciate it Sir.

No, ice is not good for Palms. It doesn't act as an insulation.

Palms have a lot of water content in their make up. So this water freezes during harsh freezing temperatures. It is especially a problem when ice/snow accompanies the temps.

For the Palms with trunks, wrap the trunks with burlap. Create 2-3 layers of it.

For Sago Palms, just cover them with a freeze blanket (2).

As I said, if temperatures get down to 1-2-3 degrees, the Palms are in trouble. But do your due diligence to help them. I've seen them make it through something like this in some cases.

Above, I advised watering the landscape prior to this cold stuff. However, with Palms and desert dwelling plants (such as Yuccas) – DO NOT water them. Their instincts is to store water whenever it is available. This would cause them to freeze much faster. So no water for the xeriscape stuff.

 

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On 2/13/2021 at 1:15 PM, Sirhornsalot said:

What kind of fish do you have in that pond?

I have a Koi pond in my back landscape. There are about 9-10 Koi in it and a few Goldfish. When temps get down to 20 and below, the pond freezes over. If it gets down to 0, it will likely freeze solid.

This has happened to my pond over and over again through the years. And when the pond thaws out, the fish just swim right out of the ice. No problems. Its amazing to me that this happens but it never fails that they're all just fine when it's over.

my "ponds" are more like tanks or troughs so they could end up solid blocks of ice even though I've never had that happen to all of them.  Koi would grow too big for just about anything I have at my house here in Killeen.  I have some koi looking gold fish that havent fared too well in previous winters - some survive; some dont.  I mostly stock with minnows to eat mosquito larva in order to prevent the standing water from turning into mosquito breeding grounds.  It's a rare winter that I dont have to restock with minnows anyway. I dont expect any minnows to survive this winter. minnows are easy to get and breed so not a big loss.  

At my property in the hill country (Kempner), I'm going to dam up a ravine this summer and make a real stock tank for irish dexters and put some real fish in it along with breeding minnows.  good project and working on the designs/specs now.  

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1 hour ago, Soldierhorn said:

my "ponds" are more like tanks or troughs so they could end up solid blocks of ice even though I've never had that happen to all of them.  Koi would grow too big for just about anything I have at my house here in Killeen.  I have some koi looking gold fish that havent fared too well in previous winters - some survive; some dont.  I mostly stock with minnows to eat mosquito larva in order to prevent the standing water from turning into mosquito breeding grounds.  It's a rare winter that I dont have to restock with minnows anyway. I dont expect any minnows to survive this winter. minnows are easy to get and breed so not a big loss.  

At my property in the hill country (Kempner), I'm going to dam up a ravine this summer and make a real stock tank for irish dexters and put some real fish in it along with breeding minnows.  good project and working on the designs/specs now.  

That sounds like fun. I'd love to see it once you're done.

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