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Gardening Q & A: Crape murder police have their eyes on you

According to numerous, unsubstantiated studies and the opinions of landscape experts, it is in the days and weeks immediately following the Super Bowl in which we witness a huge spike in the horticultural crime known as “crape murder.” Conventional wisdom has it that some fans take out an NFL season’s worth of frustration for their team’s losing – or not making – the Super Bowl by hacking up the closest crape myrtle tree(s) in their yards.

“Crape murder” refers to the common practice, by homeowners and some “professionals” of “topping” crape myrtles. This ruins the plant’s natural growth habit and can be unhealthy for the plant in a number of ways. Unfortunately, you can witness this crime just about anywhere the plants are grown.

I have been asked by Kristina Bezanson, TCC horticulture department colleague and an arborist, to make a public service announcement on behalf of the trees: Don’t be a crape murderer.

Instead, try working off those frustrations slowly on something else – you have plenty of time. Your crape myrtle can be pruned in late winter or early spring after you’ve read and studied up on this excellent Virginia Cooperative Extension bulletin at



Q. Every year I agonize over when and if to prune my mature salvia perennials. Do it now, later, or never? Recent warm weather has me itching to do some yardwork. And how far down to cut them?

A. I’ll provide some guidelines for when and how to cut back perennials.


First, some reasons for waiting until spring:

- to provide some winter protection for tender plants;

- to provide winter interest;

- to provide food/protection to birds and wildlife;

- to allow them to reseed.

Now, reasons to cut back before spring:

- to help minimize spring work;

- to tidy up things;

- to eliminate self-seeding plants;

- to minimize overwintering protection for insects and diseases.


The method depends on the growth habit of your particular perennial. For those that die back completely to the ground, simply cut back to an inch off the ground. For those that die back to a cluster of new growth close to the ground, cut back the old, scraggly stems to just above the new green growth. Lastly, for those whose new growth rises from the lower portion of the old stems, cut back to 4-6 inches. Different strokes for different salvias. Given that I’m unsure of your types of salvias, the safe thing would be to cut back 4-6 inches, keep watch at the growth, and prune accordingly.

I would wait until mid-March and springtime, unless you just can’t stand the way it looks. The birdies will certainly appreciate. There are probably plenty of other things you can find to do in the yard on a warm winter day.

J. Wilson, Southern Shores, N.C.

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