A Gift You Can Make To Posterity

“The planting of a tree, especially one of the long-living hardwood trees, is a gift which you can make to posterity at almost no cost and with almost no trouble, and if the tree takes root it will far outlive the visible effect of any of your other actions, good or evil.”
George Orwell

Crape Myrtles (or Crepe Myrtles) are one of the few blessings during the toxic summer North Texas Heat. Those beautiful blossoms of a plethora of bright colors are the only thing that looks like it is alive during those months. Those trees (or shrubs) are everywhere in Dallas and everybody loves them. In addition to the blooms, they have these beautiful branches – sinuous and almost animal – like. I have photographed and blogged about them before.

So why the hell do people do this?:

Topped Crape Myrtle, Dallas, Texas

You see this all over the city in the winter months. People chop the tops off their Crape Myrtles. It ruins them. They grow back with a cloud of ugly little branches sprouting out from the cut ends.

Someone that knows much better than I, Neil Sperry, the guru of North Texas plants writes:

 

Please! Stop Topping Crape Myrtles

I love crape myrtles. No flowering shrub that we grow rewards us so completely, yet requires so little care and attention. Then why must this barbaric chopping persist?

THIS IS JUST NOT ACCEPTABLE!

I have spent an entire career in Texas horticulture trying to get people to STOP TOPPING CRAPE MYTLES! I’ve seen progress in DFW, where many of us have been preaching this gospel. But in the rest of Texas and across the South, and still even in the Metroplex where I live, people are doing it.

I’m going to ramp up my rant. My previous 45 years of trying to be polite haven’t gotten the job done. THIS IS INSANE. There is simply no call for what many of you now call “crape murder.”

I have listened to seemingly every excuse in the world for this barbarism, from “My plant is too tall for the space that I have for it” to “It makes my plant flower better.” It’s all just so much hooey, and I hope you’ll forgive me if my eyes glaze over and my smile seems frozen. I’m thinking about something else. I am no longer tuned in to you.

Whacking the plants back like this does not change their genetics. They’re still going to try to grow just as tall. Topping won’t stop that. All topping will do is leave the plants looking gnarled and ugly. If you have a crape myrtle that’s too big for its spot, either move it – or remove it entirely. Don’t put it and yourself through the misery of topping your crape myrtle each year.

 

I wonder why people do this and why it bothers me so much. I think the root cause behind both is the concept of Control. What more gratifying Control Of Nature act could there be than beheading your bushes? It must give some people a big rush to be able to cut back and restrict the growth of something so beautiful, innocent, and alive. And I have come, over my decades, to detest Control… especially blind, hurtful, and damaging Control.

So there it is, I drive home from work or ride my bicycle through the suburban streets and am presented with these decapitated shrubbery, these beheaded bushes, these topped trees. It isn’t fun. The winter is bad… maybe the worst… or maybe it isn’t – the spring is horrible as the maimed, damaged, and deformed remains send out their shoots, trying to get back to normal – though they never will. The scars of their maiming are there forever in their distorted forms.

So, you ask me, then how do I trim my Crape Myrtles? Just remove any excess or damaged branches as a whole. That enables them to keep their attractive shape…. Like this:

Properly Trimmed Crape Myrtle, Dallas, Texas

Stump

Curvewarped reflections of stars flowing across, down the full length of, round and round in meridians exact as the meridians of acupuncture. What are the stars but points in the body of God where we insert the healing needles of our terror and longing?
—-Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

Stump I dug up from the backyard.

It’s funny, you buy a little plant that’s on sale – ten cents on the dollar – somewhere and think “What the hell” and put it into a bed in the backyard without much thought, maybe in one under a window. The thing is in a tiny plastic pot – it doesn’t really deserve much thought.  A-and you don’t really like the thing… don’t like it at all – but still it grows. It grows and grows. It covers the window with odd-colored leaves and even more oddly colored blossoms. It grows until you forget what it was called and it doesn’t match any of the pictures in your gardening books. No wonder it was on sale.

It’s neglected and cut down and gets no water. But it still grows. Year after year it comes back. It always comes back.

Finally, this year, we decide we’ve had enough. It’s the plant, or us. Candy started… I came home from work and she had cut the plant off (again) and was trying to dig the stump and roots out. She wasn’t making much progress. I was too tired to help for very long – but I hunted around in the garage and found my sharpshooter. A sharpshooter is a kind of long and rectangular, small, but heavy shovel. It has a sharpened front edge and is used to cut underground roots – sometimes by literally throwing the thing down into a hole you’ve dug…. I was able to hack through a couple smallish ones before I had to give up.

The next day, Nick came over and between watching basketball games (for this is truly a great time of year… March Madness and all) we went out in the back yard and took turns digging and chopping with the sharpshooter, a big shovel, and a pry bar.

Finally, I decided there were some serious roots running down deep that needed more power to defeat. I brought out a small chain saw and started shoving the blade down into the spaces we dug out. That did the trick. There was one deep tap root and once the chain saw chewed through that – the whole thing came out. I lifted it up and heaved it over the fence, across the alley, and down to the creek.

No wonder the damn thing had been on sale.