Summer Color For Mild Climate Zones
Popular throughout much of the South this tree/shrub solves a lot of garden problems. Its bright and varied colors make us happy. It is a tree with a summer color which is hard to find. Additionally, the flowers are showy with crinkled petals, the deciduous foliage is dark green with yellows, oranges, and reds in the fall. In warm climates, blooms will last from June- September, in some areas in mid-spring.
Crepe Myrtle History
In 1759 the tree entered England from its native China. For many plants this is a benefit but not for the Crepe Myrtle. It never bloomed and nobody was happy! The plant hunter and botanist Andre Michaux (he worked for Louis XVI) brought it to Charleston in 1786. The Revolution was over and everybody celebrated including the tree. Lots of blooms and the rest is history.
|Japanese Crepe Myrtle||Indica Crepe Myrtle||Queen’s Crepe Myrtle|
|Foliage||light green, yellow in fall||dark green, red tint on new growth||large, turn red in fall|
|Flower||2-4″ clusters, white, hybridized with indica||dense clusters, white, pink, red, purple||very large white, pink, lavender, purple|
|Bark||smooth gray, brown with cinnamon inner bark||gray, light brown pink inner bark||smooth, mottled|
|Size||tree, 20-30′ These are the most resistant to the problem of powdery mildew||dwarf to small tree||tree, 25-30′-showiest, least cold hardy. prune in winter|
How To Use The Crape Myrtle
This plant has a wide range of sizes with dwarf varieties under 5′ and larger trees at 30′. They are multi-trunked, the combination provides a range of uses in the garden.
- Screen- deciduous, dense
- Specimen-colorful centerpiece-away from buildings
- Shrub borders-extend spring color
- Color in the background
- Foreground-use small varieties, 2-4′ low maintenance
- Container plants
- Frame a Courtyard
7-10, some varieties to zone 6, and
How To Plant
plant dormant crepe myrtle in fall when cool. Dig the hole 2 times the width of the root ball and as deep. Remove the tree, carefully, placing the plant on its side. Place in the hole without holding the trunk. Fill in the hole and water well.
Crepe Myrtle is adaptable, loam, clay or sand is acceptable. The pH range is from 5.5-7.5.
Water the new plant 1-3 times per week. Maintain water during dry periods.
Use a high nitrogen fertilizer in spring and again in two months.
How To Prune
There is a crime called “Crepe Murder” and we have all seen it. Prune while dormant. (If you do not trim the plant yourself they are considered one of the more expensive plants to prune.)
Tools You Will Need
- hand pruners for branches under 1/2″
- Lopers for branches 11/2-1 1/2″
- Pole pruner or saw for branches over 1 1/2″
Trim In This Order
- tiny spikes from the ground
- side branches from the main trunk up to 4′
- inward growing branches
- Awkwardly growing branches
- Trin the top, they do not need to be chopped
- Make angled cuts just above a bud
Why Do We Commit “Crepe Murder”?
“Wrong Plant Wrong Place”. Plants that looked perfect in the garden center, then planted in a spot they are too big for, is the most common reason.
Popular Varieties Not To Put In Front Of A Window
You will see these popular varieties, but they will get 25-30′: Natchez (white), Miami, Sioux, Dynamite Muskogee (light lavender), Watermelon Red.
Compact Varieties: Acona, Centennial, Hopi, Prairie, Lace. Victor, Zuni (purple semi dwarf). They are about 5’tall and 4′ wide. Check the individual varieties. These are from the Monrovia webpage and are from its petite line.
What If Crime Has Already Been Done?
Researchers at the University of Florida, tested trees, some post-crime and the rest in normal condition. They discovered that the “topped” trees had 6 times more deadwood than the undamaged trees. They also discovered damaged wood to 2.5 feet below the large cuts.
What To Do?
Reduce the width of the tree by removing some lower branches. Then reduce the crown by removing some entire upper branches and lowering the rest. The tree will look better and you will not add to the damage.
Pests And Diseases
The Crepe Myrtle is essentially pest-free, They will be attacked by aphids, sooty mold, and powdery mildew. Powdery mildew is a fungal disease characterized by blisters and twisted leaves.
How To Avoid Powdery Mildew /Fungal Disease
- Plant Disease resistant cultivars
- Remove damaged foliage
- Use a thick layer of mulch
- Prune and stake to improve air circulation
- Wash plants with neem oil on a 7 day basis
- Water in the AM
- Use slow-release fertilizer
- Destroy fallen plant material at season end
If disease is present use a fungicide, following the directions/
The branches are sculptural. the large flourishes of flowers are audacious. The Crepe Myrtle is the most popular ornamental plant in the south. Now you know why!
The eternal question? Is it Crepe Myrtle or is it Crape Myrtle? Do what you want, both are accurate. The story goes, that in the deep South it is Crepe Myrtle because they say it looks like crape paper. So take your choice!
To see some more flowering tree ideas try this post Flowering Trees.
For some university-based research into a new variety of red Crepe Myrtle try this piece.