Crape Myrtle Trees: Growing, Care and Design TipsAdd a punch of late-summer and fall color with crape myrtle trees
Crape myrtle (or crepe myrtle) trees provide year-round interest and color with their showy summer blooms, colorful fall foliage and attractive winter bark. They are available in several sizes from 2-foot shrubby dwarf varieties to towering trees, offer many colors from white to shades of deep red and purple, and can be grown as single or multi-trunk specimens. With all of these options, you’ll be able to find the perfect crape myrtle for your garden.
- CRAPE MYRTLE BASICS
- PLANTING CRAPE MYRTLES
- CARE & PRUNING
- CRAPE MYRTLE PICTURES
- DESIGN TIPS
- FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
CRAPE MYRTLE BASICS
Varieties for zones 6-10. Some may only be root hardy in zone 6, meaning the roots will survive the winter temperatures, but it's possible that the above-ground branches will die back completely to the ground. If this occurs, new spring growth will emerge from below ground.
Standard single and multi-trunk trees can grow to 20 to 30 feet tall and 10 to 15 feet wide, quickly growing up to 3 feet per year. There are also smaller dwarf and semi-dwarf varieties ranging from 6 to 18 feet tall and shrub varieties 2 to 5 feet tall, so make sure you are choosing the appropriate cultivar for your location and design.
Full sun, minimum 6 hours per day.
July to September, with some varieties blooming until first frost.
Varieties available in white, and multiple shades of red, purple, and pink.
Crape myrtles can be grown as single-trunk or multi-trunk trees. There are also varieties that grow as shrubs, miniatures and bonsais.
Invasive:Some may seed aggressively in parts of the country. Check with local experts to see if planting is appropriate where you live.
PLANTING CRAPE MYRTLE
When to plant:
As a general rule, most deciduous trees and shrubs are planted in fall or early spring, allowing them time to establish their roots before going dormant in winter or before the heat of summer hits. Crape myrtles are very resilient and can be planted most any time of year, even in summer — just be sure to water them well.
Where to plant:
Crapes love the sun and are extremely heat tolerant. They should be planted in an area with at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. Some partial shade during the day is fine, but may result in fewer blooms. More sun = more blooms. They aren’t picky about their soil, but do need good drainage.
How to plant:
Dig a hole twice as wide and just as deep as the container. Center the tree within the hole and backfill in stages, watering as you go. The top of the rootball should be slightly above ground level to allow it to breathe and take in oxygen. Stake if needed and water thoroughly after planting.
CARE & PRUNING
Crape myrtles bloom in late spring through summer on new growth, so pruning should be done in winter when they're dormant. Choosing one that will grow into the right size and shape naturally will elimate a lot of work and frustration in the future, so be sure to check the plant tag information.
For a single-trunk tree, reduce side branches that could compete with the leader, as well as "basal sprouts" that emerge from the base of the plant. For multi-trunk trees, prune to shape, not allowing the individual trunks to become crowded or touch one another, and keeping the center slightly open to allow air and light in. For a more shrub-like natural look, very little pruning is required other than to maintain healthy branches and to thin out as needed. Spent flowers can be trimmed during the growing season to promote a second blooming. In addition to specific pruning for the shape of your tree or shrub, a good cleaning up in the winter is recommended. Remove any crossing or branches crowding the center, as well as any dead or diseased wood.
A common mistake made with crape myrtles is over-pruning and lopping the tops off, frequently referred to as “crape murder.” This can result in your tree or shrub putting all of its growing energy into producing new branches and leaves, resultuing in very little energy for blooms. Proponents of this say that it creates larger blooms the following season. However, that's not always a good thing, as larger bloom clusters can be too heavy and cause the new branches to droop and break. Additionally, pruning in this manner year after year creates knobby growth at the cut point that is more susceptible to disease, along with distracting from the beauty of the tree.
Although crape myrtles can be grown in virtually any soil, foliage may turn yellow if soil is too alkaline. Good drainage is required for any type of soil.
Amendments & Fertilizer:
During the first growing season (spring/summer), young crapes should be lightly fertilized once a month. A slow-release fertilizer applied in the beginning of spring at the first signs of new growth can be beneficial for established trees or shrubs. Following that, crapes can use a light feeding twice a month in spring and summer, as they are heavy feeders during their growing season. Be sure to water well after every application of fertilizer. Apply a good layer of mulch to protect the roots during winter in colder climates.
Once established, crape myrtles are quite drought tolerant. During the first few growing seasons, they should be watered regularly and deeply once a week, or twice a week in extremely hot weather.
Diseases and Pests:
The main disease problems with crape myrtles are fungal leaf spot and powdery mildew. They do have some susceptibility to aphids and scale. Varieties such as the Rikki Tikki™ series have been developed with increased disease resistance.
CRAPE MYRTLE PICTURES
Height/Spread: 15 to 20 feet tall and 15 feet wide
Color: Lavender to pink flowers, cinnamon-colored bark that sheds to light gray
Height/Spread: Up to 25 feet tall and wide; large shrub or small tree
Color: White flowers, dark cinnamon bark, orange-red fall leaves
Height/Spread: Up to 20 feet tall/10 to 15 feet wide; woody shrub, or trained as single or multi-trunk tree
Color: Red flowers followed by orange-red fall leaves
Infinitini Watermelon® — Buy now from Proven Winners
Height/Spread: 2 to 4 feet tall and wide.
Color: Watermelon-pink flowers; yellow, orange and red foliage in fall. Infinitini® series also available in magenta, purple, white, orchid, and bright pink.
Rikki Tikki™ Pink — Buy now from Proven Winners
Height/Spread: 3 to 5 feet tall and wide.
Color: Bright pink flowers; green, purple and silver foliage
Height/Spread: Up to 10 feet tall and wide; semi-dwarf
Color: Fuchsia-red flowers, orange-red fall leaves
Height/Spread: 10 to 15 feet tall and wide; multi-stemmed shrub
Color: Red flowers, dark green foliage that turns bronze-red in fall
Height/Spread: Up to 10 feet tall and wide, semi-dwarf shrub
Color: Pink flowers; with yellow, red or orange fall foliage
Height/Spread: Up to 12 feet tall/8 to 10 feet wide, single or multi-trunk tree, or large shrub
Color: Lavender-purple flowers, red to maroon fall foliage
Height/Spread: 1-1/2 feet tall and wide, miniature variety, small shrub
Color: Pink flowers
Crape myrtles make versatile additions to the garden, here are some ideas for how to use them:
- Use single specimens as a focal point.
- Use dwarf varieties as colorful additions in borders and beds.
- Plant multiple dwarf or medium-size crapes together to form a deciduous hedge.
- Dwarf varieties make excellent choices for large containers.
- Plant among spring-blooming trees to offer a mix of late summer color.
- Their non-invasive roots make them good choices for street trees or near walkways and driveways.
- Plant in containers for annual color in colder zones (2-5) and over-winter indoors.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Why is my crape myrtle not blooming? Newly-planted crapes may not bloom fully until their second season, so be patient if your crape is still establishing itself. Too much shade may also contribute to fewer blooms. Over-pruning can result in decreased flowering, as your tree’s energy will be spent on producing new branches instead of blooms. Too much water or fertilizer can cause foliage growth at the expense of bloom production.
Are crape myrtle roots invasive? A crape myrtle’s roots may spread out a considerable distance; however, they are relatively weak and not aggressive. They do not produce heavy side roots that would cause damage to walkways, driveways, or foundations. Shallow crape myrtle roots may prove to be competition for water with surrounding grass.
Are crape myrtles poisonous? Crape myrtles are listed as a safe plant according to the University of California, Davis. The ASPCA also lists them as being non-toxic to dogs, cats, and horses. For more safe plant choices, see 20 Common Plants Safe for Cats & Dogs.
Are crape myrtles deer resistant? Although no plant can be determined completely deer proof, crape myrtles are rarely eaten by deer.