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 foliage in the fall and attractive bark in the winter. 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.
Most varieties hardy in zones 7-10. There are a few varieties considered to be root hardy to zone 6, meaning the roots will survive the winter climate, but it is 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.
When to plant:
As a general rule, most deciduous trees and shrubs are planted in fall, allowing them time to establish their roots a bit before going dormant in winter. Crape myrtles are very resilient and can be planted most any time of year, even when planted in spring or summer.
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 the size of the root ball, 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.
Crape myrtles are different from other woody perennials in that they bloom on new growth in spring and summer. Pruning should be done in winter when they are dormant. They can be pruned to be single or multi-trunk trees, or simply left to their own devices, resulting in a large shrub. Some varieties make better choices for each of these shapes, so choose accordingly. For a single-trunk tree, reduce branches that could compete with the leader and "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. In addition to pruning specifically for the shape of your tree, a good cleaning up in the winter is recommended to remove twiggy growth, crossing or in-growing branches, as well as any dead or diseased wood. For a more shrub-like natural look, very little pruning is required other than to maintain healthy branches and to thin out as needed. A common mistake made with crape myrtles is over-pruning, frequently referred to as “crape murder.” This can result in your crape having to put all of its growing energy into producing new branches and leaves, leaving very little energy for blooms. Spent flowers can be trimmed during the growing season to promote a second blooming.
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. A good layer of mulch should be used 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.
LANDSCAPE DESIGN TIPS
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.
CRAPE MYRTLE PICTURES
Height/Spread: 15 to 20 feet/15 feet
Color: Lavender to pink flowers, cinnamon-colored bark that sheds to light gray
Height/Spread: Up to 10 feet tall and wide; semi-dwarf
Color: Fuchsia-red flowers, orange-red fall leaves
Height/Spread: Up to 25 feet tall and wide; large shrub or small tree
Color: White flowers, dark cinnamon bark, orange-red fall leaves
Lagerstroemia indica Red Rocket
Height/Spread: 10 to 15 feet tall and wide; multi-stemmed shrub
Color: Red flowers, dark green foliage that turns bronze-red in fall
Lagerstroemia indica Dynamite
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
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
Lagerstroemia indica ‘Delta Blush’
Height/Spread: 1-1/2 feet tall and wide, miniature variety, small shrub
Color: Pink flowers
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 also result in 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.
Are crape myrtles deer resistant? Although no plant can be determined completely deer proof, crape myrtles are rarely eaten by deer.