Crape Myrtle (lagerstroemia): Facts & Growing Guide

Overview

Whether as a shrub or a multi-stemmed tree, crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia) has something to offer during every season of the year, from colorful flowers to fall leaves to interesting bark. There are some 50 species of crepe myrtle in the genus Lagerstroemia, native to the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. 

Crape myrtles are prized for hundreds of 1- to 2-inch vibrant flowers in shades of purple, white, pink and red, that grow in large 6- to 8-inch clusters. Some varieties have bi-colored flowers and some have flowers that fade from one color to another. Depending on your climate, crape myrtle blooms as early as May and can continue blooming into the fall.

Most crape myrtles have dark green leaves, some tinged with red upon opening. The leaves on a few varieties turn dark red, yellow or orange-red in the fall. All crape myrtles begin with smooth gray or light brown bark, which begins to peel in early summer and continues to peel during the summer and fall, showing mottled patches of new bark in shades of pale cream to dark brown or orange. In the winter, the branches become smooth again and their gnarled, curving forms are revealed.

Plant Characteristics

Botanical Name Lagerstroemia species
Common Name Loosestrife, Crepe myrtle or crape myrtle
Type Of Type Deciduous Shrub
Planting ZonesZones 6-10
Size 20-30 feet tall and 10 to 15 feet wide
Light Exposure Full sun
Bloom Time July to September, with some varieties blooming until first frost.
Flower Color Varieties available in white, multiple shades of red, purple and pink.
Water Requirement Moderate water
Soil Type Moist, well drained
Soil PHSlightly alkaline to acidic
Fertilizer Slow-release fertilizer
Growth RateModerate to fast rate
Common Problems Leaf Spot, Aphids, Flea Beetles, Japanese Beetles

Other Features Of Crape Myrtle

  • Can be grown as shrub or small tree.
  • The leaves are simple oval in shape and can be between 2 and 8 inches in length depending on the variety and the vigor of growth.
  • Crepe myrtle range in size from dwarf selections that grows less than 3 feet tall to other varieties that reach upwards of 30 feet.
  • It features foliage that is dark-green, changing to shades of yellow, orange and red in the fall
  • It produces wide, showy panicles in various shades of pink with flowers that have wrinkled petals similar to crepe paper, from late spring into fall.
  • It can have increased flower number and branches if you pinch new growth during the growing season.
  • In warm climates flowers will appear in June and flowering will continue to at least the end of September.
  • It grows in a vase shape.
  • It has thin, gray bark that exfoliates, exposing smooth under-bark with varying colors ranging from brown to gray.
  • It adapts well to confined spaces and therefore well-suited for small areas close to sidewalks or parking lots.

Also Read: Different Types of Maple Trees

How To Effectively Plant Crape Myrtle Shrub

When to plant Crape Myrtle Tree

Ideally, the most appropriate time to plant any deciduous plants is in the fall so as to give the plant enough time to become acclimated before hot and dry weather arrives. A fall planting, allows the plant to establish a strong root system they need to collect water and nutrient.

When planting a deciduous plant in late spring or early spring, you obviously need to supply constant water, but in fall you can just plant and let nature take care of the rest.  Crape myrtles are usually very tolerant and can be planted any time of the year including summer as long as you can meet their water requirement needs through watering.

Where To Plant Crape Myrtle Tree

As a deciduous shrub, crape myrtle ideally suited for formal or informal design in the home landscape, street plantings and community plantings. It can be planted as a specimen or in groups and looks attractive when under-planted with a ground cover.

The most important factor in arriving at the decision of where to plant crape myrtle is choosing the right size depending on your need. Ideally, the dwarf types of crape myrtle grow effectively in large containers/pots, walkways, foundation plantings and in perennial beds. Medium-size type s usually grow between 12 and 15 feet and are ideal for a small courtyard or garden bed. The larger types on the other hand, requires enough space to grow without encroaching on buildings, power lines, walkways, and space of other garden plants.

More importantly, Crape myrtles are highly tolerant to direct sunlight they should therefore be planted in an area that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight.  Shade greatly reduces the amount of flower the plant can produce whereas total shade entirely affects blooming.

Preparing The Planting Site

Preparing the planting site properly is very important in growing a robustly beautiful crape myrtle plant. After you have identified an appropriate location, the first thing is to clear the site of any weeds or grasses which will rob the plant of moisture and nutrient. Clear at least 3 feet in diameter.

You can pull the unwanted vegetation from the site with your hand or use a hand rake. Well, if you decide to use a herbicide, allow the herbicide to work at least two weeks before planting.  Also remove, all plastic debris from the site including any large rocks.

After you have cleared the unwanted vegetation from the site, you can now mend the native soil with organic materials such as well-rotten manure or compost. Even if the soil is sandy and lacks fertility, avoid bringing in soil from another location, but just add nutrients by amending with dead organic matter.

Spread between 8 and 10 inch layer of organic material over the planting site and work it into the area to a depth of about 15 inches. This is very important as it loosens the soil and fertility to area. In effect, the root systems of crepe myrtle plant will effectively spread out and establish themselves. Also, working the organic matter into the native soil enhances drainage.

How To Plant Crape Myrtle Tree

After you are done with preparation of the planting area, typically what should follow is digging the hole and subsequently planting of the crepe myrtle plant. In this regard, dig a hole that is at least 3 times wider than the pot/container and just as deep. You do not need to plant the crape myrtle plant too deep because it puts undue stress on it as it tries to establish itself. However, if you find you have dug the hole too deep, you can correct the problem by adding in some organic matter.

Preparing your crape myrtle plant for planting is very important. Therefore, the night before you plan to plant, you will just need to it well until you see water flowing from the bottom of the pot/container. You can’t plant crape myrtle successfully if its root ball is completely dry.

On the planting day, remove the pot/container holding your crepe myrtle plant by tapping on the pot’s sides to release the root ball and then place the tree into the hole. Make sure to check for any wrapping roots before placing it in the hole. Fill the hole about halfway with soil and firm it around using your hands and then water the plant and the hole thoroughly. Allow the water to drain completely from the hole before you completely fill the hole with the soil.

Planting Crape Myrtle In Rows

Planting Crape myrtle in rows or groups is very simple provided you space them correctly. If planted together the plants will not grow vibrantly as they should, however, growing them at least a few feet from one another will have no effect on their growth for the many subsequent years. There are two methods of planting Crape myrtle. They include:

  • Single Row- In this method you will need to space the plants between 4 and 8 feet apart. The tallest varieties should be spaced between 6 and 8 feet. If you are planting crape myrtle against a fence, plant 3 feet from the fence so that the lower part of the plants remains bushy.
  • Double Row- In this method, make a double row, allowing 3 feet between the rows. Space the plants 6 to 8 feet apart for varieties that grow 20 feet tall or less and 8 and 10 feet apart for plant varieties that grow above 20 feet tall.

It is important that whatever spacing you decide to use should remain the same to keep all the plants at the same distance and place evenly. You can use a measuring tape in this regard to get everything properly arranged before planting.

Also Read: Different Types of Birch Trees For Landscaping

Planting Crape Myrtle In Groups

Planting Crape Myrtle in groups is possible especially for smaller and medium-sized varieties. When you planting in groups, avoid making rows and try to scatter the plants over the area in a typically random manner. Dig the holes at least between 4 and 8 feet apart and in a few years, your plants will have grown together into a single mass.

Planting Crape Myrtle In Containers

Crape myrtle can be planted in regular movable containers as well as in large, permanent planters. Containers and planters are typically available in numerous styles, shapes and colors. The container should be large enough to accommodate both the growing plant and its roots.

When planting crape myrtle in planters, use garden soil that has been amended with compost or manure.  Alternatively, you can use premium potting soil and amend it with compost, sand and perlite. You also need to be alive to the fact that, caring for container-grown crape myrtle is different from the one growing in the landscape.

Container-grown crape myrtle is prone to drying out and therefore it requires thorough watering. The soil should also be supplemented annually with slow-release fertilizer or use a liquid feed at regular intervals. More importantly, you will need to refresh the soil each spring by removing the loose, dry topsoil and replacing it with fresh, compost-enriched soil. Also, in the initial stages of planting, the container needs to be placed in a sheltered location to protect crape myrtle from extreme temperature and wind.

Tips On How To Care For Crape Myrtle

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Soil

Crape myrtle grows effectively in sand, loam or clay soil, but thrives in slightly acidic or neutral soil with a PH of 5.5 to 7.5. Ideally, the soil should maintain sufficient aeration and drainage while retaining suitable amount of moisture. Generally, a good soil for crape myrtle should retain adequate levels of water without becoming waterlogged.

Light

Crape myrtle plant grows vibrantly in full sun, basically the sunnier the spot the better. They require at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day to grow and bloom effectively. When grown in shade or areas with limited sunlight, blooms will not be vibrant and their colors may be diminished.

Watering

Crape myrtle especially the newly planted one, requires to be watered regularly. Allow the soil to dry between watering and never water if the soil is still moist. Excess watering causes the soil to become waterlogged, which is indeed a good environment for root rot disease, a very dangerous bacterial infection that affects plants roots and stems and in the end resulting to the death of the entire plant.

Mulching

Apply shredded bark mulch or pine straw to a depth of about 3 to 5 inches over the entire planting hole. Mulching helps conserve soil moisture and prevent weeds. Taper the mulch towards the base of the crape myrtle plant, but do not allow it to touch the tree trunk. Also adding a layer mulch on the crape myrtle plant especially during the fall helps to regulate soil temperature throughout the winter.

Planting sites which are more exposed to freezing and thawing are prone to cracks in the soil, which can dry out the roots of a plant. Mulching therefore, act as a blanket and can prevent this kind of damage.

Fertilizer

When your crape myrtle is still young, some fertilizer application is very important as it will help them to grow vibrantly and become well established. In the first year, use 20-20-20 nitrogen liquid fertilizer  formulated for acid loving plants such as azaleas whereas in the subsequent years, use granular fertilizers. Avoid 25-3-3 kind of fertilizers because they are known to cause rapid growth and big green leaves but fewer blooms.

Fertilizer should be applied at least once in a month during the spring or in the early summer. Avoid fertilizer application during winter because this is usually a dormant growth phase for most deciduous plants.

While applying fertilizer always keep the fertilizer away from the tree trunk area. A light sprinkle of fertilizer evenly on top of the mulch is all that is needed. Always avoid heavy fertilizer application. However, if you notice after some time that your plant is getting a lot of leaves and little flowers, then avoiding fertilizer application is very necessary.

Also Read: Fast Growing Trees For Your Yard

How To Prune Crepe Myrtle

Generally, crape myrtle blooms every year and therefore any pruning of the plant should happen during late winter when the plant is not growing. If you prune the plant in the summer or spring then, there is chance that you will cut off the developing summer blooms. More importantly, if you prune in the autumn, then the plant could begin new vigorous growth that will be exposed to freezing, a factor that could cause the death of the plant.

Usually after crape myrtle has bloomed and shed first flowers, they will eventually set seeds. The small round seed pods often weigh down the branches of the plant, making them sag. Using a sharp pair of clippers, cut off the seed pods and after a few weeks you will get a second bloom. Some varieties of crape myrtle will produce a second or even third flush of red, pink or white flowers should the flower heads be cut off soon after they have completed blooming.

How To Harvest Crape Myrtle Seeds

The attractive seed heads that weigh down your crape myrtle branches in winter contain seeds that wild birds love to feed on.  The plant flower in late summer and produces green berries as fall approaches, the berries develop into seed heads. The best time to harvest the seeds is when majority of the seed pods turn brown and dry; before they begin to drop to the ground.

To harvest the seeds, keep a large bowl beneath the branch where the seed pods are located then shake the dry pods gently to release the seeds. Alternatively, you can snip off the branches that have brown dry seed pods on them.

Varieties Of Crape Myrtle

  • Arapaho Crape Myrtle
  • Catawba Crape Myrtle
  • Muskogee Crape Myrtle
  • Natchez Crape Myrtle
  • Tuscarora Crape Myrtle
  • Sioux Crape Myrtle
  • Tonto Crape Myrtle
  • Dynamite Crape Myrtle
  • Pink Velour Crape Myrtle
  • Berry Dazzle Crape Myrtle
  • Strawberry Dazzle Crape Myrtle
  • Cherry Dazzle Crape Myrtle

Common Crepe Myrtle Problems

Leaf Spot

Leaf spots are round blemishes found on the leaves of plant species, mostly caused by parasitic fungi or bacteria. Spotted leaves occur when fungal spores in the air find a warm wet plant surface to cling to. The spots will vary in size and color depending on the affected plant and stage of development. The spots are most often brownish, but may be tan or black. Concentric rings or dark margins are often present.

If you suspect your crape myrtle is affected with leaf spot, apply sulfur sprays or copper-based fungicides weekly to prevent its spread. These organic fungicides will not do away with the leaf spot but will prevent the spores from germinating. Alternatively, you can remove the unsightly leaves from your plant and then spray the entire plant leaves with antibacterial/antifungal herbicides.

Spider mites

Spider mites are plant eating mites that look like tiny spiders, they suck dry the nutrients and chlorophyll directly from your plant leaves. They piece the cell wall of the back of leaves and literally suck the juices out of the leaf, causing it to spot. Over time, the spots go from tiny yellow spots to complete yellowing of the leaf and a large proportion of spider mites can decimate your crape myrtle plant quickly. In cool climates, they spend the winter resting in soil while in warmer regions; they live and feed year round.

To control spider mites from killing your crape myrtle plant, prune leaves, stems and other infected parts and then spray your entire plant with organic insecticide soap water thoroughly at least twice a week for one month.

Also Read: Poplar Trees Facts And Characteristics

Sooty mold

Sooty mold is a dark colored fungus that grows on honeydew excreted by piercing sucking insects or on substances exuded from leaves of certain plants. Sooty mold is often found on plants with heavy aphid, scale or whitefly damage.

The fungus itself does some significant damage to your crape myrtle plant; it merely blocks sunlight and this may stunt your plant’s growth and yellow its foliage. Typically, sooty mold is essentially a cosmetic problem as it is unsightly and can coat most of your plant foliage in a matter of days or weeks.

The basic step in controlling sooty mold is to suppress the aphids, scales or other insects that are excreting the honeydew which sooty mold sticks to. You can use horticultural oils such as neem oil or organic herbicides to spray the entire plant.

Aphids Colonies

Aphids are tiny soft-bodied yellow-green insects and will cluster under the leaves of the plant during spring and summer. If your crape myrtle plant is affected with aphids, you will see some with wings while some without. They suck the sap of the plant and may result to yellow spots to develop on the upper side of the leaves. You might also notice that the leaves are sticky or covered in a black mildew or soot.

To control aphids from damaging your crape myrtle plant badly, spray aphids off the plant with a strong stream of insecticide soap or use a spray with neem oil, which is derived from the seed of the neem tree.

Blight

Blight is a plant disease that causes rapid and complete chlorosis, sudden browning, yellowing, spotting, withering and death of plant tissues such as leaves, branches, twigs or floral organs. This disease rarely affects crape myrtle, however, if your plant becomes a victim, remove all the affected leaves and burn them or place them in the garbage.

If blight has already spread to more than just a few leaves, apply commercial fungicides available in local stores. Commercial fungicides are effective in killing fungal spores and in keeping blight from causing further damage.

Flea Beetles

Flea Beetles are small, hard-shelled destructive pest that feed on leaves of plants. They are named flea beetles because of their enlarged hind legs that allow them to jump like fleas from plants when disturbed. Flea beetles can be black, bronze, bluish or brown to metallic gray. When their populations are high, flea beetles can quickly defoliate and kill your crape myrtle. They feed mostly on hot sunny days.

Adult flea beetles become active in early spring. Depending on the species, females lay single or cluster of eggs in small holes, in roots, soil or leaves as well as on flowers. They cause damage by feeding on leaves and stems. They create shallow pits and small rounded irregular holes in the leaves. There are many pesticides available that are powerful in getting rid of Flea beetles from your crape myrtle plant. Visit any local store for purchase.

Japanese Beetles

Japanese beetles are small insects that literally feed on any type plant they come in contact with. They feed on fruit, flowers and leaves. They are about half an inch long with dark heads and metallic green to brown wing covers.

Japanese beetles lay their eggs in the soil and once they hatch, you will notice them squirming around. There are plenty of pesticides and insecticides you can use in your lawn or landscape to help fight off the Japanese beetles. Alternatively, you can use horticultural oils such as neem oil to get rid of Japanese beetle from your crape myrtle plant.

Scale Insects

Scales are tiny, sap-sucking insects that look like small bumps on a stem. These pests attach themselves to the twigs, leaves, branches and fruits of the host plants. If your crape myrtle is infested with scale insects, it may show signs of premature leaf drop or yellow leaves. These insects can be controlled by spraying the entire plant with organic herbicides or pesticides.