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Lagerstroemia (Crepe Myrtle)

Crepe Myrtle or Crape Myrtle, the 'Jewel of the South,' dazzles with its vivid summer blooms, striking peeling bark, and graceful tree form, enhancing any garden.

Crepe Myrtle, Crape Myrtle, Crepe Myrtle tree, Flowering Shrub

Lagerstroemia, commonly known as Crepe Myrtle or Crape Myrtle, is a highly versatile and aesthetically pleasing shrub or tree that adds long-lasting color and textural interest to landscapes. Its adaptability to various climates, coupled with its low maintenance requirements and resilience to common garden challenges, make it a popular choice among gardeners and landscape designers alike. Whether used for its flowers, bark, or foliage, Crape Myrtle is a standout addition that can enhance the beauty of any garden.

Exploring the Charm of Crepe Myrtle

Crepe Myrtle (Lagerstroemia) is a genus of ornamental plants renowned for their long-lasting summer blooms, attractive bark, and brilliant fall foliage. These plants are highly valued in landscaping for their multi-season interest and vibrant display of flowers ranging from white and pink to deep red and purple.
Belonging to the family Lythraceae, the genus Lagerstroemia includes around 50 species. The most commonly cultivated species for ornamental use is Lagerstroemia indica, often hybridized with Lagerstroemia fauriei for improved disease resistance and bark characteristics.

Native: Lagerstroemia species are native to Asia, particularly in regions from the Indian subcontinent to Southeast Asia, including parts of Oceania.

Growth Habit: Crepe Myrtle species range from deciduous or evergreen shrubs to small trees. They exhibit a wide variety of growth habits, from compact, bushy forms to more open, vase-shaped structures. This diversity makes them suitable for different landscape uses, from standalone specimens to part of a mixed shrub border.

Size: Size varies significantly among species and cultivars, ranging from small shrubs of about 2 feet (60 cm) to trees that can reach 30 feet (9 meters) or more in height.

Flowers and Blooming Season: Crepe Myrtle trees are renowned for their showy, ruffled flowers that come in various colors, including white, pink, red, and purple, often lasting several weeks. The typical blooming season is from late spring to early fall, with the peak flowering period occurring in the heat of summer.

Foliage: Crape Myrtle leaves are generally small to medium in size, oval-shaped, and glossy. They offer seasonal interest, with some varieties featuring spectacular autumn color changes, transitioning to yellow, orange, or red hues.

Bark: One of the most distinctive features of many Crepe Myrtles is their attractive bark, which peels away in thin layers, revealing a smooth, mottled surface underneath. The bark can vary in color from shades of brown to exquisitely mottled grey, cream, or pink patterns.

Hardiness: Crepe Myrtle species are hardy in USDA zones 6 through 10, though this can vary slightly by variety. They are well-suited to warm climates and can tolerate summer heat and humidity.

Uses: Crepe Myrtle shrubs and trees are widely used in landscaping for their long blooming season and attractive bark. They are perfect as specimen plants, for lining driveways or paths, in mixed borders, and even in containers for smaller cultivars.

Wildlife: Their flowers attract and provide nectar and pollen to many important pollinating bees, making them a valuable addition to gardens aimed at supporting local ecosystems.

Toxicity: Crepe Myrtle is generally not considered toxic to humans or pets, making it a safe choice for family gardens.

Drought Tolerance: These shrubs and trees are known for their excellent drought tolerance once established, making them suitable for water-wise gardens.

Deer and Rabbit: They are seldom severely damaged by deer.

Invasiveness: Lagerstroemia indica, a widely commercialized ornamental shrub or small tree, has become naturalized and invasive in many tropical and subtropical regions of the world. It is listed as invasive in South Africa, Belize, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Find Native Plant Alternatives to Crepe Myrtle.

Guide Information

Hardiness 6 - 10
Plant Type Shrubs, Trees
Plant Family Lythraceae
Genus Lagerstroemia
Exposure Full Sun
Season of Interest Spring (Late)
Summer (Early, Mid, Late)
Fall
Height 2' - 30'
(60cm - 9.1m)
Spread 2' - 30'
(60cm - 9.1m)
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Average
Soil Type Chalk, Loam, Sand
Soil pH Acid, Neutral
Soil Drainage Well-Drained
Characteristics Showy
Tolerance Deer, Drought, Clay Soil
Landscaping Ideas Wall-Side Borders, Patio And Containers, Beds And Borders
Garden Styles City and Courtyard, Informal and Cottage, Mediterranean Garden
Lagerstroemia ‘Natchez’ (Crape Myrtle)
Lagerstroemia ‘Comanche’ (Crape Myrtle)
Lagerstroemia Ruffled Red Magic™ (Crape Myrtle)

What is Special About Crepe Myrtle?

Vibrant Blooms: It’s celebrated for its long-lasting, vibrant summer blooms in shades of pink, red, purple, and white, adding a splash of color to landscapes.

Attractive Bark: The bark peels back in beautiful patterns, revealing a smooth, mottled trunk that provides year-round visual interest, especially in winter.

Versatile Sizes: Crape Myrtles range from dwarf shrubs to tall trees, fitting into various garden spaces and design schemes.

Seasonal Foliage: The leaves of Crape Myrtle change color in autumn, offering a stunning display of yellow, orange, or red, enhancing its seasonal appeal.

Drought Tolerance: These plants are highly drought-resistant once established, making them ideal for water-efficient landscaping.

Pollinator-Friendly: The flowers attract pollinating bees and other pollinators, contributing to the local ecosystem’s health.

Low Maintenance: Lagerstroemia is known for its low maintenance needs.

Urban Tolerance: These trees are well-suited to urban environments, tolerating pollution and often used in city landscaping for their beauty and hardiness.

Year-Round Interest: From the lush greenery in spring and summer to the stunning autumn foliage and unique winter bark, Crape Myrtles offer visual interest throughout the year.

Lagerstroemia Cherry Dazzle® (Crape Myrtle)
Lagerstroemia ‘Purple Magic’ (Crape Myrtle)
Lagerstroemia ‘Lipan’ (Crape Myrtle)

Garden Design with Crepe Myrtle

Garden design with Crepe Myrtle can significantly enhance the landscape due to its striking flowers, attractive bark, and versatile form.

Specimen Planting: Utilize Crepe Myrtle as a standout specimen tree in your garden. Its elegant structure, beautiful summer blooms, and exfoliating bark make it a focal point, drawing the eye and adding interest.

Driveway or Pathway Lining: Line driveways or garden pathways with Crepe Myrtles for a striking and elegant effect. The uniformity of their growth and the beauty of their blooms create an inviting and formal look.

Mixed Shrub Borders: Integrate Crepe Myrtles into mixed borders with other shrubs and perennials. They complement a variety of plants, particularly those with contrasting foliage or bloom colors.

Foundation Plantings: Plant Crepe Myrtles near building foundations to add vertical interest and soften architectural lines. Their moderate growth habit makes them suitable for this purpose without overwhelming the space.

Group Plantings: Create a stunning display by planting a group of Crepe Myrtles together. This can form a mini-grove in larger landscapes, showcasing their collective beauty.

Container Gardening: Dwarf varieties of Crepe Myrtle are excellent for container gardening, suitable for adding color to decks, patios, or small spaces.

Accent Features: Use Crepe Myrtle as an accent feature in large lawns or open spaces. Its seasonal changes provide year-round interest, from flowering to foliage color in fall and striking bark in winter.

Companion Plants for Crepe Myrtle

Echinacea (Coneflower)
Rudbeckia fulgida (Black-Eyed Susan)
Salvia (Sage)
Buxus (Boxwood)
Rosa (Rose)
Hydrangea arborescens (Smooth Hydrangea)
Cornus (Dogwood)
Azalea and Rhododendron
Lavandula angustifolia (English Lavender)

How to Grow and Care for Crepe Myrtle

Growing and caring for a Crepe Myrtle shrub or tree is a rewarding experience for any gardener. 

When to Plant 

Generally, planting deciduous trees and shrubs in fall or early spring is best. This timing lets them establish roots before winter dormancy or summer heat.

Where to Plant

Light: Choose a location with full sun exposure, as Lagerstroemia thrives in sunlight and needs at least 6 hours of direct sun daily.

Soil: Ensure the soil is moderately fertile, acidic to neutral, and well-drained. Lagerstroemia does not like “wet feet” and can suffer in overly moist soil.

Site: Consider the plant’s mature size; ensure there is enough space for its growth without overcrowding other plants or structures.

How to Plant

Soil Preparation: Prepare the planting site by loosening the soil and mixing in compost or other organic matter. This improves soil fertility and drainage.

Planting Hole: Dig a hole twice as wide as the root ball but no deeper. The top of the root ball should be level with the surrounding soil surface.

Positioning the Plant: Remove the plant from its container and gently loosen the roots if they are tightly bound. Place the plant in the hole, ensuring it is straight.

Backfilling: Backfill the hole with soil, gently tamping down to remove air pockets.

Watering: Water thoroughly after planting to settle the soil around the roots.

Mulching: Mulch around the base of the plant to conserve moisture and suppress weeds, but avoid piling mulch against the trunk.

Crepe Myrtle, Crape Myrtle, Crepe Myrtle tree, Flowering Shrub

 

Crepe Myrtle Hedge

Crepe Myrtle Care

Caring for Crepe Myrtle involves several key practices to ensure its health, growth, and vibrant blooms. Here are the primary aspects of Crepe Myrtle care:

Watering: Newly planted Crepe Myrtles need regular watering to establish their root systems. Water them deeply once a week, especially during dry periods. Once established, they are relatively drought-tolerant. However, during prolonged dry spells, additional watering may be necessary.

Mulching: Apply a layer of mulch around the base to retain moisture, regulate soil temperature, and suppress weeds. Keep mulch a few inches from the trunk to prevent rot and fungal diseases.

Fertilizing: Fertilize Crepe Myrtles in early spring with a balanced, slow-release fertilizer designed for flowering shrubs. Avoid over-fertilizing, as it can lead to excessive leaf growth at the expense of flowers.

Pruning: Prune in late winter or early spring before new growth starts. Remove any dead or diseased wood, and thin out crowded branches to improve air circulation. Prune to shape the tree and encourage the growth of new flowering shoots. Avoid heavy pruning, commonly known as “crape murder,” which can stress the tree and lead to weak, spindly growth.

Winter Care: In colder regions, young plants may need protection during winter. Use burlap or a similar material to cover them. Established trees are generally hardy and don’t require winter protection.

Lagerstroemia Double Feature® (Crape Myrtle)
Lagerstroemia Rikki Tikki® Rouge (Crape Myrtle)
Lagerstroemia Moonlight Magic™ (Crape Myrtle)

Pests, Diseases, and Common Problems

Crepe Myrtle is generally a robust and low-maintenance plant, but like all plants, it can encounter certain pests, diseases, and common problems. 

Pests

Aphids: Small, sap-sucking insects that can cause leaf curling and produce a sticky substance called honeydew, leading to sooty mold. Control: Use insecticidal soap or neem oil; encourage natural predators like ladybugs.

Japanese Beetles: They feed on the leaves, creating a lace-like appearance. Control: Handpick them off plants or use traps and insecticides designed for Japanese beetles.

Crape Myrtle Bark Scale: A relatively new pest causing black sooty mold due to the honeydew they excrete. Control: Apply horticultural oil or systemic insecticide.

Diseases

Powdery Mildew: A fungal disease that appears as a white powdery substance on the leaves and flowers, often in humid conditions. Control: Improve air circulation; use fungicides; select mildew-resistant varieties.

Cercospora Leaf Spot: Causes small, brown or black spots on leaves, which may yellow and drop prematurely. Control: Remove and destroy fallen leaves; apply fungicide if necessary.

Root rot: Occurs in poorly drained soils, leading to decay of the root system. Prevention: Ensure good drainage at planting; avoid overwatering.

Common Problems

Improper Pruning (“Crape Murder”): Excessive pruning can lead to weak, spindly growth and reduce flowering. Prevention: Prune correctly by removing only dead or crossing branches and maintaining the plant’s natural shape.

Insufficient Sunlight: Leads to reduced flowering and leggy growth. Prevention: Plant in a location with full sun exposure (at least 6 hours of direct sunlight).

Over or Under-Watering: Can cause stress, leaf drop, and poor blooming. Prevention: Water deeply but infrequently; ensure the soil is well-draining.

Fertilizer Issues: Over-fertilization can lead to excessive leaf growth at the expense of flowers. Prevention: Use a balanced, slow-release fertilizer and follow the recommended rates.

Lagerstroemia ‘Ebony Flame’ (Crape Myrtle)
Lagerstroemia ‘Coral Magic’ (Crape Myrtle)
Lagerstroemia Early Bird™ Lavender (Crape Myrtle)

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the disadvantages of crape myrtles?

Susceptible to pests and diseases, produce messy debris, potentially invasive roots, limited cold hardiness, and sensitive to improper pruning.

Should crepe myrtles be cut back every year?

Crepe Myrtles do not necessarily need to be cut back every year. Pruning is generally done to maintain shape, remove dead or diseased wood, and promote healthy growth and blooming. Over-pruning, often referred to as “Crape Murder,” can damage the tree and should be avoided.

Where do crepe myrtles grow best?

In full sunlight, well-drained soil, warm climates (USDA zones 7-9).

What month do crepe myrtles bloom?

Typically bloom in summer, from late spring (May/June) to early fall (September/October).

Discover These Helpful Guides for Further Reading

Compare All Lagerstroemia (Crepe Myrtle)
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While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.

Guide Information

Hardiness 6 - 10
Plant Type Shrubs, Trees
Plant Family Lythraceae
Genus Lagerstroemia
Exposure Full Sun
Season of Interest Spring (Late)
Summer (Early, Mid, Late)
Fall
Height 2' - 30'
(60cm - 9.1m)
Spread 2' - 30'
(60cm - 9.1m)
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Average
Soil Type Chalk, Loam, Sand
Soil pH Acid, Neutral
Soil Drainage Well-Drained
Characteristics Showy
Tolerance Deer, Drought, Clay Soil
Landscaping Ideas Wall-Side Borders, Patio And Containers, Beds And Borders
Garden Styles City and Courtyard, Informal and Cottage, Mediterranean Garden
Compare All Lagerstroemia (Crepe Myrtle)
Compare Now

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