Crape Myrtle Trees
Crape Myrtle Trees
These Fabulous Ornamental Trees are a National Favorite
The Crape Myrtle Tree is a four season plant that provides seriously eye-catching summer flowers, beautiful red, orange and yellow fall foliage color; and very attractive, smooth gray bark which exfoliates to reveal fresh pinkish bark beneath.
Crape Myrtle Trees (Lagerstroemia indica and Laegerstromeia fauriei) were native to Asia, but seeds were brought to the United States at least 200 years ago. They have been naturalized in the United States, and have been beloved by homeowners for a long time. Today, they are widely grown throughout much of the United States in Zones 6 - 10.
It's hard to imagine Southern and Western gardens without the gorgeous blooms of the Crape Myrtle. Really dramatic colors are showcased in mid- to late summer when each branch is tipped with a 6- to 12-inch cluster of red, pink, white, lavender or purple delicate flowers. Some people think they look like "crepe" paper, so they call these plants "Crepe Myrtles." Crape or crepe, they make a big visual impact in the landscape!
No other flowering shrub has such a long blooming season. There are 120 known varieties, and breeders have been working hard with this magnificent plant to bring improvements to market.
Smaller Crape Myrtles and Darker Foliage that Stands up to the Heat
For years, the only crape myrtles available were massive, many-stemmed shrubs that grew 15 to 20 feet tall. These include the gorgeous white flowered Natchez variety, which is typically planted alone or trained by pruning to grow as a single-trunked shade tree. Give large varieties enough room to grow, and you'll be absolutely delighted by them. They should be planted away from the house a bit more than half of the mature width of the mature plant. You'll need to have room to access the exterior of your house, and the plant needs air circulation all around it.
These days, there are varieties of all colors that stay small. Smaller varieties are ideal for planting near a house and for informal hedges. There are now smaller dwarf varieties, such as the First Editions Midnight Magic, that stays about 6 feet tall.
Deep, richly dark foliage is another very desirable trait, and breeders such as the growers at the Black Diamond series have now developed a line of Crape Myrtles that display reliably dark purple leaves from spring through fall.
Choose the Right Variety for Your Landscape Needs
While any plant can be pruned to keep it smaller (our horticulturalists call this "size control"), why make more work for yourself? Choose the right Crape Myrtle for your specific needs. There are a lot of ways to enjoy the beauty of this versatile plant in your landscape.
Low growing dwarf varieties make wonderful foundation plants that won't cover your windows. Try these planted in mass, all along a sunny garden border. Have fun playing with color combinations when using Crape Myrtles this way.
Could you try an "ombre" effect, where you plant lighter blooms near the house, and gradually mix into darker blooms further along the garden border? That would really pop, and would be an easy way to add a ton of interest to your landscape.
A semi-dwarf variety that grows about 12 feet tall would be a lovely way to ground your house to your landscape. Crape Myrtle Trees are multi-stemmed and can be trained into a tree form quite easily.
Or, let it grow naturally into a shrub form. The Plum Magic Crape Myrtle is a great screening plant. You can simply let the natural shape grow to fill in as a large shrub to help hide unwanted views. For hedges, plant several about 4 - 5 feet apart so they grow together.
Plant a single specimen at the corner of your house or use it to create a focal point in a garden bed. You'll want to site these special plants where you can enjoy their dazzling blooms from the windows inside your house (where it's nice and cool during the heat of the summer!)
Use one of the larger varieties for a fabulous yard tree in a sunny spot. What a wonderful garden experience to gift yourself.
Pruning Crape Myrtles
Since they bloom on new wood, Crape Myrtle Trees should be pruned in early spring before the new growth starts, so that the current season's stems can produce flowers.
Remove old flowers before they set seed can promote a second wave of showy flowers. In spring, you'll also want to remove basal "suckers" from the base of the tree, any deadwood, criss-crossed branches, or branches that are growing into the center of the tree. You want to have an open interior of the tree.
Prune these undesirable branches all the way back to the main stem to increase light and air flow into the center of your tree. The goal is to get more light and air circulation into your tree. Keep the strongest branches intact to support the beautiful flowers later in the season.
Now, if you need to keep an older variety small, some homeowners will simply cut the plants to the ground each spring. In the Northern parts of the growing region, a cold winter may do this, too. We call it "nature's pruning" and the plant will die back to the ground. Not to worry. When that happens, the plant will produce extremely large flowers on a few main stems that grow about 4 feet tall in a single season.
You can also use a larger variety as an ornamental tree. Then, you'll work to prune up any lower lateral branches along the main stems up to 5 feet or so. You can create a multi-stemmed tree or prune out all but the largest "trunk". Either way, it's going to be gorgeous.
Just please, don't lop off the tops of all the branches at the same height (that's a plant crime called "crape murder!") This won't give you the look you want as the new growth will be spindly and won't be able to support the weight of the heavy blooms. You'll also see thick "knuckles" develop on the limbs where they were cut.
Don't lose that beautiful, smooth bark! Better instead to select a few strong branches, and plant to maintain them. Keep the main trunks as they are, and simply prune out the other branches all the way back to the trunk.
Siting, Planting and Caring for Crape Myrtles
These are sun loving plants that need at least 6 hours of direct sun every day. These tough plants can really take the heat! Plant in full sun to protect your plant and encourage the best performance. Morning sun is best, as it helps the leaves dry off from overnight dew.
Crape Myrtles need sun, air and well-drained soil. If you have poorly draining soil, such as clay, consider creating a rounded berm or raised bed of soil heaped about 18 inches high.
Use an old trick, and plant Crape Myrtles a bit higher than other plants by leaving about an inch of the potting material peeking up at the top of the newly dug hole. Mound up with shredded bark mulch to improve drainage, but don't let it touch the trunk. Leave an inch or two of room around the trunk of your new plant.
Reapply 2-4 inches of mulch every year, especially if you'll be placing the tree in your lawn. Give it a wide circle of mulch, so you won't risk damage from string trimmers.
When you water, focus on the ground, not the foliage. Drip irrigation or soaker hoses are best, as they place the water directly where the plant needs it.
Northern Gardeners, Try Crape Myrtles in Containers
If you live in Zones 3 - 5, you can still use a smaller variety of Crape Myrtle as a gorgeous "Thriller" in a seasonal container. Months of fabulous blooms, tropical looks, and super hardy disposition. What's not to love? Pair with a contrasting "Filler" and "Spiller" and you are on your way to turning heads all across your neighborhood.
In late fall, bring the container into the garage for the winter. Give your plant a drink of water once a month. In spring, once the threat of frost is passed, bring it back out to enjoy for another season.
Get Help with Your Decision from our Plant Experts
Watch our Selection Guide to help you pick the best Crape Myrtle.
Enjoy the eye candy as you shop for Crape Myrtles on our site. Give us a call at 888-864-7663 if you'd like some personalized attention. Our experts love Crape Myrtles, too and we'll be happy to help you with your choice.