Crepe Myrtle — Your Questions Answered

July 10, 2009 | By | Comments (341)

Crepe myrtles are hot right now. In fact, no subject is of more interest to Southerners this summer, not even the stirring Presidential campaign of Ron Paul.

Thus, the ever-generous, all-caring Grump will answer 10 of the most common questions about crepe myrtles directed his way every week.

Crepe

 

1. What does crepe myrtle need to grow well and bloom?

Answer — Lots of sun, well-drained soil, and extended summer heat. After suffering for so many years from hearing about how great gardening is in England, I am gratified to know that crepe myrtle hates it there. The summers aren’t sufficiently long and hot.

Winter cold is another consideration for you people up north. Although some selections, such as ‘Acoma’ (white), ‘Centennial Spirit’ (dark red), ‘Comanche’ (coral pink), ‘Hopi’ (medium pink), ‘Yuma’ (lavender), and ‘Zuni’ (lavender), are reputed to withstand temperatures below zero, if zero temps are common where you live, I wouldn’t plant crepe myrtle. It does best in Zones 7, 8, and 9. Instead, plant ‘Pink Diamond’ or ‘Tardiva’ hydrangea. (Both are selections of summer-flowering Hydrangea paniculata.)

2. When is a good time to plant crepe myrtle?

Answer — When the plant is dormant, either in fall, winter (where winters are mild), or early spring. Of course, you can plant a crepe myrtle grown in a container in summer too, as long as you water it frequently to keep it from wilting. Once it’s established, it’s quite drought-tolerant.

3. When should I prune crepe myrtle?

Answer — Late winter is the best time for two reasons. One, the plant has no leaves, so you can easily see all the branches and which ones need removing. Two, crepe myrtle blooms on new growth. Pruning in winter won’t reduce summer blooming.

Having said that, you can produce a second major flush of blooms on most crepe myrtles by pruning off the round, green seed pods that form just after the first flowers fade. The second flush won’t be quite as showy, but you’ll like it nonetheless.

4. What is “crepe murder?”

Answer — Crepe murder is the odious practice of using saws and loppers to cut down a crepe myrtle into thick, ugly stubs, usually performed on an early spring weekend by bored husbands seeking to justify their existence to women. This ruins the natural form of the plant, produces weak spindly branches too weak to hold up the flowers, and prevents the formation of the beautiful, smooth, mottled bark that looks so pretty in winter.

For specific instructions on pruning crepe myrtles, see “Stop! Don’t Chop” and “Crepe Myrtle Pruning Step-by-Step,” two highly informative articles written by your favorite Grump.

5. What’s that black stuff all over the leaves?

Answer — Hershey’s Dark Chocolate. Nah, just kidding. Actually, it’s black mold growing on the sticky honeydew produced by sucking insects, usually aphids. Get rid of the aphids and you’ll have no mold. Spray according to label directions with an environmentally friendly product, such as refined horticultural oil on insecticidal soap (make sure to wet the undersides of the leaves), or a systemic insecticide that’s absorbed into the leaves, such as Ortho Max Tree & Shrub Insect Control.

6. White that’s white stuff all over the leaves and flower buds?

Answer — Powdery mildew, a fungus that likes warm, humid weather. Many older types of crepe myrtle are highly susceptible. The fungus distorts the foliage and often ruins the flower buds. While you can prevent powdery mildew by spraying according to label directions with a fungicide such as Daconil or Immunox or even with refined horticultural oil, you’re better off buying a mildew-resistant selection, such as ‘Natchez,’ ‘Miami,’ ‘Sioux,’ ‘Dynamite,’ and ‘Biloxi.’ Look for this on the plant label.

7. Why doesn’t my healthy crepe myrtle bloom?

Answer — Could be lots of reasons. Maybe it doesn’t get enough sun. Maybe powdery mildew ruined the blooms. Maybe Japanese beetles ate it. Maybe it just needs a few more years to grow. Maybe you’re in a drought. A crepe myrtle will often go dormant during a very dry summer with flower buds ready to pop. They’ll only pop when the plant gets some water, either from rain or from you.

8. What are some crepe myrtles that don’t get so tall?

Answer — One way to avoid crepe murder is to select varieties that don’t need pruning. Small ones (5-10 feet) include  ‘Acoma,’ (white), ‘Hopi’ (pink), ‘Tonto’ (red), and ‘Zuni’ (lavender). Dwarf types (3-5 feet) include ‘Centennial’ (purple), ‘Petite’ (various colors), ‘Razzle Dazzle’ (various colors), ‘Pocomoke’ (rose-pink), and ‘Victor’ (deep red).

9. What are the Grump’s favorite crepe myrtles?

Answer — ‘Natchez,’ (tall white), ‘Miami’ (tall pink, pictured above), ‘Catawba’ (medium purple), ‘Dynamite’ (medium red), ‘Watermelon Red’ (tall red), ‘Petite Orchid’ (dwarf purple).

10. Why do you spell crepe myrtle with an “e”?

Answer — It never ceases to amaze me how many people think this spelling is the most significant issue facing the world today. I spell it with an “e” because the crinkled flowers remind me of crepe. If you want to spell it “crape,” go ahead — on your own blog.

COMMENTS

  1. Bob Henderson

    why does my crepe myrtle grow a little bit in the summer then the branches dry up and die out then when summer comes again they start shooting back out from the bottom

    August 18, 2014 at 8:25 pm
  2. Becky

    I wasn’t able to prune my crepe myrtles by early spring and now they have branches heavy with buds and drooping low to ground. Is it ok to prune some in the summer or should I just wIt until winter?

    August 17, 2014 at 2:33 pm
  3. Steve Bender

    Chuck,

    It is normal for the old bark of crepe myrtle to peel off at this time of year. Any branches that do not have leaves are dead, however, and should be removed. The cause was probably the winter cold.

    August 8, 2014 at 10:34 am
  4. Chuck H.

    After 25 years of growing,why wpuld a crape myrtle go dormant? Bark is peeling,dead like branches, except for 2 branches still in bloom ,in a kentucky summer!!

    July 31, 2014 at 8:13 pm
  5. Steve Bender

    Sidney,
    Crepes planted in July need frequent soaking — about every other day until they become established. Check the leaves early each morning. If they’re wilted, water.

    July 31, 2014 at 1:42 pm
  6. sidney rowe

    How often do i water crape myrtles planted in july

    July 24, 2014 at 8:24 am
  7. Garry

    Thanks Steve. I think I have finally figured out. I am deep soaking them 2-3 times a week. The morr mature ones are looking better. The ones that are 2-3 years old are still burning but putting on new growth. I am thinking about shading the smaller ones for few hours during the day to see if there it makes a difference.

    July 17, 2014 at 4:50 pm
  8. Steve Bender

    Garry,
    Under those conditions, a tree might not be able to draw enough water from the soil to replace that being lost by the tree quickly enough. The result is scorched leaves. Other than keeping the soil moist, there’s not much you can do.

    July 17, 2014 at 4:02 pm
  9. Garry

    here is such a thing as too much sun. It hapens in El Paso when there is no clouds (most of tre time), temps are running 95-105, no humidity and there is a breeze. The leaves tend to burn starting on the tips and working backward toward the stem.

    July 17, 2014 at 3:42 pm
  10. Steve Bender

    Dee,
    This quirk happens on some crepe myrtles due to weather. If flowers open up on cloudy days, the flower color is lighter than those that opened up on sunny days. Weird, but true.

    July 17, 2014 at 3:20 pm
  11. Steve Bender

    Slipp,
    Make sure your crepe gets plenty of sun. It likes full sun, no shade. The more sun it gets, the more flowers you get.

    July 17, 2014 at 3:17 pm
  12. Steve Bender

    Anna,
    Yes, crepe myrtles will grow in Miami and the one you need to look for is the showiest, called Queen crepe myrtle.

    July 17, 2014 at 3:16 pm
  13. Steve Bender

    Annamarie,
    Your crepe myrtles were injured by the winter cold. The ones with no growth on either the top or bottom are dead. You’ll need to replace them. The ones with growth at the bottom will grow back, but the tops are dead. Cut off any branches or trunks that don’t have leaves.

    July 17, 2014 at 3:15 pm
  14. Dee Runions

    I love my crepe myrtles but this year one of my trees has two shades of flowers. Why is this?

    July 14, 2014 at 12:30 pm
  15. slipp99@gmail.com

    I have a mature cp in the yard, the leaves on it is green but no blooms. Is there anything I can do to motivate the blooming process?

    July 13, 2014 at 9:11 pm
  16. Anna

    Can’t get straight answer to my question: Do Crepe Myrtle trees grow in Miami, Florida? Simple yes or no will do.

    July 12, 2014 at 8:33 pm
  17. Garry

    I’m afraid they aredead too. I live in El Paso and back in 2011 we had 76 hrs of below freezing temps, which is very unusual for here. We lost our large one to the freeze but it started to regrow at the base as yours appears to be doing. I cut the dead growth off at ground level and transplanted it, and replaced it with a live oak.. It is doing well in it’s new home, and would have done well without moving it.

    July 11, 2014 at 12:05 pm
  18. Annemarie Carlson

    I have 3 Crape Myrtles, 2 red and one purple,,,it’s now July 12th and none of them have even gotten foliage on them at all :(…we had a very bad cold winter, Im afraid they are dead…some foliage growing up the middle of the 2 big red ones that Ive had for about 5 yrs, the tops look dead, the purple one has nothing…usually by the end of July they are in full bloom but I don’t see that happening this year, Im wondering if they will ever come back??, and should I bothering pruning them back??, thanks..I live in Southeastern , PA..

    July 11, 2014 at 9:49 am
  19. Steve Bender

    Wendy,
    Just guessing, but I can think of two reasons why this might happen. One, your crepe myrtles aren’t getting enough water. Two, they may have a whitish fungus called powdery mildew. Mildew coats the leaves and basically destroys the flowers and flower buds. Spraying according to label directions with neem oil or Natria Disease Control will control mildew.

    July 10, 2014 at 2:44 pm
  20. Steve Bender

    Bob,
    Are you sure it’s ‘Catawba’? It’s an upright grower, but it’s not supposed to grow like a light pole! Is it planted in an open area where it gets sun from all sides?

    July 10, 2014 at 2:40 pm
  21. Wendy

    I have 4 CMs, two Arapaho and 2 Tuscarora. I’ve had them 3 years. This year, the two Tuscarora started to bloom beautifully, but then for no apparent reason, the flowers started to wither, as have all new “buds.” The leaves are stunted, but still green. No visible insects, mold, etc. Any idea what’s causing it, and is there anything to do but call it a wash and hope next year doesn’t repeat? I live in Los Angeles.

    July 8, 2014 at 6:21 pm
  22. Bob GranthM

    Why does my Crepe Murtle grow straight up instead of spreading. Planted out of the pot five years ago. Three branches 12 feet tall, about two feet wide. Catawba I believe. Fixing to cut it down.

    July 7, 2014 at 3:31 pm
  23. Steve Bender

    Cheryl,

    Crepe myrtle does not have separate sexes.

    June 30, 2014 at 2:57 pm
  24. Steve Bender

    Casey,

    I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but it sounds like the cold winter killed them. There is a change they’ll grow back from the roots, but the tops are dead.

    June 30, 2014 at 2:56 pm
  25. gloria

    Checked my search engine regarding your question and found the following, “As far as I can tell they (crepe myrtles) are monoecious (flowers have both parts needed to get the job done). If they were dioecious (male and female parts on different plants, like hollies), then you’d need male and female plants.”

    June 30, 2014 at 11:43 am
  26. Cheryl McClain

    How can I tell if our crepe myrtle tree is male or female. We live in Tn. And it is beautiful. But we have bad allergies and been told to find out if it is a male. Need help. Thank you.

    June 30, 2014 at 10:26 am
  27. Casey

    I have 2 very mature crape myrtles in my yard, approximately 12 feet tall with bright pink blooms. I have lived here since 2010, and they have always bloomed, but this year nothing so far. I live in central Kentucky and we did have a very cold winter, a wet early spring and dry for the past 6 weeks or so. I am wondering what might be going on with them. Any tips or advice?

    June 27, 2014 at 11:00 am
  28. Steve Bender

    Gloria,

    No, they do not. Roots suckers usually only appear if the roots are cut or damaged.

    June 12, 2014 at 1:26 pm
  29. gloria

    Do all crepe myrtles sprout up all over the yard?

    June 8, 2014 at 12:49 pm
  30. Steve Bender

    My information is that ‘Black Diamond’ is an illegal release by someone who didn’t own the patent. That’s why you can’t find any info about it. I can’t say whether it’ll be hardy in Kansas City, because apparently nobody knows.

    May 8, 2013 at 10:53 am
  31. F. Stanley

    Stores here in Kansas City are selling Black DIamond crepemyrtles, is this a good specimen for this area? There is very little information with this shrub.

    May 1, 2013 at 10:07 am
  32. Steve Bender

    Sandy,

    While it is possible to use a sharp spade to separate a sucker from the mother plant, keep in mind that any time you cut crepe myrtle roots, they send up lots of suckers.

    April 29, 2013 at 2:09 pm
  33. Sandy

    I just moved to the Atlanta area from the NE. We have a beautiful crepe myrtle in the front yard. It has multiple thin stems growing up around the base of the trunk. Can I use these to root and plant more trees? How and when? Thanks for any input. I love southern plants and am looking forward to more gardening!

    April 27, 2013 at 8:31 am
  34. Gayle

    Thanks for the reply. Our crepe myrtles are not exactly new, about 4 years old and last year they budded and bloomed right along with all the rest but definitely not this year.

    April 24, 2013 at 8:36 pm
  35. Steve Bender

    Gayle,

    Are these new crepe myrtles? Sometimes new ones start later. The best advice I can give is give them some TLC, but don’t fertilize again until they are actively growing.

    April 24, 2013 at 8:43 am
  36. Gayle

    We have 3 CM, live in St. George, UT and they have less than 2 leaves each. All over the community the other CM have all leafed out, we’ve watered and fertilized – any suggestions?

    April 22, 2013 at 11:22 pm
  37. Steve Bender

    Garry,

    I’m betting the problem is a fungus called powdery mildew that looks like a white film on leaves and flower buds. Flower buds that get it don’t open. You can prevent mildew by spraying according to label directions with neem oil, horticultural oil, or Immunox.

    Brenda,

    Crepe myrtles are easy to grow from seed. I’ll bet you have seedlings all around. You can also root a cutting. Take a 6-inch tip cutting (without flowers) in June, strip of the lowest set of leaves, dip the cut end in rooting powder, and stick the cutting in a pot filled with moist potting soil. Keep the soil moist and the pot in shade. Rooting should happen in about a month.

    April 22, 2013 at 12:53 pm
  38. Brenda

    How do you start crepes from an old one thats big and beautiful……….Brenda fm Pittsburgh

    April 17, 2013 at 9:56 am
  39. Garry

    I have several cr’s but for some reason one starts to quit blooming and the leaves start to die, no bugs, no visible signs of anything. In the spring around May the new growth comes with beautiful flowers and leaves. Then somewhere around late July, in the top third of the bush, the buds appear and never open. The leaves wither and die. New growth begins in the lower third of the shrub, which is abour 5-6 feet tall. Everything is starting to pop now but I know what will happen come July. I live in El Paso texas. I have watered, not watered, fertilized with acid, not fertilized. Nothing seems to help.

    April 16, 2013 at 6:21 pm
  40. Steve Bender

    Randy,
    Not to worry! There are lots of different crepes and they behave a little differently. If yours are healthy, they should be leafing out shortly. Now if they still haven’t leafed out a month from now, start worrying.

    March 29, 2013 at 10:05 am
  41. randy from texas

    i have 5 natchez crepe trees that i planted 6-12 in zone 10a south texas. They appear to look health but i don’t have any new buds yet. i have noticed other crepe’s in this area are leafing out. they did very well last year even though i planted in the hottest time of the year. all the crepe’s are in full sun all day. can you help explain.

    March 19, 2013 at 1:11 pm

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