Crepe Myrtle — Your Questions Answered

July 10, 2009 | By | Comments (494)

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. Garry Holt

    Hey Grumpy. You’re getting behind.

    September 18, 2016 at 4:46 pm
  2. Deb

    Hi I live in Minnesota but originally from Alabama. I love crepe myrtles and am so dissapointed they won’t survive in ground here. So I bought a black diamond while visiting in Alabama and brought it back and have it in a container on my deck. It’s getting ready to bloom. My question is when should I bring it in the garage? Also my garage isn’t insulated so will I need to wrap something around it for the winter? There are times when it can get to -20 below here or more. Thanks for your advice.

    September 18, 2016 at 3:48 pm
  3. karen

    i heard that a crape myrtle will not bloom the same color from a cutting. is this true

    September 12, 2016 at 9:43 pm
  4. merita

    How do you tell if a crep myrtle branches will be the ones to droop or grow straight up?

    September 10, 2016 at 11:47 am
  5. Liz

    I planted a single trunk Nachez crepe myrtle a year ago that is now about 5 feet tall. I would like the tree to have multiple trunks but there are no suckers yet. Is it too early for the tree to send up suckers or do you think it will remain a single trunk? Thank you!

    September 5, 2016 at 6:21 pm
  6. Yolanda DiSalvo

    My crepe myrtle has sent out 2 shoots at the bottom of the tree. Previously, about 3 years ago I planted them (I believe in the spring) one took and is now about 3 ft. high and blooming. I can’t remember if I planted in the spring or fall. I now find 2 more shoots but it’s the biginning of September and don’t know if I can plant them at this time of year. I’m in NJ.Would like some advise .

    September 5, 2016 at 2:12 pm
  7. Kelly

    Everywhere Austin, TX, I noticed that no crepe myrtles blooming in July. They did all start blooming end of August and 1st week of September. I’m takin about all different color species did this late bloom. Why?

    September 4, 2016 at 8:55 am
  8. Sandy

    Dear Grumpy
    I recently purchased a beautiful Black Diamond Crepe Myrtle with very dark red blooms. It was in a two gallon pot, we have transplanted into a 10 gallon container and it is just doubled in size in about two months, it is beautiful. It is in full sun.

    Now, the blooms that are coming out are either White/Dark Pink striped or a very dark pink. What happened to the “dark red” booms that I wanted……😦

    August 29, 2016 at 8:28 am
  9. Susan Townsend Bateman

    I am heartsick. I transplanted a gorgeous Catawa Crepe today (yes, should have waited till fall, but just couldn’t). I prepared the hole and planted the transplant (about 7 feet tall….after going to fill in the hole I removed it from….help, I noticed that I had not removed all of the tap root….pleaseeeeeeeeeee don’t tell me it will not live. It is all wilted and pitiful tonight….It is about 5 or 6 years old. Help!!!

    August 23, 2016 at 7:52 pm
  10. cathmarydoyle

    Hi Grumpy. Thanks. That’s wonderful news because 2 trunks look a bit odd. I think there’s some ‘artistic rule’ that says things should always be in odd numbers so I’d like to grow another trunk!

    August 19, 2016 at 11:23 am
  11. Grumpy Gardener

    Cath,
    Yes, any sucker at the base you leave will become a new trunk.

    Pat,
    Crepe myrtles do not have blue berries. I think your plant may be a viburnum.

    August 19, 2016 at 11:09 am
  12. Sharon

    Oh thank you for spelling it “crepe.” The blooms look just like frilly crepe paper, and I thought that is how they were named.

    August 15, 2016 at 2:47 pm
  13. Cath

    I have a young crepe myrtle with 2 trunks. I would like more trunks. Will suckers grow off the base and, if so, can I leave one or two of them to grow into a trunk (or will they never become trunks)??? Please reply to catherine@catherinedoyle.net

    August 14, 2016 at 8:49 am
  14. Pat

    I have a purple crepe myrtle about 5 years old. It did bloom a little last year. It was very a very small plant. This year it doubled in size but only one bloom and that was a small white flower. It does not have berries on the stems but clusters of blue berries on the trunk and some stems near the trunk. Otherwise it looks healthy. I live on the South Jersey Shore.

    August 13, 2016 at 9:57 am
  15. Grumpy Gardener

    Ellen,
    You can root cuttings in moist soil, but not water.

    Storm,
    I don’t think it’s the soil. It may be due to differences in pruning, sunlight, and water.

    August 11, 2016 at 10:53 am
  16. Sharon

    Francis, I have had two, one is now 10′ tall, the other 3′ tall, that began blooming when they were about 2′. I was so surprised!!

    August 9, 2016 at 2:58 pm
  17. Francis J Willey

    seedlings… Years to bloom?

    August 9, 2016 at 8:07 am
  18. ELLEN

    Can you cut off a stem from a beautiful crepe myrtle and put in water and soil and will
    it grow, or will it just wilt and die?

    August 3, 2016 at 6:57 pm
  19. Stormy Colby

    All of my Natchez crepe myrtles bloom but are stopping top of august when all of my neighbors Natchez are full of blooms. Ours are 7 years old and this happens every year. We are in North mississippi zone 7. Plenty of sun. We prune in February or March. Never crepe murder. Could it be our soil?? Help please.

    August 3, 2016 at 11:52 am
  20. Grumpy Gardener

    Joseph,
    It’s natural for a newly planted tree to wilt in hot sun even when it has enough water. The key thing to look for is if it’s wilted first thing in the morning. If so, water deeply with a hose so that water reaches the roots. Continue as necessary.

    David,
    If the coils are well below the soil surface, I think the trees wouldn’t harm them. But if they’re within 2 feet of the surface, I wouldn’t plant a Natchez.

    Tracy,
    If the leaves have a white, powdery film, that’s powdery mildew. Spray according to label directions with neem oil.

    Terry,
    Yes — don’t do it. Cut them off instead.

    Delores,
    Just get rid of it.

    August 1, 2016 at 1:41 pm
  21. Dolores English

    Can you cut away a sucker from a crepe Myrtle and plant it in another spot in the yard,or should you cut it away from the tree and get rid of it.e

    August 1, 2016 at 7:14 am
  22. Terry

    Will spraying 2,4-D on suckers growing at the base of healthy growing crepes damage the main plant?

    July 29, 2016 at 11:01 am
  23. Tracy Montgomery

    My tree looks like it has been sprayed with some thing…but it has not. Have no idea what this could be ?

    July 24, 2016 at 4:06 pm
  24. David L. Hurt, MD

    I have several “wells” under my front yard for the geothermal coils for my home heating and cooling. Would love to plant Natchez variety crape myrtles (or another TALL variety) to provide a canopy over the house for shade in the summer.

    How aggressive are their roots and will they destroy the coils?

    Thanks,
    David L. Hurt, MD

    July 24, 2016 at 3:18 pm
  25. Joseph Coniglio

    I planted a Black Diamond crepe Myrtle about 3 weeks ago and it looked great for a while. Now it seems to be wilting. I live in North Carolina and it has been really hot here for a while. But I do water it every day and make sure the soil is moist. I also give it some coffee grounds. Any other suggestions? I really don’t want to lose this plant because it just looks so good where it is. Full sun by the way.

    July 24, 2016 at 1:46 pm
  26. Denise

    well since my last post the one black diamond has really started to grow and has a lot of flowers on it and another one getting buds, but not growing as much, hopefully by this time next year they will be a couple feet taller, they are all in a lot of sun.. The 3rd one still the same no growth no buds but is alive with the dark black leaves

    July 21, 2016 at 11:46 am
  27. gale mccurdy

    I think you may be right, my son planted them for me and I don’t remember seeing him work the roots. All other conditions were the same. The are planted about ten feet apart as I wanted to share my kitchen Windows in the summer. Thanks so much for you advice you confirmed what I was afraid of and we will follow your advice. Let you know how it does in the spring.

    July 19, 2016 at 4:26 pm
  28. Grumpy Gardener

    Gale,
    Assuming the Black Diamonds are growing in the same conditions, I wonder if the one that’s doing poorly was either root-bound when planted or planted atop something like a big rock. If it doesn’t do better this summer, I’d consider digging it up this fall after the leaves drop and examining the root ball. If it’s very hard and compact, you’ll need to loosen them so they don’t wrap around each other before replanting.

    July 19, 2016 at 3:41 pm
  29. gale mccurdy

    I purchased two black diamond trees this spring. One is doing great and has put out buds and will probably flower in the next few days. The other is not doing so well, it’s leaves are droopy and there are no buds yet. It almost looks dried out but it gets the same care as its partner and the leaves are plyable, what gives.

    July 19, 2016 at 7:14 am
  30. Grumpy Gardener

    Carl,
    A really bizarre one.

    Denise,
    This is slower than normal growth. Are they getting plenty of sun?

    Maria,
    The purple branch sounds like a spontaneous mutation. You can’t turn the pink tree purple, though.

    Mary,
    I haven’t seen one like that before.

    July 18, 2016 at 4:10 pm
  31. MARY FARINELLA

    My newly planted Black Diamond crepe tree is blooming for the first time in three different colors, red, pink and white. I think it is beautiful and hope it blooms the same every year.

    July 14, 2016 at 7:32 am
  32. Carl Martin

    I planted several dormant, white Natchez crepe myrtles last fall. Much to my chagrin, one of them produced pink flowers last month. I decided to wait until fall and replace it. HOWEVER, I just noticed that my “pink” Natchez now has one limb with beautiful white blooms at the end! And yes, I doulble checked — it is coming from the same trunk which is producing limbs with pink blooms. What kind of crepe myrtle does that?

    July 13, 2016 at 5:06 pm
  33. Maria A

    My crepe myrtle blooms pale color, i planted a cutting from same tree and it bloomed a deep purpule. What does my older tree need to produce purple flowers?

    July 13, 2016 at 12:25 pm
  34. Denise

    My black diamond crepe myrtles were about 2 feet when planted last June its been a year now and they have only grown like 4 or 5 inches is this normal, says will get 10 feet tall

    July 12, 2016 at 3:58 pm
  35. Grumpy Gardener

    Hohn,
    If I lived there, I would plant Queen crepe myrtle.

    Sharon,
    This should lessen over time. Be patient.

    Beatrice,
    If your crepe myrtle hasn’t leafed out by now, kit isn’t dormant. It’s dead.

    Debbie,
    Yes.

    Norman,
    The only solution is keep cutting them off.

    July 12, 2016 at 3:46 pm
  36. Hohn Ross

    It appears the blooms on some crape myrtles last longer than others depending on the bloom color. Does anyone know which colors last the longest? It would be great if there is a chart that shows all the colors with how long the blooms last in Southern Florida Plant Zone 10B.

    July 12, 2016 at 1:37 pm
  37. SharonLee Butler

    I have never hard pruned my 6 yr old red rockets (crepe murder), yet, when they put on enormous, and beautiful, blooms, the rain bends the limbs over to half the tree’s size, like a dadgum octopus!! Looks so ugly. 😖 And I look real cool out there shaking the rain off the limbs! 😝 What can I do to stop this floppy behavior. Help!!

    July 11, 2016 at 10:13 am
  38. Beatrice Hanson

    Kindly, how will I know if my dormant crepe myrtle tree is alive; also how deep and thickness is a matured crepe myrtle tree

    July 11, 2016 at 9:02 am
  39. Debbie Lokey

    Not a comment but a question. Can I trim my myrtle in mid summer?

    July 7, 2016 at 8:46 am
  40. Norman Young

    My mature crepe myrtles sprout suckers at the base every year. I cut/stomp/dig them off and still they come each spring. Any recommendation?

    July 6, 2016 at 4:53 pm
  41. Steve Bender

    Phyllis,

    Yes. There is hope. You have to do corrective pruning. That means next winter, cut off the knobs on the ends of the branches. Lots of shoots will sprout from each cut end in spring. Select one of two that are growing up and out, let them remain, and remove all others. They will become the new main limbs.

    Cliff,

    Not quite sure what you’re asking.

    Adeline,

    Yes, it loses its leaves in the fall.

    July 6, 2016 at 3:59 pm
  42. Phyllis Bannister

    Is there hope for trees that have already been chopped several times. Is there something I can do to help ?

    June 27, 2016 at 5:36 pm
  43. cliff

    why does my crepe myrtle bloom in early morning and bloomes goesa away up in day?

    June 27, 2016 at 12:42 pm
  44. Adeline Rasberry

    Does the Black Diamond Crepe’s loose all their leaves ?

    June 26, 2016 at 7:34 pm

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