Crepe Myrtle — Your Questions Answered

July 10, 2009 | By | Comments (512)

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. Steve Bender

    Monica,
    I don’t know why they pruned you crepe myrtle they way they did. Maybe they removed the lower branches to prevent mildew on the siding. In any case, the lower branches will grow back. You can leave the ones you want and remove the others.

    December 6, 2016 at 8:34 am
  2. Monica

    My tree is abou 15 feet, not 25.

    December 2, 2016 at 11:57 pm
  3. Monica

    I have a fifty year old crepe myrtle that is about 25 feet tall, with lower branches that started at about 5 feet. It has a lovely graceful shape with flowers and foliage that hangs over the corner of my driveway and provides color to the front of my house. I. Really love the shape and beauty of it. Til today. I had a tree company come in to clear the roof line of my house and they cut EVERY single lower branch off. It now shoots straight up 25 feet into the air with foliage at the very top. I did not ask them to prune the tree and most of the branches they took had nothing to do with the roof line. Beyond disappointed. They said it was important to raise the canopy above the roofline. What is this tree going to look like as it recovers from this mugging? How long til my graceful lower branches return?

    December 2, 2016 at 11:07 pm
  4. Steve Bender

    Judith,
    Once crepe myrtles lose their leaves for the winter, they need no watering until they leaf out again.

    November 28, 2016 at 3:34 pm
  5. Judith

    My baby Black Diamond crape was planted in April and bloomed nicely over the summer. It is about 2 ft tall. Here in Las Vegas, daytime temps are now 50/60, night 33/40s and we are required to limit watering to 1-day a week until March. Should my tree continue to get once-a-water over the winter? It’s on a drip system.

    November 26, 2016 at 1:55 pm
  6. Steve Bender

    Barb,
    I don’t know what kind of dwarf crepe you have, but there is one called ‘Raspberry Dazzle’ that is a notoriously shy bloomer.

    November 25, 2016 at 8:18 am
  7. Barb

    I have 2 crepe myrtles. Both look healthy. One blooms. The other, a dwarf, is 3 years old and still has never bloomed. Gets full sun and I water it regularly. Leaves and broth are very healthy, but no flowers. Any suggestions?

    November 14, 2016 at 4:53 pm
  8. Chezron

    Thank you for spelling Crepe Myrtle correctly Steve. The bloom do look like crepe paper.

    November 10, 2016 at 6:14 pm
  9. Grumpy Gardener

    Eugene,
    From what you say, it sounds like ‘Muskogee’ and other taller-growing kinds (30 feet at maturity) would be a better choice for you. Just prune off all the side branches growing from the main trunks up to a height of 6-7 feet.

    Carolyn,
    Now is a good time to transplant in your area.

    October 11, 2016 at 3:01 pm
  10. Eugene

    Steve,

    We want to plant 3 crape myrtles at the NJ shore (zone 7a). We are taking down a row of evergreens that act as a visual fence, blocking a gorgeous view of the bay. We would use the crape myrtles to block up high, but allow a line of sight up to about 6 feet. The adjoining property has a pine that meanders sideways with all its greenery about 20-25 feet high. Given this, we would need a maximum height of about 20 feet.

    We decided to go with Muskogees, currently about 10 feet high with new growth. The labels on them claim heights of 15-20 feet, but most info I’ve seen indicated 20-30 feet. The nursery says that they found them growing 15-20 feet because of the colder climate.

    Do you think that the weather will have this affect? If the Muskogees want to grow taller than 20 feet, could further growth be controlled with selective pruning?

    October 3, 2016 at 8:30 pm
  11. Steve Bender

    Sharon,
    A new kind of scale has been attacking crepe myrtles. Treating with horticultural oil does not work. You must spray the affected trunks and branches according to label directions with dormant oil after the leaves drop. Do this in early spring too before that plant leafs out.

    October 2, 2016 at 9:21 am
  12. Carolyn Tanner

    We would like to transplant our crepe to a better location; we live in VA and assume now is the time to do it. What would advise that we do. Carolyn

    October 2, 2016 at 9:19 am

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