Crepe Myrtle — Your Questions Answered

July 10, 2009 | By | Comments (378)

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. Adalberto

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    May 16, 2015 at 7:29 am
  2. Neal Brown

    I planted a Crepe Myrtle two years ago and for the second spring the old growth seems to be dead and there are new shoots all around the base. I know they tend to bloom later than other trees but my neighbors tree has begun to bloom and I see no signs of buds on last years growth. I am in West central Oklahoma. Any advice?

    May 13, 2015 at 12:29 pm
  3. Karen Cox

    I have 5 crepe myrtles that have survived 25 years (here when we moved in 15 years ago) that are dead! I was always amazed that they were able to survive with only 4-5 hrs. of sun a day. Their trunks are approx. 4-6″ diameter. I only have growth from the base and am able to break these trunks at the soil surface. I know that the roots on these puppies are deep and wide, and don’t want to disturbe my hostas, landscape lighting and sprinkler system attempting to dig these trees out. Can I break out all dead trunks and hope that the ground growth will eventually give me the height and color that I need? Help please, I live in Chattanooga ,TN . We live on one of the beautiful mountains surrounding the city, and our year round temp. is generally 5 * lower than in the valley.
    I love them, and they give me narrow height in a small bed (very long across the entire house, but only 6ft. deep.
    Any advice is greatly appreciated,
    Karen

    May 12, 2015 at 9:25 pm
  4. norman

    something eliminates the soil from around the roots of my crape myrtles. Not like it is dug up and there are piles of dirt, there is just a void with exposed roots. No it is not a sink hole event. I have flooded the hole with water, expecting to flush out a critter, but no results. Master Gardener suspects moles, but no sign of them elsewhere in the garden in any other area.

    May 9, 2015 at 5:26 pm
  5. MaryAnn Foley

    A professional landscaper planted 8 dwarf crepe myrtles in November 2014 on the side of my home that has full sun all day long. It is now the end of April 2015 and my question and concern is that the dwarf bushes look dead, the stems are dark brown not a leaf in site, should they have leaves or have a different color at this time of year? I know they don’t bloom until mid July

    April 30, 2015 at 4:36 pm
  6. Nicole

    I just purchased a house with a crepe myrtle, i have pruned as directed, but is there anything I can do about the ugly knarly looming partys of the trunk from previous “murders”?

    April 28, 2015 at 9:55 pm
  7. Pam Hughes

    hello! We have purchased a second home….a little cottage, which at one time had a crepe myrtle in the yard. I LOVE crepe myrtles and wish the previous owner had not taken the crepe myrtle down. I do have lots of little shoots coming up from the roots that are left in the ground though. Any chance of those ever becoming a tree? Even a little bonsai one? ;-)
    Thanks!!!!

    April 26, 2015 at 3:15 pm
  8. Nancy

    We just bought a crepe myrtle tree, but found some leaves wilted before we planted it. Is it going to be okay? We already put good amount of water during and after planted it. Should I prune or remove the wilted leaves?

    April 26, 2015 at 8:56 am
  9. Steve Bender

    Lori,

    Yes, some crepes leaf out earlier than others. Be patient. Since there is green under the bark, the plant is still alive.

    April 24, 2015 at 9:43 am
  10. lori

    i planted a crepe mrytle this past fall and i dont see any leaves so far this spring. the branches are bendy and when i scratch the bark it is green, do some varieties take longer then other to leaf.

    April 19, 2015 at 1:14 pm
  11. Steve Bender

    Glenn,

    Unless your soil is very sandy or rocky, crepe myrtle needs little fertilizer. But if you want, use any slow-release fertilizer formulated for trees and shrubs.

    April 13, 2015 at 8:24 am
  12. Glenn Slater

    I would like to know what kind of fertilizer to use for crepe myrtles

    April 9, 2015 at 10:25 am
  13. Steve Bender

    Chrissy,

    If your crepe myrtle hasn’t had any leaves, it’s dead.

    April 5, 2015 at 9:15 am
  14. Nickie

    The correct spelling is Cr’E’pe Myrtle! Just saying!!! Some people need to do some research before they make themselves sound like a donkey! : )

    April 3, 2015 at 9:38 am
  15. Chrissy Lewis

    Hi..i have a creapimg Cherokee myrtle tree in my side yard I bought the house 2 years ago never have I seen the tree bloom or have leaves nothing it does nothing its about 10 feet tall or so ..full sun and water in wondering if I should remove it and plant something else but I love those tree what can I do to help the tree I haven’t pruned it hoping it will just need time to grow..thank u Chrissy

    April 2, 2015 at 8:45 am
  16. Steve Bender

    Kim,

    The only way to keep a crepe myrtle from blooming is to plant it in complete shade.

    March 16, 2015 at 2:08 pm
  17. kim

    Is there a way to keep it from blooming all together? I love the shape of the Crepe Myrtle, the bark of the tree and the foliage. The blooms are pretty but huge bee magnets and I try to keep my yard in shades of green :-)

    March 11, 2015 at 9:08 pm
  18. Crepe Myrtle Pruning Step-by-Step | Southern Living Blog

    […] Crepe Myrtle — Your Questions Answered […]

    March 6, 2015 at 11:18 am
  19. Steve Bender

    Stanley,

    What I was referring to was using loppers and pruning saws to maintain the natural form of the tree, rather than buzzing it off with a chainsaw. Fore more info, Google “Crepe Myrtle Pruning — Step By Step.”

    February 23, 2015 at 10:19 am
  20. Stanley Kreisberg

    May I have your description of careful pruning?
    Stan Kaye

    February 20, 2015 at 8:49 am
  21. Steve Bender

    Stanley,
    From what I know about ‘Dynamite,’ I would something in the 15-20 foot range if planted in the open. You can maintain them at 15 feet with careful pruning.

    February 20, 2015 at 6:18 am
  22. Steve Bender

    Henry,

    It is quite possibly that one color is more susceptible to mildew than another. But the Black Diamond Series is so new, I don’t think they’ve been fully evaluated.

    February 20, 2015 at 6:16 am
  23. StanleyKaye

    I’m in zone 9 Florida and was just sold two Dynamite Red Crepe Myrtles about 5′ high and told by the grower that they would probably grow to 12′-18′ High.
    Now read to expect over 20 ‘- 30′.
    Which is correct ? Can I maintain them within 15′ Height.

    February 17, 2015 at 11:10 am
  24. Steve Bender

    Rob,

    Since you live in Zone 10, you must be growing the semi-tropical Queen crepe myrtle. It should lose its leaves for a very short time in winter.

    January 13, 2015 at 11:21 am
  25. Rob sedlacek

    Do crape hurtles lose their leaves in winter? I’m in zone 10.

    January 8, 2015 at 9:28 pm
  26. Steve Bender

    Betty,

    Any time between now and when crepe myrtle leafs out is a good time to transplant a crepe myrtle.

    December 24, 2014 at 9:29 am
  27. betty moffatt

    can u tran plant a crape myrtle, and when would be the best time to do it

    December 21, 2014 at 1:39 pm
  28. Steve Bender

    Henry,

    It is quite possibly that one color has more disease resistance than the other, because they aren’t genetically identical. The disease lives over on the fallen leaves, so if your plants got it this year, they probably will again. You can prevent this by spraying healthy foliage with either neem oil or Natria Disease Control.

    October 29, 2014 at 9:51 am

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