Crepe Myrtle — Your Questions Answered

July 10, 2009 | By | Comments (448)

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

    Brandi,

    Cut off all the dead top growth and let the plant grow back from the base. It will do so surprisingly quickly.

    May 30, 2016 at 9:20 am
  2. Brandi

    I brought a crepe myrtle last fall and planted it when I got it. This year the branches are all dead, however; low to the ground there seems to be a bunch of red (looks like new growth). What do I need to do to get it growing good?

    May 26, 2016 at 9:14 am
  3. Grumpy Gardener

    Monica,

    ‘Dynamite’ grows into a small tree about 15-18 feet tall in the ground. When planted in a container, it will need daily watering, because the soil dries so quickly. This is why it wilts.

    May 24, 2016 at 1:39 pm
  4. Monica

    Great article Grump!

    We just moved to Las Vegas (zone 9) and bought 2 crepe myrtle ‘dynamites’ and planted them in pots to add some privacy in our patio. We obviously didn’t realize they were trees, just high bushes (about 4 feet). We planted them in a mix of top and garden soil and the leaves have wilted. Get plenty of sun and have been watering every couple days. Is there a way to revive them and contain them in a pot? HELP!

    May 22, 2016 at 9:50 am
  5. Grumpy Gardener

    Carol Lee,

    Those long, weak shoots are called watersprouts. Just cut them off.

    Holly,

    Your crepe myrtle should be leafed out by now. Scratch the bark to see if you can find any green underneath. If you can’t, the plant is probably dead.

    Starr,

    Yes, you can train them to grow into small trees.

    May 20, 2016 at 2:11 pm
  6. Carole Lee

    I have twenty year old Natchez crepes. This winter I was forced to prune them, they were hanging over the roof and also keeping out ‘dish’ from working. They have sprung forth beautiful fresh foliage from the tops but in the last two weeks they have started throwing a lot of the new growth from the trunk. The limb starts hanging down, wilting, then just drops to the ground. I’ve never seen anything like this before and need to know what is happening. They have never given a moments trouble before.

    May 18, 2016 at 3:04 pm
  7. holly reinford

    Hi
    I have a pocomoke crape. it is mid may in southern pa, and it looks dead. Is it dead or just a late bloomer? should I trim it back to the ground in the fall?
    Holly

    May 17, 2016 at 6:06 pm
  8. Starr

    My son gave me 2 black crepe myrtles for mother’s day. Love them. They look like bushes now. Is it possible the could grow into trees?

    May 8, 2016 at 1:34 pm
  9. Grumpy Gardener

    Paula,

    Yes, this is unusual. It means that you have one healthy trunk and two weak ones. I’d leave them alone for now to see what happens, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the weak ones die.

    May 5, 2016 at 2:35 pm
  10. Paula S Fink

    We have a two year old crepe myrtle that has 3 trunks. Is it unusual for the new spring leaves on the trunks to open a few weeks apart?? What seems like the main trunk???has lots of open leaf buds and is really going to town. The other two trunks have the leaf buds on their branches but have only opened a little. Should we be concerned?

    May 3, 2016 at 3:48 pm
  11. Grumpy Gardener

    Eddie,

    I suspect the leaves are infested with aphids. Try spraying with neem oil, horticultural oil. or insecticidal soap, be careful the wet the undersides of the leaves.

    Deborah,

    Yikes! This doesn’t sound good. I’d wait a while to see if they will leaf out, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they experience some dieback. If they do, cut off the dead stuff and they’ll grow back.

    April 27, 2016 at 1:35 pm
  12. Eddie Haffenden

    The leaves on my newly planted, young crimson crape myrtle began folding in half down the center about a week ago. Do you know why this may be occurring?

    April 24, 2016 at 9:24 pm
  13. Deborah Lundstrom

    Just purchased a new home and the landscaper planted a 5′ Natchez that had leaves when planted the end of Feb. Now, all leaves are gone, still has green when scratching branches. No new growth yet, is it in shock?

    April 12, 2016 at 7:33 am
  14. Karen Plotke

    I have a small Crepe Myrtle. I read your article called, “THE GRUMPY GARDENER
    Crepe Myrtle — Your Questions Answered
    July 10, 2009 | By Steve Bender | I specifically wanted to know if you are supposed to trim off seed pods. My question was answered. My tree is only about 4 ft tall and I guess I will need to wait a year or two to trim it.

    March 29, 2016 at 12:33 pm
  15. Gloria

    Do you leave spent buds on the crepe myrtle tree or remove them?

    January 31, 2016 at 5:51 pm
  16. Gina

    Love it!! LOL!! Crepe is the proper spelling because of the flowers resembling crepe paper in texture. Thanks for a series of great laughs!!

    January 9, 2016 at 6:38 pm
  17. Wales

    Email:

    December 24, 2015 at 8:45 pm
  18. Steve Bender

    Roger,

    Water them well when you plant and make sure they don’t wilt before their leaves finally drop this fall. Next year, water every couple of days during summer dry spells. Established crepe myrtles need little supplementary watering.

    Julie,

    My guess is ‘Peppermint Lace.’

    November 4, 2015 at 10:04 am
  19. Roger

    It is early fall and I am getting ready to plant 2 Black Diamond Red Hot crepe myrtles..I live in SC the soil is kinda sandy, how often should I water the plants and for how long once they are planted

    October 22, 2015 at 11:12 am
  20. Julie Gonzales

    What kind of crepe myrtle has pink and white on the petals of each little flower?

    October 3, 2015 at 7:40 am
  21. Steve Bender

    Kathy,

    Very young trees often grow like this at first and then branch out. No need to lop off the top or anything else.

    Bette,
    The sticky stuff is honeydew secreted by sucking insects like aphids. Spray your tree with neem oil or horticultural oil to kill the aphids and no more honeydew will be produced.

    October 1, 2015 at 1:38 pm
  22. Bette Hutchcraft

    Do crepe myrtles release a sap or a type of sticky substance that will get all over things, such as a car. My husband made me cut mine down because he said they were coating his car with sap. Is this true? thank you

    September 25, 2015 at 11:31 am
  23. Kathy

    Help! I planted a Natchez in June, It is growing, but straight up, now about 6ft. The biggest trunks look just like a branch, with leaves growing straight out of them. I bought it at Home Depot for it’s height since I wanted a tree. Was it trimmed wrong before I bought it or should I lope off a bit off the height thus causing some of the smaller branches at the bottom to increase? New at this, so thanks for any help.

    September 20, 2015 at 4:59 pm
  24. Niquie

    Ii just found this blog and it gave me (1) very good information and advice and (2) a few good laughs! And it’s “crepe,” folks. Not “crape.” That looks like a fancy spelling for something obnoxious. Anyway, I am WAY over here in California and crepe myrtles do very well here. Mine has been in a terra cotta pot for 30 years. Alas, it is wanting to go to Arbor Heaven. So, with the information I gleaned here, I will take my notes to Armstrong Nursery and order me up a Petite Orchid — I think that’s what it’s called. I will double check.

    Muchas gracias, Steve.

    September 19, 2015 at 11:28 am
  25. Steve Bender

    Geri,

    I’d water them almost every day until their leaves drop. Sandy soil dries very quickly and new plants can’t be allowed to dry out or they will die. If your plants look wilted first thing in the morning before it gets hot, water.

    September 19, 2015 at 9:09 am
  26. Gerri

    How often should I water crepe muffled that were just planted. My trees have some yellow leaves on them. I live at the beach

    September 19, 2015 at 6:59 am
  27. Steve Bender

    Charles,

    Now is snot a good time to fertilize, as it would encourage leafy growth that wouldn’t hardn off in time for winter. Spring is better. Are all three the same type? Sometimes it takes one longer to start blooming than the others.

    Debbie,
    My guess is that you either started with very small plants; they don’t get enough sun; or they were damaged by the cold winter last year.

    Lorie,
    You need to know how big your crepe myrtles are going to get. You don’t want to plant two 30 foot trees next to each other. Unless you’re planting dwarf kinds, I leave at least six feet between them.

    Judith,
    Crepe myrtles are deciduous. They always lose their leaves in fall.

    September 7, 2015 at 8:32 am
  28. lorie

    I planted a Crepe Myrtle last week can I plant another one right next to it without hurting the one I planted first

    August 31, 2015 at 8:54 pm
  29. crlsann@aol.com

    Amazing….chopped down 2 crepe myrtle this early summer due to being dead but left both stumps…funny one is growing back!!! it started to bloom again from the stump!!! So maybe one of them wasent really dead afterall:)

    August 31, 2015 at 4:25 pm
  30. Charles L

    Crepe -I have three crepe myrtle one blooms the other two does not. Should all be fertilized?
    if so what type?

    August 31, 2015 at 12:22 pm
  31. debb ie Marksberry

    live in ky have planted for three years but never bloomed. What is my problem

    August 24, 2015 at 10:37 am
  32. Karla Karber

    You crack me up. Bored husbands trying to justify their existence. Got me one-a those.

    August 16, 2015 at 6:37 am
  33. Steve Bender

    Judith,

    Catawba grows about 10-12 feet tall and Zuni 8 to 10. You’ll have to water frequently in Las Vegas. Crepe myrtle is not a desert plant.

    July 30, 2015 at 10:06 am
  34. Steve Bender

    PJ,

    I know they have blackish-purple foliage, offer a variety of flower colors, and supposedly grow about 10 feet tall.

    July 30, 2015 at 10:05 am
  35. Steve Bender

    Mark,

    My guess is they don’t like where they’re growing. I would replant them this fall after they drop their leaves to a sunny spot. Dig a hole for each that’s no deeper than the root ball, but three times as wide. If you find the roots wound into a tight ball, gently unwrap them before planting.

    July 30, 2015 at 10:03 am
  36. Judith Tee

    How old are the crapes in the photo shown here in this column?

    July 27, 2015 at 11:41 am
  37. Judith Tee

    When crape myrtles lose their leaves in winter, is it due to the natural cycle of the plant or is it the result of temperatures going below 32 F.? Or can a crape stay green if temps stay above, say, 20 degrees?

    July 27, 2015 at 11:39 am
  38. Ken Gordon

    I have a question on how I can protect my crepe myrtle during the winter (I live in the Washington DC area). The two plants I planted 3 years ago from seedlings die off each winter. All branches above ground die, but new growth grow up several feet tall in the Spring/Summer (no flowers yet). I wrapped the branches in burlap last winter but that did not prevent them dieing. In addition to mulching the roots, should I wrap the branches in plastic to protect from winter wind and snow? Or what?

    I obtained the seedlings from the MD Forest Service, but do not know the specific variety.

    July 26, 2015 at 2:06 pm
  39. Charlyn Weaver

    Have you heard of crepe mertle trees sometimes expelling a fine mist of vapor during the hot summer. We once experienced this. We stayed beneath the tree with several other people while it refreshed us. We were all amazed.

    July 18, 2015 at 2:46 pm
  40. Bob

    Bob Shelton
    How can I be sure that I am buying dwarf crepe myrtles and not the larger full size when I go to the nursery. I’m afraid of possibly getting full size ones. I’m not sure the employees at the nursery would tell me the right answer either.

    July 9, 2015 at 10:38 am
  41. Tami Johnson

    I am interested in planting a couple black diamond crepe myrtles by my in ground pool. My concern is the root system (since our pool is not cement, it’s vinyl). What would be the closest I could plant them without worrying about the roots growing into and damaging the pool liner? Thanks!

    July 6, 2015 at 9:53 am
  42. Mark

    I planted 3 Crepe myrtles about 3 years ago. One from a cutting, and two from Home Depot. After 3 years they have only grown a couple of feet high and just seem to show no growth, though they are definitely alive. I would really love to see these grow and bloom before I die, but at this rate it will be 100 years before they bloom. Any suggestions on getting them to grow better?

    July 5, 2015 at 8:13 am
  43. Steve Bender

    Garry,

    I can’t tell you for sure, but it may be ‘Comamnche’ or ‘Tuscarora.’

    July 1, 2015 at 10:41 am
  44. Steve Bender

    Judith,

    I can’t say I’m an expert of gardening in Vegas, as I live in Alabama and have only been to Vegas 2-3 times. However, growing a crepe myrtle there means it must be irrigated. If it isn’t, it will die.

    July 1, 2015 at 10:39 am
  45. Steve Bender

    Bill,

    Crepe myrtle is not a good choice for the beach it it will be subject to salt spray and constant wind.

    July 1, 2015 at 10:37 am
  46. Garry Roser

    Hi Your article was very enlighting but the problem is I need help deciding what crepe myrtle I have the leaf size is about 1/4 wide 3/8 long can you help it has a coral pink flower hope you canhelp me with this problem Thank you Garry

    June 28, 2015 at 10:28 pm
  47. Judith Tee

    Apparently you are unfamiliar with crape myrtles growing in Las Vegas as there are many planted here in street medians and in commercial landscaping. There seem to be only 2 colors, but that may have more to do with pricing discounts when bought in large quantities rather than varietal choice.

    June 28, 2015 at 11:52 am
  48. Bill meyer

    What variety of crepe myrtle will survive ocean side at North Carolina beach? Would prefer tall ones

    June 28, 2015 at 6:48 am

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