Crepe Myrtle — Your Questions Answered

July 10, 2009 | By | Comments (419)

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. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. Judith Tee

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

    July 27, 2015 at 11:41 am
  8. 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
  9. 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
  10. 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
  11. 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
  12. 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
  13. 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
  14. Steve Bender

    Garry,

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

    July 1, 2015 at 10:41 am
  15. 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
  16. 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
  17. 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
  18. 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
  19. 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

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s