Famous Birmingham neuropathologist and amateur worm farmer Dr. Paymian Cash just confirmed what I’ve always known. Southerners have a serious case of lagercephaly, also known as crepe-myrtle-on-the-brain. Despite the fact that crepe myrtles adorn just about every yard, bloom for months on end, and are incredible simple to grow, Southerners obsess over what might go wrong with them, why they don’t look better, and what their neighbors will say in the unlikely event they actually succeed in killing their trees.
Fortunately, as always, you have Grumpy, the world’s foremost authority on Things That Go Wrong With Crepe Myrtles. Grumpy doesn’t mind staying up into the wee hours every night clutching his bottle of Booker’s while addressing your concerns, because, hey, your worries are his.
So with that, let’s get to this latest round of crepe myrtle questions.
Question: My crepe myrtle didn’t leaf out this spring and is still bare. Do crepe myrtles sometimes skip a year of growing and then come back to life?
Grumpy’s Excellent Answer: Crepe myrtles skip of year of growing about as often as you skip a week of breathing. Yours was probably killed to the ground due to winter damage. If you see small green sprouts growing near the base, your plant may grow back from the bottom, although the top is still dead and always will be, no matter if it’s featured on “True Blood” or not.
Question: Is crepe myrtle an acid-loving plant?
Grumpy’s Excellent Answer: The only crepe myrtle I know of that requires acid is an old one called ‘Pink Floyd.’ It was the subject of several hit songs on the 1973 mega-platinum album, “Dark Side of the Bloom.” It’s quite hard to find now, because it alternates between branching out and trying to get back to its roots. Fortunately, other crepe myrtles aren’t fussy and accept acid, neutral, or alkaline soil.
New Sucker Every Minute
Question: Suckers constantly grow from the base of my two big crepe myrtles. Is there anything I can do to prevent this annoying growth?
Grumpy’s Excellent Answer: One way would be to submerge your yard under 20 feet of water, but your neighbors would be peeved. Instead, closely inspect the base of each shoot where it connects to the trunk. You will see a little swollen knob. Cut off this knob flush with the trunk. This will reduce or prevent regrowth. If the suckers are coming from the roots, however, that’s probably a result of cutting the roots at some point, and there’s nothing much you can do to stop it.
What’s the White Stuff?
Question: What can I do to prevent my crepe myrtles from getting this white stuff all over the leaves each summer?
Grumpy’s Excellent Answer: Assuming your crepe myrtles aren’t growing beneath a flock of pigeons, they probably have a fungus called powdery mildew. It covers and distorts the leaves and can keep flower buds from opening. Hybrids such as ‘Natchez,’ ‘Miami,’ ‘Dynamite,’ ‘Delta Jazz,‘ and ‘Pink Velour’ resist mildew, but many of the older types don’t. You can’t take the existing mildew off, but you can keep mildew from spreading by spraying healthy foliage according to label directions with horticultural oil, neem oil, or Spectracide Immunox.
Frazzled Not Dazzled
Question: My neighbor gave me 6 miniature crepe myrtles named “Dazzle” three years ago. I’ve planted them in various locations, given them fertilizer, and even coffee grounds, but they’re still only 6 inches tall. What do you suggest?
Grumpy’s Excellent Answer: Look on the bright side. Your crepe myrtles may be shrimps, but I’ll bet they’re alert! Dazzle is the name for a series of miniature crepe myrtles of various colors that came out a few years ago. They form tidy mounds 3-4 feet tall and wide. ‘Cherry Dazzle’ with cherry-red flowers is Grumpy’s favorite. The recipe for success here is fertile, well-drained soil; full sun; and regular watering when they’re getting established. Considering their slow growth, you might want to move them this fall. For more info about the Dazzles, click this here link.
Question: The bark on our crepe myrtles is flaking off in big pieces. Are they going to die?
Grumpy’s Excellent Answer: Well, of course — eventually everything dies. But you needn’t worry just yet. Crepe myrtle naturally sheds last year’s outer bark in summer to reveal beautiful, new bark underneath, like the chestnut-brown bark of ‘Miami,’ shown here. Such bark is especially showy in winter and helps make crepe myrtle a multi-season champ. However, if you chop down your crepe myrtles every spring, a crime I call “crepe murder,” this beautiful bark will never form.
Question: When is the right time to transplant a crepe myrtle?
Grumpy’s Excellent Answer: Definitely not now when it’s around 100 degrees. The best time is when the tree is dormant and has dropped its leaves. This means fall, winter (for some), and early spring.
Not Tonight, Deer
Question: My sister-in-law has trouble with deer eating all of her plants. Will they eat crepe myrtles?
Grumpy’s Excellent Answer: Not unless the only other available food comes from the Ganges River.
Start from Seed?
Question: Can you use crepe myrtle seed pods to produce new plants? How?
Grumpy’s Excellent Answer: Absolutely! Crepe myrtles are very easy to grow from seeds, although seedlings won’t necessarily be the same color as the parent plant. Wait until the seed pods ripen and turn brown. Then collect the seeds inside them. Seal the seeds inside a plastic ziplock bag and store it in your refrigerator for at least a month. Then sow the seeds into moist, potting soil, barely covering them. They should sprout in a few weeks.