When Your Crepe Myrtle Doesn’t Leaf Out

June 10, 2016 | By | Comments (4)

You’ve waited and waited and waited. Still no leaves on the trunks of your crepe myrtle. All of the neighbors’ crepes are leafed out and getting ready to bloom. Is yours doomed? Are you cursed? What the heck happened?

Well, first off, you may very well be cursed. There are just so many angry people with axes to grind nowadays that it’s almost impossible not to be cursed sometime. Even I’ve been cursed. Satan once switched all 1800 of my cable channels to “Entertainment Tonight.” I had to call an exorcist.

the exorcist e1465246178880 When Your Crepe Myrtle Doesnt Leaf Out

Photo: “The Exorcist”

There is a small chance, however, that the Dark Lord isn’t targeting you. The weather is. The number one reason crepe myrtles fail to leaf out in spring is a very cold winter.

Crepe myrtle selections vary in their cold-hardiness, but most are hardy to around 0 degrees. Drop below that and they may be killed to the ground or killed entirely. And the actual low temperature isn’t as important as how long it stays really cold. The longer it does, the more severe the damage.

Sudden arctic blasts can be just as deadly, especially after weeks of mild weather. If the tree hasn’t had a chance to harden off, water inside may turn to ice, burst the cells, and split the bark. When that happens, expect major damage.

So is your crepe myrtle dead or will it come back? To find out, first do the scratch test. Scratch the bark with your fingernail to see if you can find a green layer underneath. If you can, the branch is still alive and may leaf out. If not, it’s a goner.

Second, inspect the base of your tree. Do you see little, red-tipped shoots popping up from it? This tells you that your tree was killed to the ground, but is in the process of growing back. Here in the South, regrowth happens quite fast. Leave the dead trunks there for the rest of summer to support the new shoots. They will become the new main trunks and may even bloom in late summer. After the leaves drop in fall, cut the dead trunks to the ground.

If your tree passes neither of these tests, there is one last saving stratagem to employ. Put a stole over your shoulders, gaze intently at the plant, and bellow, “The Power of Grumpy Compels You!”

Good luck with that.



  1. Ann

    I have 2 crepe myrtles that are not doing much of anything.I planted them about six years ago.One has an extra long sprout taller then the whole tree. The other one hasn’t gotten much taller them when I bought it. I have fertilized then with a few things twice a year. I’ve tried chicken poop and coffee grounds. Should I have been cutting them down every?

    June 30, 2016 at 1:28 pm
  2. Jeanine

    I live in West/Central Texas. My crepe myrtles are always the last to bloom. Most around town are in full bloom by now. What can I do to encourage mine to bloom? Mine do not even have any flower pods on them yet.

    June 16, 2016 at 3:03 pm
  3. Paula

    One of my well established CMs has very small green leaf buds and reveals green when I scratch the trunks but it is not leafing out. Located in the San Antonio, TX area. Any ideas on what may be causing this and what can be done to help it leaf out? Thanks.

    June 11, 2016 at 7:21 am
  4. Diane Amick

    This is the second spring I’ve had the above happen….since I live in zone 6b and my crepe is a White Natchez I’m going with the late artic blast following milder weather. Here’s hoping this year will see a change. If it happens again that baby is out of here!

    June 10, 2016 at 8:40 am

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