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.
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.