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How to Grow: Crape Myrtle
Bloom Period and Seasonal Color
Blooms summer until fall
Mature Height x Spread
25 to 30 feet tall and 15 to 20 feet wide
Crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia) is considered the lilac of the South. This large shrub or small tree is unusual for its long bloom period. Depending on the selection, it blooms from summer until fall, brightening the landscape long after most other trees have finished flowering. Crape myrtle are hardy to USDA zone 6 to 10. Although in zone 6 they may die back to the ground during a cold winter.
Not only does crape myrtle have a long bloom period with flower colors ranging from white to deep red, in fall the seed heads and foliage are distinct, and in winter the exfoliating bark is attractive in the landscape, too. Newer varieties are dwarf and have more disease resistance than earlier selections.
Crape myrtles are versatile in the landscape. They can be grown a specimen tree in the yard, in groups with other shrubs and small trees, as an informal hedge or even in a container. They are good trees for attracting insects and bees to the yard.
When, Where and How to Plant
Plant crape myrtle trees in spring or fall. Plant in a full sun, protected location for best flowering. Plant on well-drained soil.
Plant nursery bought trees in a hole dug three times the diameter of the root ball. Remove the plant from the pot and wash off the potting soil revealing the root system. Prune off any circling or errant roots and plant, add water and the native soil to the hole. Keep well watered until established. Crape myrtle grows best in a slightly acidic soil.
Crape myrtle are drought tolerant trees once established. Fertilize in spring with a balanced organic plant food such as 5-5-5 and compost. Apply another dose in mid-summer.
Prune crape myrtle based on the type of variety you’re growing. Dwarf varieties tend to be more shrub-like and need little pruning other than shaping in spring. Trees may suckers freely. Remove root and stem suckers as they develop. To stimulate better branching and flowering, prune in spring cutting back lateral branches and opening up the tree’s center. Crape myrtle blooms on new wood that grows in spring, so prune to stimulate new branch formation and better plant shape.
Crape myrtle are relatively care-free trees and shrubs in the landscape. Look for disease resistant varieties to control powdery mildew and leaf spot diseases. This is much easier than trying to spray fungicides during the growing season to stop these rampant diseases. Control sooty mold on the leaves by controlling the insects that cause it. Kill aphids, white flies and mealybugs with sprays of insecticidal soap.
Container trees and shrubs should be given extra water and fertilizer to grow and bloom properly. In marginally hardy locations, bring these plants into a protected area, such as a garage or shed, for winter to reduce damage.
Companion Planting and Design
Grow crape myrtle as a specimen tree by itself in the yard. It also looks great paired with other small trees such as crabapples, redbud and flowering plums. These trees bloom earlier than the crape myrtle providing for a continuous flower display from spring through summer. You can also grow crape myrtle in a mixed shrub border with roses, dwarf azaleas and dwarf spirea.
Of course many low growing flowers such as verbena, lantana, ivy and vinca make nice under story plants under these vase-shaped trees.
Select varieties of crape myrtle based on the space you have to grow them, flower color, disease resistance and winter interest. For dwarf varieties under 10 feet tall try ‘Zumi’ (lavender) and ‘Cherokee’ (Red). For varieties between 10 and 20 feet tall, look for ‘Acoma’ (white) and ‘Seminole’ (pink). For larger trees, try ‘Choctaw’ (pink) and ‘Natchez’ (white). ‘Cherokee’ and ‘Seminole’ are also disease resistant.