Crepe myrtles (Lagerstroemia spp.) are gorgeous shrubs and trees that provide year-round interest. Originally native to Southern Asia, crepe myrtles have become naturalized in the Southern United States. In this article, I’ll share my experience on growing and caring for crepe myrtles.
About Crepe Myrtle
Family & Genus
Crepe myrtles belong to the Lagerstroemia genus within the loosestrife family (Lythraceae). Although they are called ‘myrtles’, crepe myrtles aren’t related to the Myrtus genus. There are approximately 50 species within the Lagerstroemia genus. The common crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) is one of the most widespread species.
Crepe myrtles are originally native to parts of Southern Asia, such as China, Japan, Korea, and the Indian Subcontinent. They are also indigenous to parts of Australia and the Oceania region. Crepe myrtles were introduced to the United States in 1786 and quickly became naturalized in the Southern states.
Crepe myrtles are deciduous or evergreen shrubs or trees known for their gorgeous flowers. In addition, they have beautiful peeling brown, gray, and pink bark. Crepe myrtles develop into single or multi-trunk trees or shrubs.
During the summer, crepe myrtles produce panicles of pink, purple, red, or white flowers. The flowers have crinkly, crepe-like petals and release a subtle fragrance. As such, the crepe myrtle is often called the “lilac of the South”. The flowers last throughout the summer and into the fall.
Meaning & Symbolism
Crepe myrtles are strongly associated with love and are a symbol of marriage. They also represent beauty, good luck, and longevity. Crepe myrtles have also become symbolic of the South despite not being a native plant.
Uses & Benefits
Crepe myrtles are primarily used as ornamental plants, especially in Southern gardens. Crepe myrtles are commonly used in landscaping, particularly in parks and on sidewalks.
How Tall, Wide, and Fast Do Crepe Myrtles Grow?
Crepe myrtles can grow between 20 and 30 feet tall and approximately 10 to 15 feet wide. Dwarf and semi-dwarf varieties are also available, ranging from 2 to 6 feet tall. Crepe myrtles are fast-growing shrubs that can add up to 3 feet of new growth annually.
How to Grow and Care for Crepe Myrtle
Where and How to Plant Crepe Myrtles
Crepe myrtles like warm, humid conditions in USDA Zones 6 to 9. However, crepe myrtles can survive cold winters if temperatures don’t drop below -5ºF. While cold-hardy crepe myrtles can grow in Zone 6, most cultivars prefer Zones 7 to 9.
Plant crepe myrtles in sunny, open locations. Once established, crepe myrtles are fairly heat and drought-tolerant. Crepe myrtles thrive in most well-draining soils.
The best times to plant crepe myrtles are during the fall or early spring. Dig a hole that’s twice as wide and the same depth as the pot that your crepe myrtle came in. Position the crepe myrtle so that the top of the root ball sits just above the level of the hole.
Crepe myrtles thrive in full sun and need 6 hours of direct sunlight daily. If a crepe myrtle receives too much shade, it may struggle to produce flowers. South or west-facing aspects are ideal for crepe myrtles as they provide direct sun throughout the day.
Crepe myrtles tolerate most types of soils but do need lots of drainage. Crepe myrtles prefer slightly acidic soils with a pH range between 5.0 and 6.5. Mix in some grit or sand to prevent waterlogged soil if your soil isn’t well-draining enough.
Water newly planted crepe myrtles thoroughly once or twice a week for the first two years. This helps them establish a healthy root system. Once established, crepe myrtles are drought-tolerant. Water them once every two weeks unless you have recently had rainfall.
Fertilize newly planted crepe myrtles once a month during their first growing season. After the first year, fertilize crepe myrtles once a year with a slow-release fertilizer in spring. Wait until new leaves have started appearing before you feed your crepe myrtle. Always use a liquid fertilizer that’s diluted according to the packet instructions.
Crepe myrtles produce flowers on new growth, so pruning them at the wrong time can ruin next year’s display. Prune crepe myrtles during the winter or early spring while the shrub is dormant. This is the best time to shape the tree and remove weak or damaged branches.
Deadhead fading flowers during the blooming season. Not only does this keep your crepe myrtle looking good, but it can also stimulate a second flush of flowers.
Always use sharp, sterile tools when deadheading or pruning your crepe myrtle. This reduces the risk of spreading diseases between plants.
Common Crepe Myrtle Pests & Diseases
Crepe myrtles suffer from various diseases, including leaf spot and powdery mildew. These diseases occur in warm, humid conditions, especially if the plant doesn’t get good air circulation. Providing the right growing conditions is the best way to prevent disease.
Crepe myrtles can suffer from pests like aphids or scale insects. Remove these pests using horticultural oils or insecticidal soap. Avoid using synthetic pesticides, as these kill beneficial insects.
Crepe Myrtle Care FAQs:
Can You Grow a Crepe Myrtle from a Cutting?
Crepe myrtles can be propagated from semi-hardwood cuttings. Take cuttings during the summer, making sure they’re 6 to 8 inches long with at least four nodes.
How Long Do Crepe Myrtles Take to Grow?
Crepe myrtles grow fairly quickly but can take 5 to 10 years to reach their full size.
Where Do Crepe Myrtles Grow Best?
Crepe myrtles grow best in well-draining soils in areas that get 6 hours of full sun daily.
Crepe myrtles are beautiful shrubs and trees that produce a dazzling display during the summer. Crepe myrtles are strongly linked to the Southern United States despite not being a native species. These plants need 6 hours of full sun every day and require well-draining soils. Once established, crepe myrtles are low-maintenance ornamental plants.
Edd is a budding content writer and gardener living in the United Kingdom. He has a bachelor's degree in Creative and Professional Writing and has written for several gardening publications online. He is passionate about nature and sustainability with a focus on gardening and wildlife.
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