Crape Myrtle Trees
The Complete Guide to Crape Myrtles
Is any tree more quintessentially southern than the crape myrtle? Whether planted as an allée, a singular specimen, a privacy screen, or a graceful, welcoming duo at an entranceway, the elegant, bold, brightly welcoming crape myrtle defines southern landscapes.
It’s easy to understand the crape myrtle’s popularity. How many trees bloom non-stop from spring until frost, provide architectural interest throughout the year, and offer four seasons of color and texture, all while providing the homeowner and landscaper with a slew of color options and size selections? With so many varieties and unlimited uses in the garden, the crape myrtle is the belle of the south. It’s showy, charming, and frilly—but it’s also a tough workhorse that can withstand stress and adapt to inhospitable conditions, much like another famous southern beauty, Scarlett O’Hara.
Luckily, gardeners north of zone 7 can enjoy the newest varieties introduced by plant breeders, some of whom push the envelope on cold-hardiness. Other, more petite introductions allow growers to enjoy crape myrtles in containers, with the ability to move the plants into sunrooms or greenhouses during the harshest winter days. The choices are endless.
The Top Crape Myrtle Varieties
Whether you’re looking for a large specimen to shade your garden, mid-sized trees to frame your entranceway, or petite, dwarf shrubs to add a splash of color in your perennial bed, there’s a variety to meet your needs in a rainbow of bloom options.
‘Dynamite’: Red blooms grace the large 20- to 30-foot tree. First introduced by breeder Dr. Carl Whitcomb in 1997, ‘Dynamite’ is the first crape myrtle to sport true red blooms. Zones 7-9.
‘Natchez’: Elegant white blooms add brightness to the landscape, while the cinnamon-colored bark extends seasonal interest. This variety is highly resistant to powdery mildew, the bane of crape myrtle owners. Matures to 15-20’ height. Zones 7-10.
‘Muskogee’: Spectacular purple blooms grace this fast growing variety, which can grow up to five feet per year until reaching maturity at 15-25 feet. Specially bred by the U.S. National Arboretum for its rich, purple blooms and excellent disease resistance. Zones 7-11.
‘Tuscarora’: Vibrant coral pink blooms contrast against dark green foliage to provide a bright, eye-catching specimen in the garden. Matures to 15-25 feet. Zones 7-9.
‘Arapaho’: Bright red blooms appear in July, when the other garden blooms begin to fade, providing a resurgence of color in the landscape. The narrow, upright habit of the variety is ideal for tight spaces, with the mature height of 15-25 feet. Zones 7-9.
‘Catawba’: With stunning purple blooms and a compact habit, this is the perfect specimen for entryways, driveways, sidewalks, or anywhere a burst of color is needed but space is restricted. Blooming for 120 days, the tree provides more than just flower power: bronze leaves in autumn add seasonal interest, while the seed pods add value as treats for your feathered friends. Mature height reaches 10-15 feet. Zones 7-9.
‘Pink Velour’: Spectacular hot-pink flowers contrasting with purple foliage make this variety a must-have focal point for small spaces. Highly florific and disease resistant, ‘Pink Velour’ actually performs better without pruning. Reaching a mature height of 8-10 feet, gardeners in cooler climates will be thrilled to learn that this crape myrtle is hardy to zone 6! Zones 6-10.
‘Tonto Red’: An award-winning variety boasting cheerful, long-lasting red blooms on disease resistant foliage. Compact habit of 8-15 feet height makes this variety highly adaptable for many landscape uses. Zones 7-10.
‘Cherry Dazzle’: Introduced by plantsman Michael Dirr, gardeners will adore the only true red dwarf variety and its unlimited potential in the garden. Whether as an addition to the perennial garden, planted en masse as a short border, or added as the “thriller” in a container planting, the multipurpose dwarf crape myrtle will add a splash of bold color to the garden. Additionally, ‘Cherry Dazzle’ grows well in cooler zones, where the temperatures stay above 10 degrees. Mature height is 3-5 feet. Zones 6-9.
All of our crape myrtles score high in disease and pest resistance to ensure you spend time enjoying your garden, not battling pests and diseases.
Background Information on Crape Myrtles
Crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia indica), like most flowering trees and shrubs, crave full sun to reach their full bloom potential. Flowers appear from late spring until frost, bursting from the tips of the branches and lasting for months with minimal care. One of the reasons for the plant’s appeal is the wide-range of interest it adds to the landscape throughout the year: gorgeous blooms, fabulous fall foliage, and interesting bark texture. Even the seed heads provide value to wildlife in the garden.
Because of the enormous popularity of crape myrtles, breeders continuously work to introduce new varieties to the market, whether it’s to improve disease resistance, contain size, or extend cold-hardiness. We offer the best varieties to ensure you can enjoy your plants without high maintenance.
How to Select the Right Crape Myrtle
Before you purchase your crape myrtle, take a moment to assess your site and decide how you want the plant to perform. Do you have full sun? Adequate space? Need a colorful hedge along your property? Are you looking to make a statement at the entrance of your home or along the driveway? Also, what is your hardiness zone? Crape myrtles perform best in zones 7-10, with some varieties tolerating the cold of zone 6. However, if your northern garden needs the splash of a crape myrtle, a dwarf variety can add the perfect “thriller” in your containers, which can then be moved inside during the winter.
While most of us are quick to select a crape myrtle based on its bloom color, read the plant’s specifications carefully. Crape myrtles range in size from dwarf, three-feet tall plants to trees that tower to 30 feet. Measure the space you’ve allocated for the crape myrtle, and then read the plant’s information, paying particular attention to the plant’s mature height. While crape myrtles are typically low-maintenance plants, an improperly planted crape myrtle can become a maintenance headache. Ensure that the area is free from power lines and roof overhangs, and plan the site so that the width of the mature tree does not encroach on pathways.
As always, if you need assistance selecting the crape myrtle the is right for your garden, we’re happy to help. Just give us a call at 800-399-9514.
How to Plant Crape Myrtles
As soon as you receive your crape myrtle, give it a good drink, particularly if you plan to wait a day or two to plant it.
Proper site selection and preparation will help grow a happy plant. Full sun, good drainage, and adequate airflow are all ingredients for a healthy crape myrtle. Remember to look up—are there any power lines or structures that might become a problem as your tree grows? If so, choose another location. There’s really nothing sadder than a tree pruned badly by a power company.
Crape myrtles can tolerate a wide variety of sites and soils. However, amending heavy, compact clay soils with compost will improve the health of your crape myrtle, allowing water to drain adequately so it won’t rot the plant’s roots.
Late fall or early spring are ideal times to plant crape myrtles, allowing the plants to settle in without severe heat stress or impending freezes before roots establish in their new home. However, beautiful summertime blooms tempt many of us when we spy them in the nursery, and somehow that lovely tree manages to follow us home in June. With a little extra pampering, the crape myrtle will be fine—just keep it well watered during the heat of summer. (Let’s be honest, too—planting trees in April or September is much more pleasant than digging a hole on a 90 degree day!)
Speaking of holes…don’t skimp on the digging. Your hole should be approximately twice as large as the plant’s root ball. A well-dug hole gives you the opportunity to breakup any compacted soil, add amendments, and give your plant a good start without overcrowding its roots. Your tree will thank you.
Loosen the plant in the container, carefully removing it, and massaging the root ball. Place in the center of the hole, making certain the soil lines of both the root ball and the hole align. You want to ensure that you don’t plant the trunk too deep in the hole. Back fill the hole, pressing the soil into place. Water well. Add a layer of mulch over the site, but avoid the “volcano” effect—simply spread mulch over the site to conserve moisture. Never mound mulch around the tree’s trunk, which can promote disease.
Each spring, add a layer of compost over the planting site, as well as a good, organic fertilizer. However, do not over-fertilize. Too much nitrogen will promote lush foliage—and few blooms.
Keep the plant well watered through the first growing season, approximately one inch per week. As it becomes established in your garden, normal rains should suffice. Crape myrtles are fairly drought tolerant once established.
While many newer crape myrtles are pest and disease resistant, Japanese beetles and aphids can damage trees. For smaller specimens, handpicking Japanese beetles and dropping them in a bucket of soapy water is an easy solution, although one that requires a little time each day. Diluted Neem oil or organic insecticidal soap spray works well for aphids. Make certain to spray both sides of the leaves.
The great debate: is pruning “crape murder,” or is it a necessary evil of enjoying the beauty of crape myrtles?
Many homeowners severely prune crape myrtles due to the misinformation that they will not bloom without a considerable whacking. Others cut back beautiful specimens, simply because they’ve seen their neighbors “topping” the trees. The reality is that unless the plant outgrows its location, there’s no reason to heavily prune crape myrtles.
However, light pruning can help shape crape myrtles into their best form. Eliminating spindly branches, snipping seed pods to encourage reblooming, and editing weak trunks to encourage strong tree form helps shape the plant to reach its full, beautiful potential. To encourage a well-defined tree shape, remove all but three to five of the strongest trunks at ground level. As the tree grows, remove lower, lateral branches, as well as any branches that cross.
To keep crape myrtles at a manageable height, remove twiggy growth to the lower growing side branches. Remove damaged or dead branches to maintain the plant’s health.
Pruning is best done when the plant is dormant in the winter or early spring. Just prune sparingly to maintain a lovely, healthy plant.
Lagerstroemia, commonly known as crape myrtle, originates from the Indian subcontinent, southeast Asia, northern Australia, and parts of Oceania. The genus is named after Swedish merchant Magnus von Lagerstrom, a plant collector. The common crape myrtle, Lagerstroemia indica, was introduced into the United States in 1790 by French botanist André Michaux, who imported it into Charleston, South Carolina, where the southern heat helped show off the full bloom potential of the plant.
Did you know that today’s trendy blue bottle trees originated with crape myrtles as their basis? According to legend, by placing blue bottles in a crape myrtle, evil spirits will be drawn into them, become confused, and find it impossible to escape. When the sun rises in the morning, the bottle’s light and warmth destroy the evil so that it can’t cause harm.
The timber of some species of crape myrtles was used to manufacture bridges and furniture. However, in Vietnam’s Cat Tien National Park, the dominant stands of Lagerstroemia calyculata may have survived extensive logging due to the perceived low quality of the wood.
The leaves of Lagerstroemia parviflora are a food source for Antheraea paphia moth, which produces tassar silk, commercially important in India.
Crape myrtles are known as "lilacs of the south."