With their glossy foliage, exfoliating bark and showy flowers, Crape Myrtles are the stars of boulevards throughout the American South. Lagerstroemia indica – which has earned the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit is from India and has been recently hybridized with L. faurei from Japan to increase mildew resistance. Cultivars can be shrubs the size of a footstool, or trees 20-30 feet tall. Full sun. Summer-blooming in white, red, pink, or purple, some varieties keep the show going until a frost. Some varieties are invasive seeders in certain locations, so check with your local extension office before planting. They are variously spelled “crape” or “crepe” myrtle. Because of their year-round interest, they work well used as accent plants, a deciduous hedge, or an allée. Their polite root system makes them perfect street trees.
Planting Crape Myrtles
A full sun location with six hours or more of sun is best for Crape Myrtles – less sun decreases their bloom power. Soil should be well-draining, and on the acidic side with a pH of 5.5-6.5. Plant in a hole as deep and twice as wide as the root ball, with the crown slightly above soil level, and water well through the first two growing seasons.
Watering Crape Myrtles
Water well during the first two growing seasons to allow your Crape Myrtle to become established. Thereafter, they are relatively drought tolerant and regular deep watering once or twice a week should be enough barring extreme weather conditions. Plants in containers will need watering more often. Mulch will help retain moisture and warmth, especially in climates that are drier or colder.
Fertilizing Crape Myrtles
Crape Myrtles are rather hungry feeders while blooming. In the first year, fertilize lightly monthly. Once established, apply a light feeding twice monthly from spring through summer. Water well after fertilizing. If soil is too alkaline, leaves may turn yellow. If a soil test confirms your soil is too alkaline, consider adding iron chelate or other acidifying fertilizer.
Pruning Crape Myrtles
Often overpruned by topping, or trimming in a horizontal line across the top, – a tactic called “Crape Murder,” there are ways to ensure bountiful blooms while retaining the natural vigor and grace of this plant. Prune while your plant is dormant in winter before new growth emerges. Shrubs can be thinned out as needed for air circulation. For multi-trunk trees prune out crowded interior or crossing branches – keep the center open. For single-trunk trees, prune side branches competing with the main leader as well as sprouts coming from the base. Deadhead any spent flowers to encourage renewed flushes of bloom.
Caring For Crape Myrtles in Pots
Compact varieties of crape myrtles do well in containers, provided the container is big enough to suit the plant while also insulating its roots in winter. Choose a pot with drainage and high-quality potting mix. Pot-grown Crape Myrtles will need more regular watering and fertilization. In the first year, fertilize lightly monthly. Once established, apply a light feeding twice monthly from spring through summer. Watering may be done three times a week or more, especially during the first two years while getting established. Mulching will help retain soil moisture and keep the roots warm, but if you are growing in zone 6 or below, consider protecting the pot in winter by wrapping it with frost cloth or burlap.
Winter Care for Crape Myrtles
Add compost or organic amendments to the soil in fall. Mulching will help retain soil moisture and keep the roots warm, but if you are growing in zone 6 or below, consider protecting the pot in winter by wrapping it with frost cloth or burlap. Prune as needed while your plant is dormant in winter before new growth emerges.