How to Grow Crepe Myrtle, a Splashy Magenta Tree
These show-stopping plants make an amazing addition to landscapes in need of a little late summer color.
Crepe myrtles are deciduous, summer-flowering plants native to China, Korea, and Japan. They can range from small dwarf selections to medium-sized trees, depending on the variety and growing conditions, says Andrae Protzman, a merchandiser for Spring Hill Nursery and Michigan Bulb Co. Known for their long-lasting summer flowers that come in shades of white, red, pink, and lavender, they're nothing short of stunning. "Exfoliating bark gives added interest, particularly in winter, when the plants foliage has dropped," he explains. "Fall color is another attribute of the crepe myrtle and can exhibit yellow, red, and orange hues, depending on the variety." Ahead, exactly how to cultivate these trees in your own space.
A crepe myrtle plant will perform best if it is planted somewhere where it can receive full sun in well-draining soil. "Although these charming shrubs are drought tolerant, they will need to be watered regularly until they are fully established," Protzman explains. "Traditionally, crepe myrtles have been relegated to zone seven and higher of the American south and coastal micro-climates. But new breeding has extended their range even into zones five and six." These new varieties are more likely to die all the way back to the ground at the end of the growing season before returning the following year with another round of long-lasting blooms.
You don't need to use a special fertilizer if you want to give your this tree species a boost. "A balanced fertilizer labeled for shrubs and trees should be applied in spring and again in summer," explains Protzman. "Avoid formulas with a high nitrogen content, as this will cause a flurry of green vegetative growth instead of flower production."
If you want to start your own young crepe myrtle, Protzman says you can do so from cuttings, but it will be a long process before you reap the rewards of a mature specimen. Instead, "purchase a plant from a reputable local nursery or online source to start enjoying all the crepe goodness as soon as possible," he says.
According to Protzman, multi-stem varieties are ideal. "Single-stem trunks are typically not desirable in a landscape," he explains. Additionally, you should avoid over-pruning your plant. "The term 'crepe murder' refers to the aggressive pruning often employed to keep the shrub's size in check," he explains, noting that, if you select a size-appropriate plant upfront, you won't need to perform regular maintenance to keep it in check throughout the growing season. "Cultivar selection should be employed to ensure the variety fits into the landscape design to avoid this style of pruning if possible." Best of all, unique varieties exist: He suggests opting for one of the purple-leafed iterations. These plants can be "extremely showy" and will make a beautiful addition in your garden as long as you follow the right care and feeding instructions to get the most from your blooms.