Looking for a beautiful specimen tree or shrub that will give you outstanding color from flowers, foliage, and even its bark? Try one of the lovely hardy crape myrtles, Lagerstroemia indica.
The crape myrtle is an exceptional deciduous ornamental that has a long blooming season of showy flowers, a stunning fall season of blooms and colorful autumn foliage, and a winter season of dramatic architectural beauty highlighted by distinctive cinnamon-colored exfoliating bark.
Crape myrtles from containers can be planted spring through early fall. Balled-and-burlapped crape myrtles should be planted in early spring or early fall. Late August and September are excellent times to plant crape myrtles. This gives them time to get established before winter.
To perform their best, crape myrtles need full sun, especially the newer varieties. The red flowering varieties will lose some of their red coloring if they are not grown in full sun.
Crape myrtles prefer well-drained soil and will grow well in sand, clay, or loam. They do not like wet feet or poorly drained areas so be sure to add plenty of good organic material to the soil when you plant - especially if you have clay soil. Once established in the garden, these magnificent trees and shrubs are heat and drought tolerant.
The mature height of crape myrtles can be categorized into the following groups:
Pick the correct height to fit your space. This will greatly reduce pruning. Height will also vary depending on your pruning practices, which may be in part determined by how cold the winter temperatures reach. Severe cold can damage trunks which may then require renewal pruning. See pruning tips below.
Certain types of crape myrtle show off beautiful exfoliating bark. This showy bark pattern is best seen in 'Natchez', 'Acoma', and 'Tonto'. After 3 - 5 years, the bark becomes more and more attractive.
Watch Mark's video tip on color in the winter landscape featuring the beautiful exfoliating bark of crape myrtles.
Crape myrtles generally require little pruning if you choose the right variety and right size.
All major pruning of crape myrtles should be done in May after they have broken dormancy and you can see any winter damage.
In late August through fall, any pruning should be limited to trimming off the finished blooms (unless you have a reblooming type).
The National Arboretum has introduced several wonderful varieties of disease and mildew resistant crape myrtles that are hardy to USDA Zone 6. Once established these magnificent trees and shrubs are heat and drought tolerant.