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Crape Myrtles

Crape Myrtle  (Lagerstroemia)

Don’t Let your Crape Myrtle Fool You

Due to their bark pealing characteristics and their late leafing, people often think their crape myrtle is dead.  Don’t be fooled, they are most likely fine.  You need to be patient until the first of May assuming we have a typical spring.  They can even fool you with the “scratch test” where you scratch the bark to see if it is green.  So don’t give up on them, just be patient.

Peeling bark is a natural characteristic of crape myrtles and considered part of their charm, as it keeps the trees looking attractive in winter after they drop their leaves. Usually the older gray or gray-green bark will flake off to reveal a tighter reddish-brown layer beneath. This can lead to an interesting mottled or even striped effect. The older a tree is, the more it will peel.

Because crape myrtle is a deciduous tree, it drops its leaves in autumn and remains bare all winter. It can be one of the last trees to leaf out in spring, too, often waiting until late April or early May to do so. Since the tree naturally remains naked for about half the year, a lack of leaves doesn't indicate a problem unless it occurs at a point between late spring and early autumn. In that case it is most likely caused by a fungus.

So don’t pull out your crape myrtle early in the spring.  It is to your benefit to stick with your already established crape myrtle and let it do its “thing” once the warm weather gets here.

Crape Myrtles were native to China, Japan and Korea and introduced to Charleston, South Carolina and the United States in 1790.   Crape Myrtles are chiefly known for their colorful long lasting 

flowers that bloom 60 to 90 days in the summer. Flowers are borne in summer and autumn in panicles of crinkled flowers with crape like texture. Colors vary from deep purple to red and white, with almost every shade in between. Its seed is a capsule, green and succulent at first, then ripening to a dark brown or black dryness. These capsules release small winged seeds.

In the wild most Crape Myrtle are multi-stemmed large shrubs, but in today landscape it is possible to find crape myrtle filling every landscaping need from small trees to dense barrier hedges to dwarf types that grow only 2 foot tall.

Today many of the new crape myrtle varieties were developed at the National Arboretum in Washington DC. These were developed to be disease resistant and hardier for northern climates. They have become the mainstay of the crape myrtles that are used in the landscaping of corporate parks and home gardens.

Arapaho, Tonto, Catawba, Sioux, Tuscarora, Tuskegee and Yuma are just a few that have been introduced with many more being developed by other people. Some of the newer varieties have burgundy leaves with blooms from purple to brilliant pink and others are dwarf growing only to 3 feet. 

Crape myrtle bloom on new growth so you can prune in the spring and they will still flower that summer. Many semi dwarf varieties will reboom if you remove spent bloom and fertilize. Many crape myrtles are often injured in bitterly cold winters and they are one of the last of the deciduous shrubs to begin growth in the spring so wait until late spring or early summer to prune. Never prune crape myrtle in the fall and winter since it compromises their hardiness.

Crape myrtle flower most heavily in full uninterrupted sunlight. Even an hour of shade during the day will compromise flowering. Other things that cause Crape Myrtles to bloom less are frequent irrigation, lack of heat, and over fertilization.

Some of the newer burgundy varieties are Pink Velour (bright pink), Plum Magic, Coral Magic, Delta Jazz, and Purple Magic. The dwarf varieties include Color me Pink, Cherry Dazzle, Pocomoke, and Ruby Dazzle.