Home Improvement Expert Danny Lipford

How to Grow Crape Myrtles

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Crape myrtle in bloom

About Crape Myrtles

With literally hundreds of sizes and colors available, crape (or crepe) myrtles are a terrific, low-maintenance choice for prolific blooms during hot, humid summers. Nowadays, many varieties are hybrids that maximize the colorful blooms of the common crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) and/or the distinctive bark, cold hardiness, and disease-resistance of the Japanese crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia faurei).

Crape myrtles bloom in midsummer, with colors including white, lavender, purple, pink, magenta, and red. After blooming, they develop distinctive seed heads, then the leaves tend to fall toward the end of autumn, leaving the colorful, exfoliating bark for the winter.

Peeling bark on crape myrtle trunk

Exfoliating bark on crape myrtle.

Selecting Crape Myrtles

Crape Myrtles truly come in every possible size and shape, from knee-high shrubby dwarf plants to towering tree forms, so it is possible to choose a variety that exactly fits your purpose. When choosing crape myrtles for your yard, there are several factors to consider including:

  • Height
  • Natural shape (shrub vs. tree)
  • Flower color
  • Amount of bark exfoliation
  • Disease resistance

Planting Crape Myrtles

Ideally, crape myrtles should be planted in cool weather when they’re dormant, here’s how to go about it:

  • Dig Hole: Dig a hole twice the size of the root ball on the crape myrtle.
  • Soil amendments: It’s usually not necessary to amend the soil when planting crape myrtles, unless you’re amending the entire planting bed, since pockets of high-nutrient soil can prevent the roots from branching out properly.
  • Planting Depth: Plant your crape myrtle at the same depth it was in the nursery pot, and backfill with loosened soil.
  • Mulch: Apply 3″- 5″ of mulch around the base of your crape myrtle.
  • Watering: Water your newly planted crape myrtle thoroughly after planting. Water newly planted crape myrtles at least once a week if dormant and in cool weather, and up to five times a week if planted during hot weather or in very sandy soil. Water new plants regularly for about two months, and water during drought for better blooms and healthier plants.

Blooming crape myrtle

Growing Crape Myrtles

Crape myrtles can be grown in much of the U.S., except colder climates in the north. Here’s what you need to know to grow crape myrtles in your yard:

  • Climate: Crape myrtles can be grown in hardiness zones 6-10, although in zone 6 they’re likely to die back to the ground in winter.
  • Water: Crape myrtles like humid climates. Once established, they can tolerate quite a bit of drought.
  • Light: Crape myrtles flower best in full sun (at least six hours per day).
  • Soil: Crape myrtles do well in most any kind of soil, as long as it’s well-drained. The ideal soil pH is neutral to slightly acidic.
  • Fertilizer: Crape myrtles benefit from annual feeding with a general-purpose or high-nitrogen fertilizer, in early spring as soon as you see leaves. If you want to fertilize twice, do the second application about two months later. Slow-release fertilizer can help prevent rapid sucker growth that is vulnerable to diseases and insects. Take advantage of the toughness of these plants – too much fertilization can actually result in excessive leaf growth and fewer blooms!

Pruning Crape Myrtles

Seed heads on crape myrtle

Seed heads on crape myrtle.

Depending on the variety, crape myrtles can have different shapes and sizes. The miniature, or dwarf, varieties are generally bred to have lots of branches, and they tend to look shrublike and shouldn’t need pruning unless they are growing unevenly.

Medium and large varieties tend to develop sucker growth, or small shoots at the base of the trunk. These may be pruned off if desired, and the entire plant may be pruned according to your tastes. For varieties that bloom before mid-July, deadheading can often result in a second blooming.

  • When to Prune: Crape myrtles bloom on this year’s new growth (sometimes called “new wood”), so prune during late winter before growth starts. Fall pruning, especially in warm climates, can result in a quick growth response that prevents dormancy and makes winter freezes potentially deadly.
  • How to Prune: There are two schools of thought, and quite a bit of debate, about larger pruning jobs. Some gardeners like to lop off all stems at a uniform height each year, leaving branch stubs in the winter that flush out into a ball of growth in the spring. This is useful if you want a uniform border and height control, but it can result in bunchy growth and knobby stems that may be more susceptible to aphids and disease. Other gardeners decry this method as “crape murder” and adopt a less aggressive approach that conforms more to the natural size and shape of the plant. Most growers and researchers agree that only light pruning is necessary for plenty of blooms, so the choice is really yours.

Crape myrtle in bloom

Crape myrtle in bloom!

To achieve a graceful tree shape that shows off the lovely bark, first remove all but 3-5 strong trunks. Then remove lateral branches on the bottom half of the tree. Make “heading back” cuts on long, leggy limbs to encourage branching. Don’t over prune in the beginning – make the basic cuts and then allow the plant to grow, and continue shaping over time.

The best decision about the size of your crape myrtle is made when you buy it. Buy the right variety to fit the space! If you buy a 15′ variety and try to keep it 7′ tall, you will prune yourself silly. Instead, buy a 7′ variety, and you will find yourself with an incredibly low-maintenance plant.

Pests and Diseases for Crape Myrtles

Crepe myrtles are susceptible to several diseases and pests, including:

  • Powdery Mildew: The most common scourge of crape myrtles is powdery mildew – particularly during hot, humid days followed by cool, dewy nights. Treat with a general fungicide.
  • Sooty Mold: This is caused by the excretions of pests such as aphids. Treat with the appropriate insecticide.
  • Leaf Spot: Another common problem is leaf spot (Cercospora lythracearum), which resembles dark brown spots on the leaves that then turn yellow and fall off. Treat with a general fungicide.
  • Root Rot: Crape myrtles can also be affected by root rot, caused by poorly-draining soil.

Printable Crape Myrtle Variety List

Further Information



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35 Comments on “How to Grow Crape Myrtles”

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  1. Judy Says:
    August 16th, 2008 at 8:25 am

    How do I stop growth of new plants from areas where the root was cut during landscaping activities? I’ve thought of using Round-Up but I’m afraid of damaging the original 21-yr old tree!

  2. Diane Says:
    March 10th, 2009 at 10:14 am

    Crape Myrtles are new to me. Mine have some type of problem on ‘some’ of the branches. Looks a little like a gritty, bumpy, discolored growth before dieback begins, (almost how poison ivy looks on a persons skin). I am guessing it to be a disease as the only insect pests are j. beetles, ants, some spiders. I’ve search the web and found little. I would rather treat for the specific problem then a general disease control. Any ideas or good sites?

  3. Bridget Says:
    April 20th, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    Crate Myrtles are my favorite trees in the summer. I’ve planted several in my back yard. Will they survive do to the fact they were transplanted in mid April? I’m really looking forward to seeing those beautiful blooms this summer.

  4. Official Comment:

    Julie Day Says:
    April 20th, 2010 at 8:17 pm

    Bridget, they should be fine, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they bloom this season, unless they were overly stressed during transplanting. Keep them well watered (especially in hot summer) until the roots get established.

  5. Official Comment:

    Julie Day Says:
    April 20th, 2010 at 8:28 pm

    Judy, those sprouts are called suckers, and you’re right that spraying them with Round-Up can damage your tree. And cutting them above ground will only encourage them!

    You’ll need to dig down to where the suckers are sprouting, then rip them off at the base, or cut them off flush, to remove both the sucker and the bud they’re sprouting from. You can also buy a product called Sucker Stopper that supposedly stops them from regrowing, although I’ve never tried it.

    If that area is part of a planting bed, I’d also cover those roots with a couple of layers of landscape fabric and mulch, too.

  6. Cindi Says:
    April 25th, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    My crepe myrtles have little white fuzzy spots on the trunks and limbs. This is not the mildew..this looks like the mealy bugs I used to see on my house plants. When I touch them it looks like blood on my finger. One of my trees has it really bad on the top branches. What is this?

  7. KW Says:
    July 15th, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    Our two white Natchez crepe myrtle’s leaves are turning red to yellow and droppin off the tree in June to July in Austin, Texas. They were planted two years ago and have abundant blooms and good tall growth. No afids are present. What could be stressing the trees?

  8. Steve Schmidt Says:
    July 20th, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    Is it possible to start new plants from the suckers and buds that you say to dig to remove? Also I read somewhere to take cuttings in June-July to root. I have had some to start and others to die. Is there more information about this method?

  9. When to plant? Says:
    August 5th, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    I live in Zone 6 and notice that you recommend to plant when the Crepe Myrtle is totally dormant. Well, that is in the winter and quite possible the ground will be frozen or covered with snow. Is there an alternate time to plant. I have planted 2 of them in the last 2 years and each has died. Help?

  10. Official Comment:

    Julie Day Says:
    August 6th, 2010 at 7:37 am

    You’re right, you wouldn’t want to plant anything when the ground is frozen – spring or fall would be fine. Shrubs and trees benefit from 4-6 weeks to get established before the ground freezes or the weather gets too hot. Crape myrtles are usually pretty tough – zone 6 is borderline for winter hardiness, though. You may want to plant them in a sheltered spot that stays a little warmer.

  11. Margaret Says:
    August 10th, 2010 at 3:58 am

    Some of my crepe myrtle’s leaves are also turning red to orange in early August in Georgetown, TX. The trees were planted three plus years ago and have had abundant blooms this year and have grown very tall. What could be causing the reddish/orange leaves?

  12. Robin Purnell Says:
    September 8th, 2010 at 7:01 pm

    Every year I get the white fly on my crapes…..
    I have lavendar, and deep pink on my bushes and trees. It’s awful… black leaves and then blooms hardly appear in the in season..June is good but by August YUCK what can i do? please help!!! Robin

  13. Erica Reigh Says:
    September 27th, 2010 at 10:02 am

    I live in zone 6 in PA and am wondering what kind of crape myrtle you would recommend for my area? I would prefer a tree form instead of a shrub type. It will receive full sun and we have good snow cover in the winter.

  14. cynthia miller Says:
    October 1st, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    steve,

    I take the suckers and also dig up the shoots, dip in rooting hormone and stick them in a good potting soil. Water them and I always end up with new crepe myrtles to plant or give away!

  15. Vicky Baker Says:
    May 9th, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    The main trunks of my crepe myrtles died during the winter. There are suckers coming up at the bottom of each tree. Will these suckers eventually bloom and form a new tree? Should I cut back the dead branches of the main tree?

  16. Linda Gies Says:
    June 5th, 2011 at 7:51 pm

    can you split a crape myrtl in tow and can you plant them. will they grow.

  17. Susan Weikel Says:
    June 9th, 2011 at 5:43 am

    We planted a crepe myrtle 3 years ago, it did have flowers on it when planted but as of today 6/8/11 still no blossoms. Do we have a problem or may it still bloom? Thank you

  18. lizziendfw Says:
    June 20th, 2011 at 5:37 pm

    First, PEOPLE DO NOT PLANT CRAPE MYRTLES on your fence line without first considering your neighbor! My neighbor decided to plant one within 10 feet of my pool! It is well over 30 feet tall and my pool decking and spa is cracked and leaking. I was forced to cut all branches hanging over into my property and I am hiring a professional to dig the ground up, grind down the roots and chemically treat the ground to kill all the roots that are shooting!

    It is not fair to plant such and invasive tree/weed near another neighbor! This tree is not near neighbors house but it is damaging my lawn and my pool! Their insurance is not going to pay for it and mine is not either! So my only recourse as to not let that tree further damage my pool and decking and costing me over $10,000 to fix, I will kill the roots and hopefully the tree from my property!

  19. Tara04 Says:
    June 24th, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    We planted to 20 gal. crepe myrtles in the dfw area in march. They were dormant when we got them and still look the same. Are they dead? They also look brittle. We planted them in sunny spots with mulch on top of the ground. How do we know if they are alive or dead? Please help!

  20. Al Says:
    July 5th, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    Can the seeds off an existing CM be used to grow another one? If not, can I buy seeds to grow one or do I need to buy the entire plant?

  21. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    July 6th, 2011 at 9:19 am

    Hi Al,
    Yes, seeds off an existing crape myrtle can be used to grow a new one. See our article on How to Grow Crape Myrtles from Seed to find out how.

  22. DENNIS Says:
    July 21st, 2011 at 12:16 am

    I PLANTED A 4FT. DYNIMIGHT CRAPE MYRTLE LAST SPRING,IT DOUBLED IN SIZE AND FLOWERED GREAT LAST YEAR. I DID NOT PRUNE IT JUST CUT OFF THE SEED PODS THIS SPRING
    IT LOOKS VERY HEALTHY BUT IT HAS NOT GROWN MORE THAN A FEW INCHES AND NO SIGNS OR FLOWERING AT ALL.I GIVE IT PLEANTY OF WATER AS I DID LAST YEAR AND IT GETS ABOUT 6 HOURE OF FULL SUN. please help thank you.

  23. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    August 12th, 2011 at 9:52 am

    Hi Dennis,
    Check out our article on Why Aren’t My Crape Myrtles Blooming? to find help with your problem.

  24. lois vanicek Says:
    October 11th, 2011 at 11:38 am

    I have a crape myrtle bought in s.carolina, I live in Ohio, I would like to bring it in as a house plant . it is only 2 feet tall. What do I need to know??? HELP,

  25. barbara pollock Says:
    June 6th, 2012 at 9:59 am

    the leaves on my crape myrtle are turning red already and it’s only june….what’s happening??? thanks. bp

  26. Sharon Says:
    June 18th, 2012 at 11:17 am

    Good morning

    thanks for the info. my crape myrtles have the dark leafs
    mildew look with the bugs.
    I quess any fugi pesticide will work?

  27. barb james Says:
    June 19th, 2012 at 8:51 am

    I brought a crepe mrytle from greensboro, nc to pittsburgh pa. They grow wild on my cousin’s property. Ive had it for two years and nothing but yesterday, i looked at it and there appears to be blooms / buds. Im not sure of the color yet or if they’ll open and bloom. Is there anything i should do?

  28. Eric Says:
    July 30th, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    Our 4 ft crepe myrtle only has 1 trunk right now. There are a lot of suckers/ shoots growing from the bottom of trunk. Will these suckers form into a second and/ or third trunk that we are waiting for?

  29. Mamahen Says:
    August 9th, 2012 at 9:13 am

    I have a crape myrtle that my husband and I purchased and planted. I LOVE IT! It is easy maintenance and the colorful blooms are beautiful. This year I have lots of blooms and the leaves are perfect except one thing. When we got the cm it was tall and then I pruned it with little knowledge on how to do so. This year it only grew half way up the main branches. Did I mess it up? Or will it eventually grow at the top half. So we have these beautiful blooms and then three bare main branches sticking out the top. This year I vow not to prune it just to see how it turns out. Dose any one have any suggestions?

  30. Karen Malone Says:
    September 1st, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    I just received 6 muskogee crape myrtles that I ordered. How long can I wait to plant them? I live in Corinth TX and it has gotten very hot again and I am a little leery of planting them right now. Please advise. Thank you so much!

  31. Doug Says:
    September 12th, 2012 at 5:51 pm

    I need to transplant one and I would like to know the best time for this. I live in middle of Oklahoma. Weather change often. I need to transplant from a mostly shaded to a very sunny spot. Can it be done this fall.

    Thank You
    Doug

  32. Steven Says:
    May 12th, 2013 at 1:18 pm

    I am new to gardening and decided to prune a perfectly good myrtle hat the previous owner had taking great care of. I tried to prune like I had seen neighbors prune only to learn later that it was Crepe “Murder”! I pruned really short and one of the main branches split…probably from the dull blade. (Like I said…newbie) now only half of the tree has new wood shooting. Am I at the point of no return or can I bring it back to life?

    Thanks!
    Steven

  33. lisa Says:
    September 14th, 2013 at 5:28 pm

    PLEASE HELP ME IM AT MY WITTS END MY CRAPE MYRTYLE APPERES TO BE DYING ITS LEAVE ARE TURNING WHITE POWDER LOOKING THE TRUNK LOOKS LIKE SOMETHING IS DRILLING FROM THE INSIDE OUT BOREING HOLES IN IT ANY ADVICE PLEASE
    THANK YOU LISA

  34. Phyllis Says:
    June 4th, 2014 at 10:38 pm

    Three of the four main trunks of my crepe myrtle tree died over the winter. There is new growth coming from the ball of the tree, will this new growth eventually grow to form a new tree? Should I cut back the dead trunks of the main tree?

  35. mary St.Julien Says:
    July 29th, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    My Crape Myrtle is in a big pot ,will it be all right I really do not wont it to get to big

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