When you think of the south many visions come to mind, but none more grander than the beauty and vivid colors of the crepe myrtle. The crepe myrtle is synonymous with the south. These beautiful deciduous trees line our roads, fill public landscapes and adorn our yards in late spring and summer with white, pink, purple, lavender, and red flowers. Crepe myrtles welcome the warmer months in the South. They’re so popular because they require so little; they are drought tolerant.
These trees do more than bloom their heads off each summer. Many have outstanding fall color. Depending on the selection, their leaves turn red, yellow, or orange. If pruned correctly, their limbs and trunks become living sculptures. Winter strips them of their foliage, revealing beautiful cinnamon- to tan-colored, exfoliating bark. They’re perfect for all seasons, so plant them where they can be seen and appreciated.
One word of advice for those of us who are not native to the South – Don’t succumb to “crepe murder.”
”Crepe murder” is a crime that occurs each February, typically around Valentine’s Day when landscape crews and homeowners brutally top these trees, ruining their naturally graceful forms. Over time, the cut back trees grow gnarly knuckles that become an eyesore. When planted in the proper place, a crepe myrtle should need minimal pruning.
Remove any suckers (small shoots growing from the base of the tree) or cross branching (where limbs rub against one another). Occasional shaping may be required. To do this, you will need sharp pruners or loppers. Telescoping pole pruners can come in handy for higher branches.
Although these classic trees are so versatile, placement is important. Crepe myrtles should be planted in groups to produce large sweeps of color, or use just one as a single specimen. The trees are elegant enough for a formal setting, yet rugged enough to be used in natural areas.
Crepe myrtles need lots of light to bloom profusely, and need six to eight hours of bright sunshine for optimal blooming. If you give them less light, and they’ll grow leggy and produce few, if any, flowers. Crepe myrtles look great surrounding entries, patios, and walkways, but remember that the long blooming period can get a little messy with the old flowers constantly falling. Using these trees may mean more cleaning, but that’s a small price to pay for two to three months of carefree blooms.
When choosing your crepe myrtle, find out how big it will grow. Selections such as ‘Centennial’ and ‘Chickasaw’ stay more shrublike, standing only 3 to 5 feet tall. ‘Acoma’ and ‘Zuni’ are considered small trees, reaching 5 to 10 feet in height. ‘Sioux,’ ‘Tuskegee,’ and ‘Yuma’ are medium growers at 10 to 20 feet. Large growers, such as ‘Natchez,’ ‘Tuscarora,’ and ‘Dynamite,’ should be planted in locations where they can reach their maximum height of 20 to 30 feet. Size will vary according to soil type and the amount of moisture and fertilizer your tree receives.