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Also known as “Lilac of the South” due to its popularity in Zones 7 to 9, crape myrtle is a deciduous shrub or small tree that explodes with white, deep rose, or magenta blossoms from July to September. The mid-summer color show is followed by foliage that turns yellow, orange, and red in fall. The sculptural trunks’ smooth, pinkish-gray bark peels off in winter for additional intrigue. Pick powdery mildew-resistant hybrids such as 'Natchez,' 'Cherokee,' and 'Wichita' for the best performance in humid summer regions. By planting crape myrtles against a warm, sunny wall, colder-climate gardeners can also enjoy this traditional Southeastern favorite. Crape myrtle grows quickly and enjoys a long life span.
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Need shade near a petite patio? Or do you garden on a tiny lot? Crape myrtle may be the tree for you. In colder climates where winter injury can be a problem, this plant grows about 6 to 10 feet tall—which suits smaller landscapes. In warmer climates it grows up to 25 feet tall, but you can prune it to limit growth. In addition, plant breeders recently have introduced a host of semidwarf and dwarf cultivars that are especially well-suited for tight planting spots like narrow foundation planting beds, curbside areas, and even large pots.
Crape myrtle typically features multiple trunks. The best-looking specimen for your landscape will probably feature trunks of nearly equal size. If one trunk in a trio is notably smaller than the others, the plant will look asymmetrical. Plus, the small trunk may perish in time, and you'll be left with an awkward-looking 2-trunk plant. In beds and borders, underplant crape myrtle with dark green groundcover for a striking plant combination.
Crape Myrtle Care Must-Knows
Plant crape myrtle in full sun and well-drained loamy, clay soil. Choose a location with good air circulation to help prevent powdery mildew and other diseases. A crape myrtle planted in partial shade or full shade will experience reduced flowering. Water plants deeply during the first growing season to establish an extensive root system. Reduce watering frequency once plants are established. The plant will benefit from a slow-release fertilizer, but avoid overly fertile soil that will boost foliage production at the expense of flowers.
A cape myrtle that is sized correctly for its planting site requires minimal pruning. Choose semidwarf or dwarf cultivars for small spaces. Prune trees in winter by removing crossing or rubbing branches. Snip away fast-growing suckers arising from the ground around the plants. Maintain clean trunks by pruning away low branches.
Crape myrtle grows naturally into a graceful, vaselike shape. Some gardeners prune it to create a single-trunk form, or to remove old wood to promote new growth upon which the flowers will appear. That being said, avoid topping—which is aggressive pruning that reduces the plant size by at least half. Such pruning creates a dense, shrubby plant that may flower beautifully, but does so atop an unattractive form. At worst the plant is damaged.