Crape Myrtles

Lagerstroemia species is a beautiful summer-flowering, deciduous tree. The most common species in the United States is Lagerstroemia indica that is native to China and Korea, but it has naturalized in the Southeast. The other common species of crape myrtle is L. fauriei, which is native to Japan. Hybrids of these two species generally result in excellent selections. Both species and hybrids are adapted to all areas of South Carolina.
Depending on the cultivar, heights of crape myrtle range from dwarf, semi-dwarf, medium, and tall. Heights can range from 10 to 30 feet tall and widths range from 15 to 25 feet wide. Old specimens can reach 40 feet tall at maturity. Crape myrtles grow at a moderate to fast rate and have a moderate to long life span.
Crape myrtles are valued for their summer flowers. Bloom time varies depending on the cultivar, but large clusters appear in early summer and continue into fall. The showy flowers come in shades of white, pink, red, and lavender. After the flowers fall from the tree, the fruit remains in the form of small brown capsules. The fruit will remain throughout the winter.
The exfoliating bark peels away to expose the crape myrtle’s trunk which can range in colors from brown to gray. The bark is very noticeable in the winter when the laves have fallen. Lower branches can be removed to show off the beautiful bark.
Fall leaf color ranges from yellow to orange and red. The same plant may display leaves of several colors.
The white-flowered types often have yellow fall color whereas the pink and red flowered types show yellow, orange, and red leaf color in the fall.
Crape myrtles are suited for design in the home landscape, street planting, or community plantings. They can be planted in groups or as a specimen species. It adapts well to confined spaces and is well suited for small areas close to sidewalks or parking lots to provide shade. New cultivars are available with a wide range of growth heights and certain cultivars can be used under utility lines without fear of interfering with the lines.
Crape myrtles need full sun and good air circulation. Trees planted in partial or full shade will have reduced flowering and increased disease susceptibility. Although they tolerate drought, it requires irrigation until it is well established, about two years.
Severe pruning, also known as crape murder, is unfortunately becoming a common practice to maintain a small shrub size. Topping the tree ruins the natural effect of the plant and will cause long term damage to the tree. This is the incorrect way to prune a crape myrtle.
Just because you see your neighbor whacking away at a beautiful tree, does not mean you should follow suit. To have the desired plant size while maintaining the natural branching effect, dwarf and semi-dwarf cultivars are now available.
For a full list of recommended crape myrtle cultivars, please see Factsheet 1023, Crape Myrtle Cultivars on the HGIC’s website.
For more information on crape myrtles, please visit the Home and Garden Information Center website at hgic.clemson.edu.
Tune in on Tuesday nights to watch “Making it Grow” at 7 p.m. on SCETV or mig.org.
E-mail Outen at [email protected]
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