Shakespeare wondered, “What’s in a name?” When it comes to Crape Myrtles, that’s a very good question. These fast-growing trees are popular throughout the southern states, but it seems everyone has a different spelling: Crape Myrtle, Crepe Myrtle, crapemyrtle, and crepe-myrtle all pop up in different places. No matter how you spell it, these ornamental trees can be a good fit in many landscapes that don’t experience harsh winters. Here’s what you need to know to grow and care for Crape Myrtle trees.
General Crape Myrtle Info
- Lagerstroemia spp.
- Native to: India, Asia, Australia
- Growing Zones: 6 – 10
- Water Needs: Moderate
- Exposure: Full sun
- Growth Rate: Fast
- Type: Large shrub or small tree
- Flowering Season: Summer
- Fragrance: Very light
- Flower Colors: White, pinks, magenta, red
- Foliage: Deciduous, some foliage color in fall
- Wildlife Value: Bees, berries for birds, shelter,
- Other: Deer-resistant
Pruning Crape Myrtle Trees
There’s a lot of disagreement out there on the proper way to prune a crape myrtle, including whether to prune them at all. Crape myrtles left to their own devices are more likely to form a shrub shape. However, they are easily pruned into trees by removing the lower branches to form a main leader trunk as they grow. Some folks prune crape myrtles back heavily in the winter, trimming all branches and leaving only an unsightly stump. The belief is that the trees will flower better the next season.
It’s true that crape myrtles flower on new growth. However, there’s no need to prune them so heavily, and there’s a reason that some horticulturalists jokingly call this “crape murder”. Anytime you prune a tree or shrub, you open up the tree to possible diseases and pests. For the best health of any tree, it should be pruned sparingly. The same goes for crape myrtles. You can prune gently to keep the shape and size you desire, but there’s no need to cut off all the branches each fall. The crape myrtles shown here have received only light pruning for shape since being planted 5 years ago, and continue to flower profusely each summer. Learn more about pruning techniques here.
Choosing a Crape Myrtle
There are a variety of species of Crape Myrtle, but only a few are regularly available for sale in the U.S. The most common is Indian Crape Myrtle, L. indica. This species does well in heat, humidity, and drought. Japanese Crape Myrtle, L. fauriei, is generally larger, growing to 30 feet tall. Both may freeze to the ground in zones 6 – 7 winters, but usually regrow in the spring. Queen’s Crape Myrtle, L. speciosa, is a true tropical tree, and should only be grown where no freezes occur. It’s generally best to talk with your local nursery to see which types of Crape Myrtle they recommend for your yard.