Crape Myrtle: Colorful Blooms for your Late Summer Garden!

After many years of hybridizing and the production of more cold hardy varieties, Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) can be successfully grown here in the Northeast. These showy trees are a personal favorite of mine due to their beautiful long lasting blooms that start at the end of the summer and last well into Fall, a bloom period of approximately 120 days!   Just as other flowering trees and shrubs are reaching the end of their bloom cycle the stately Crape Myrtle ‘Lagerstroemia indica’ starts its spectacular show. I often use these beautiful trees as an eye catching element in my designs as they serve nicely as an anchor plant in a foundation planting or as a focal point in an island bed or backyard garden.

(Photo: Lagerstromeia indica ‘Sioux’)

There are many varieties of this beautiful tree ranging in size from ‘Pocomoke’ and ’Chickasaw’, which are dwarf varieties, topping off at approximately 5 feet to ‘Natchez’ (White),‘Tuscarora’ (Coral Pink),‘Muskogee’ (Lavender) and ‘Catawba’ (Purple) ranging at a height between 12-20 feet. A personal favorite of mine is Crape Myrtle ’Sioux’, a medium variety that ranges in height to approximately 12-15 feet. The medium-pink flowers of the ‘Sioux’ Crape Myrtle begin late in July and last well into October and are an elegant display not to be missed. Three other varieties of Lagerstroemia worth mentioning are ‘Tonto’ and ‘Dynamite’, both known for their vibrant red flowers and medium height of 12-15 feet and ‘Zuni’ (Purple) at a smaller 8-9 feet in stature.

Lagerstromeia Crape Myrtle Muskogee

(Photo: Lagerstroemia indica ‘Muskogee’)

HARDINESS AND GROWING CONDITIONS: Lagerstroemia are a hardy to zones 7-9 and are “deer resistant”, meaning that deer will most likely avoid them in their diet. They grow best in full sunlight in a well-drained soil with a pH of 5.0-6.5. These trees require little to no pruning but can be pruned to maintain a more compact shape or to remove any dead branches that may result from a harsh winter.  If you are going to prune wait until late winter or early spring after the last frost. The plants are dormant in winter and any flowering occurs on new growth so pruning will encourage new flower producing branches. Remove any dead branches, suckers growing from the base or weak twiggy branches and allow strong leader branches to keep the framework of the tree.

Lagerstroemia indica ‘Natchez’

TRANSPLANTING:  If you are planning on transplanting your Crape Myrtle tree the best time to transplant in the northeast is in mid April or mid September through mid October.  Roots need time to become established before the summer heat or winter cold set in. Dig a hole slightly wider than the root ball and make sure the tree sits at the height of the surface or slightly above.  Apply a layer of mulch around the tree to protect the roots and keep well watered until established.  Crape Myrtle are somewhat sensitive to cold so there may be some branch die back in the first season until the plant becomes well established.

Lagerstroemia indica ‘Tuscarora’

Depending on the preference of the grower Crape Myrtle can be planted as either a multi-trunk or singular-trunk form and can be displayed as either a shrub or tree in the landscape.  An important note worth mentioning is that Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia) are among the last plants to push out their new growth so if they appear to be dead at the end of winter going into spring just give them some time to come into their glory. Since they are later to push out their leaves they do benefit from an early spring feeding of a high phosphorus-lower nitrogen 5-10-5 formula to promote good foliage growth and an abundance of blooms in July-August. Crape Myrtles are not susceptible to insects or disease but as in any landscape planting they should be monitored and properly maintained to keep them in good health.

If you are looking for a long blooming, deer resistant, low maintenance tree to add color to your garden then Crape Myrtle may be the tree for you. I for one would highly recommend this beautiful plant as a welcome addition to any formal or informal landscape.
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