Crapemyrtles (Lagerstroemia) are summer-bloomers in southern U.S. landscape gardens. Grown for over two hundred years, these plants are often called “southern lilacs.”
Crapemyrtles (Lagerstroemia indica), native to China but long cultivated in India, arrived at England’s Kew Gardens from Asia in the mid–eighteenth century. Widespread European cultivation of crapemyrtles began about thirty years later.
Introduced by French botanist Andre’ Michaux in Charleston, South Carolina near the end of the 18th century, common crapemyrtles have been a mainstay of southern American horticulture ever since.
George Washington received plants from the West Indies to grow at Mount Vernon around the same time. Thomas Jefferson also planted crapemyrtles at Monticello. The earliest crapemyrtle cultivars come from these sources.
In this article:
- Garden Resources of Crapemyrtles
- Crapemyrtle Breeding and Selection
- Categories of Available Crapemyrtle Cultivars
- Crapemyrtle (Lagerstroemia) Dwarf Shrubs
- Five Reasons to Grow Crepe Myrtle (Lagerstroemia Indica)
Garden Resources of Crapemyrtles
Gardens in Williamsburg, VA exhibit plantings of common crapemyrtle in historical settings. Plantings at the 18th century Lightfoot House on Francis Street include historically accurate crapemyrtle, purpleleaf plums, yaupon holly hedges, and tree box topiary, enhanced by shade tree cover of red oak, red maple, Norway spruce, pecan, redbud, and mulberry.
Crapemyrtle blooms from July through September at Colonial Williamsburg. In a May 29, 2006 Colonial Williamsburg podcast, former NBC journalist Lloyd Dobyns interviews interpretive gardener Wesley Green about his knowledge of 18th-century plants in the colonial gardens along Duke of Gloucester Street. Green says “The crapemyrtle is probably best known here in Williamsburg to our northern visitors in the fall time, because it does not grow much farther north of here, so it depends the time of season what is in bloom. The nice thing about a garden, it’s always a little bit different.”
Modern cultivars of crapemyrtle species and cultivars beautify the streets of McKinney, TX. The not-for-profit Crape Myrtle Trails of McKinney Foundation, formed in 1998, is responsible for this urban beautification. More than 4,000 crapemyrtles currently enhance approximately 15 miles of median strips within McKinney’s city limits.
The Foundation’s goals are to:
- encourage travel and tourism to McKinney by providing dozens of miles of crape myrtle plantings along major thoroughfares and throughout public, school and industrial properties; and
- establish “The World Crapemyrtle Collection Park” where all known varieties of crapemyrtles will grow and to be studied side-by-side. Currently, a collection of this kind does not exist anywhere else in the world.
Crapemyrtle Breeding and Selection
The role of crapemyrtles in American horticulture changed in the 1950s when John Creech, U.S. National Arboretum (U. S. N. A.), introduced Japanese crapemyrtles (L. fauriei). Compared to common crapemyrtle, Japanese crapemyrtles:
- Grow faster – 2-4′ per year,
- produce rusty red-brown bark early in maturity,
- are somewhat hardier – through plant hardiness zone 6, and probably most importantly,
- exhibit resistance to powdery mildew.
Japanese crapemyrtles brought new genetic resources to the U. S. N. A. crapemyrtle breeding program, especially to the work of Dr. Don Egolf (1928-1990). Results included cultivars of hybrids between Lagerstroemia indica and L. faurieiintroduced by the U. S. N. A.
Landscape gardeners now have many sizes and forms of crapemyrtle (Lagerstroemia) cultivars from which to choose. Choices can suit almost every southern and southwestern landscape setting.
Categories of Available Crapemyrtle Cultivars
- True Dwarf – 2 to 5′
- Semi–Dwarf – 5 to 12′
- Intermediate – 13 to 20′
- Tree – type – 21 to 33′
Crapemyrtle (Lagerstroemia) Dwarf Shrubs
Easy-to-grow crapemyrtle (Lagerstroemia) dwarf shrubs are newcomers to landscape gardens. Heat tolerant, pest-resistant and summer flowering, they ensure design novelty.
One of the most exciting recent horticultural developments was the introduction of dwarf crapemyrtle shrubs to southern garden landscape designs. The big breakthough in crapemyrtle breeding began at the U. S. National Arboretum (U.S.N.A.) in the second half of the 20th century with the introduction of Japanese crapemyrtles (L. fauriei) by Dr. John Creech. The U.S.N.A. began to introduce cultivars of hybrids between the Japanese crapemyrtles and the common crapemyrtle (Lagerstroemia indica).
Landscape gardeners now have awesome numbers of modern crapemyrtle (Lagerstroemia) cultivars from which to choose. There are sizes and forms to suit almost every southern and southwestern landscape setting. However, it is the dwarf cultivars which excite and inspire garden landscape design novelty and experimentation.
Their main site requirements are only full sun and moist, well-drained soil. The peak flowering period from July to September, autumn leaf color and year ’round exfoliating bark go hand-in-hand with size and form to make these crapemyrtles a four-season plant. However, as new plants, these deciduous shrubs tend to look like ragged piles of sticks.
These miniature shrubs are not only easy-to-grow, they also bring new possibilities to southern summer garden design. Crapemyrtle dwarf cultivars are shorter than 5′ and may be utilized:
- as massed groundcovers,
- in shrub borders, (Photo #1)
- as a base in container plantings,
- at the forefront of foundation groups,
- in short hedges,
- and interspersed in perennial gardens. (Photo #2)
Here are some examples of outstanding dwarf crapemyrtle cultivars:
Fleming Filligrees ™ Developed by Fleming’s Flower Fields
- ‘Red Filli’ (Patent #US PP14,353) – 1 to 1 ½’ high, bright red flowers, leaves with purplish autumn tint;
- ‘Coral Filli’ (Patent #US PP14,317) – 1 to 1 ½’ high, coral flowers; leaves with purplish autumn tint;
- ‘Violet Filli’ (Patent #US PP14,267) – most dwarf , growing to about 1′ high and wide with violet flowers.
U. S. National Arboretum Introductions
These hybrid dwarfs, developed and introduced by Dr. Don Egolf , are among the first true miniature crapemyrtles.
- ‘Pocomoke’ (hybrid) – 3′ to 4′ wide x 2′ to 3′ high, compact mound, rose-pink flowers, 80 days of bloom; (Photo #3)
- ‘Chickasaw’ (hybrid) – 2′ to 3′ wide x 3’+ high, compact mound, lavender-pink flowers, 90 days of bloom, bronze-red autumn leaf color, high resistance to powdery mildew. (Photo #4)
McCorkle Nurseries’ Gardener’s Confidence™ Collection
Dazzle® series, developed by Dr. Michael A. Dirr, University of GA at Athens, are easy care, mildew–resistant and compact.
- ‘Cherry Dazzle®’ – Cherry–red blooms,
- ‘Ruby Dazzle®’ – Bronze-red foliage with pink blooms,
- ‘Dazzle® Me Pink’ – Profuse pink bloom,
- ‘Raspberry Dazzle®’ – Raspberry-red blooms,
- ‘Snow Dazzle®’ – White blooms.
Five Reasons to Grow Crepe Myrtle (Lagerstroemia Indica)
Growing trees in the backyard will give shade, coolness and vertical appeal.
If the tree or trees that are chosen have more than those three reasons to become part of the family, then they certainly give value for money.
Such a tree is the popular Crepe Myrtle. Originally from Asia this beautiful tree is now grown almost worldwide. It is a deciduous tree and has at least five other attributes apart from those above:
- Beautiful blossom
- Attractive bark
- Few diseases
- Pretty leaves
- Shrub form, too
The main reason why gardeners love the crepe myrtle is its beautiful blossom. Like a froth of pink, purple or white lace, the blossom of the crepe myrtle dances happily on the ends of its branches. Unlike many trees with flowers there is no unsightly mess to clean up after the blossom has finished because it is so delicate that it just disintegrates and blows away. There are several shades of red, pink and purple ranging from deep to pale. It is really difficult to choose which is the prettiest. The flowering season of crepe myrtles is one of the longest of any tree.
The second reason why many gardeners chose crepe myrtle is that the bark is attractive. It often has streaks of pinks and russet shades merging with the greys. Strips occasionally peel off, leaving a pale greenish brown hue. The twigs are a lighter pinkish tan colour.
The third reason to make crepe myrtles popular is that they have few diseases. Their hardiness includes resistance to drought conditions. Often they will continue growing slowly – and flowering – in spite of total neglect. Of course, a little attention will increase their growth and beauty.
Fourthly, the leaves of the crepe myrtle are pretty, small and dainty. A deep green in the summer, fall colors are often a vibrant yellow and when they drop they can easily be raked up and used as mulch because they break down more quickly than larger leaves. They often drop quickly and form a yellow pond-reflection around the bottom of the tree before gradually turning brown.
And the last reason is perhaps the most important, especially for gardeners with only small yards. While some crepe myrtles are quite tall, they can be purchased as a small shrub. Not much in the way of beautiful bark, but every other attribute is present and the flowers are down at eye level or below.
Crepe Myrtle Care
Crepe myrtles do attract aphids sometimes and this can be detected by the accompanying sooty mould. But a few sprays with soapy water will control it. In fact some nurseries grow crepe myrtles to attract aphids away from their other plants.
Crepe (sometimes spelled crape) myrtles are often pruned back to the main trunk. This will give lots of flowers the following season, but some people feel it spoils the natural shape of the tree. It also creates a lot of heavier branches that must then be disposed of. A crepe myrtle that is allowed to grow to its natural height is naturally shapely. And it will still be covered in blossom.
Crape Myrtle Pruning
To promote a second and third flowering, the flower heads may be pruned when they are past their best. Otherwise pruning should only be done to take out dense center growth and branches that criss-cross.
However, they do tend to sucker, so to ensure a tree with just one trunk, these suckers need to be cut off regularly. In some climates they seed well, with the seed emerging from the lawn. These also need to be pulled out unless a grove of crepe myrtle is desired.
Crepe myrtles should be grown in full sun and will grow best in moist conditions with well-drained soil. They can be grown quite easily by cutting or seed. The dwarf varieties commonly called myrtlettes can be grown in a large pot on a hot, sunny balcony.
Crepe myrtles do not need too much fertilizer as this will give them lots of branches and leaves but not much in the way of flowers. They grow in USD zones 7 through 9. Some newer varieties may be hardier.