Our crape myrtles have their good years and their less good years, but 2021 has been pretty good for this flowering tree in Charlotte County! Crape myrtle blooms are popping right now catching the eye in both residential landscapes and in public plantings. And while this woody flowering ornamental is deciduous and not a pretty winter sight, they can be memorable during the summer. It was America that named the Lagerstroemia the “crape myrtle” based on the crepe-like, crinkled petals and the myrtle-like leaves. It has been a favorite in our part of the world for over one hundred and fifty years.
Crapes are easy to establish in a full-sun site with average growing room and well-drained soil. They look best in the landscape with a dark colored mulch or a dark green groundcover to display their ornamental features. Not only are they well adapted to Florida conditions, but are also noted as being very drought resistant once established – a prized Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ feature. They are not very salt tolerant, so keep this in mind especially if your water is a bit on the saline side, or if you live next to the coast. These plants require very little to no fertilizer once established.
Very little pruning is needed to keep your crapes in shape. Suckers or water sprouts – upright growing, unproductive wood – should be removed during the dormant season. Some minor thinning within the canopy can also benefit the plants. Overall, prune to shape during the dormant season.
What types of crape myrtle are there to choose from? Many crape myrtles do best from hardiness zones 7 to 9 further north of us. However, a few that stand out are better adapted to our area which includes the local 9b and 10a hardiness zones. ‘Muskogee’, a tall hybrid variety with six to twelve-inch-long lavender-pink flower clusters, grows up to twenty-five feet tall. It has bright red to orange fall leaves and smooth, peeling bark the color of sandalwood. This crape myrtle is also resistant to powdery mildew, a common fungal problem. Another selection is ‘Natchez’ with white blooms on a slightly taller tree with cinnamon brown to orange peeling bark. Please note that ‘Natchez’ has excellent resistance to powdery mildew and crape myrtle aphids. Also take a look at ‘Apalachee’, a crape myrtle with light lavender flower clusters and cinnamon-orange bark. ‘Apalachee’ also has good resistance to powdery mildew and Cercospora leaf spot disease.
Now keep in mind that the glory of summer is followed by the relatively drab appearance of crape myrtles during the winter. On the positive side, the colorful peeling bark can add some winter interest. Just plan before you plant so that the non-evergreen feature of crape myrtles does not humbug your expectations!
Crape myrtles can add seasonal color for a summer of delightful blooms! Make room for one in your yard. For more information on all types of flowering woody plants, or to ask a question, please visit https://www.facebook.com/CharlotteMGLifeline/ . Ralph E. Mitchell is the Director/Horticulture Agent for the UF/IFAS Charlotte County Extension Service. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Knox, G.W. (2016), Crape Myrtle in Florida, University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service, IFAS.
Knox, G.W. (2020), Apalachee Crapemyrtle—Lagerstroemia indica × fauriei ‘Apalachee’. University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service, IFAS.
Gilman, E. F. & Watson, D. G. (2014) Lagerstroemia x ‘Natchez’: ‘Natchez’ Crapemyrtle. University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service, IFAS.
Gilman, E. F. & Watson, D. G. (2014) Lagerstroemia x ‘Muskogee’: ‘Muskogee’ Crapemyrtle. University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service, IFAS.
The Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Guide to Plant Selection & Landscape Design. (2010) The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Crape myrtles doing well as street trees