If you head to the southern United States you may be amazed at the colorful trees you see. Called crape myrtles, these shorter trees are awash in blooms of pink, purple, and red. Learn more about crape myrtles, how to plant them, and how to care for them.
When to plant crape myrtle: Crape myrtles, also known as crepe myrtles, love heat and humidity. If you are starting out with a tree in a container, you can plant them at almost any time of the year, while if you start with a tree with a dormant bare root, you should plant it in fall or early winter. Water well in the first year but once they are established, crape myrtles are drought tolerant.
Planting Crape Myrtle in Different Climates
The best climate for a crape myrtle is a tropical area. These trees love heat and humidity and are perfect for southern states such as Texas.
While crape myrtles need plenty of water in their first year of planting, after this they will become drought tolerant. This makes them an excellent choice for dry areas that are also warm all year long.
Some varieties of crape myrtles will do well in a temperate climate. While they should be fine with the moderate winter climate, the lack of heat in the summer may affect the colorful blooms.
Growing crape myrtles in a continental climate are risky. On the one hand, they will love the hot temperatures of the summer but on the other hand, they probably won’t survive the very cold winter months.
Crape myrtles love heat and humidity. They will not survive a polar climate.
Choosing Crape Myrtle Varieties
Sioux Crape Myrtle
With dark pink blooms, this variety really pops thanks to its dark green leaves. While it does well in warmer temperatures, it can also be found further north and is a good option if you have colder winters.
Enduring Summer Crape Myrtle
Unlike other varieties, this is actually a shrub-like plant. It only grows to about 5 feet in height and has deep red blooms that pop all summer long.
Natchez Crape Myrtle
Often you will find crape myrtles with colorful blooms but this variety is snowy-white. It grows very large, reaching up to 30 feet in height and 20 feet wide.
Twilight Crape Myrtle
This variety has deep purple blooms that will spice up any garden. They flower from June through the end of fall.
What form of crape myrtle to start with?
Before you begin planting, you must first decide what you want to start with. Crape myrtles are trees and while you could technically start with seeds, it is more common, to begin with, with young trees.
The most common form of crape myrtle trees is those that come in a planter. These offer more flexible planting and an easier path for those new to gardening.
Bare-root plants are also an option, especially if you want to purchase a crape myrtle tree online. These trees are dormant so you will need to wake up the root, which has no soil around it, before planting.
Finally, you can also choose to start with balled crape myrtle trees. These come in the form of a tree with a root ball that is covered in burlap and planting can take a few extra steps.
No matter what method of planting you choose, we will help you with the steps in the next section.
How to Plant Crape Myrtle Trees
As mentioned earlier, there are different types of trees you can start with. What you decide on will determine the best time to plant your crape myrtle tree.
Trees that come in a container are the most versatile. You can plant these almost any time of the year.
Because crape myrtle trees only thrive in warm climates, where there isn’t much variation in the season, the planting season is much longer. However, you should avoid the harsh months of summer as the excess heat and lack of moisture can hurt the fledgling trees.
As for bare-root crape myrtles, they should be planted during the natural dormant season, as the root is currently dormant. This should be between late fall and early spring when you have the coolest weather.
Similarly, crape myrtle trees that have a balled and Burlapped root structure should also be planted through the winter’s dormant season.
Crape myrtle trees prefer soil that is slightly acidic, with a pH level between 5.0 and 6.5. While they are not especially picky, it is recommended to test your soil to see what you are starting with.
The soil should also be well-draining. Too much pooling water and root rot can set in.
Finally, if your soil isn’t the best, you should add compost to the area to create a more fertile environment.
Crape myrtles love sunshine. They will be absolutely fine in full sun, so you can plant them wherever you would like.
Another aspect of location is all about heat. Native to Asia, crape myrtle trees do best with very warm temperatures. If you live in an area that has long, cold winters, these trees will not survive.
While you can plant crape myrtles on their own, they are most striking when they are in a row. You can plant different colors or varieties for a more unique look.
Now that you have your tree and your location, it’s time to start planting. Whatever form of tree root you have, start by digging a hole that is twice as wide.
Rest the plant’s roots inside the hole so that the top of the roots is right at ground level. Add soil back into the hole and press down with your shovel to secure the roots.
How to Water Crape Myrtle
One of the benefits of crape myrtle trees, and why there are so popular in the south, is that they are drought tolerant. Once you have an established tree, you only have to worry about watering it at the height of summer.
However, after first planting, these trees will need plenty of water. Try to water for long periods of time every few days to encourage the roots to spread out in search of water, which will make them stronger.
The first year of growth should include regular watering but after that, you can start to ease up until it is hardy enough for drought conditions.
How to Grow Crape Myrtle
To help your crape myrtle out, especially in its first year or two after planting, you can add a layer of mulch to retain water and shade the soil.
When adding mulch, don’t let it rest against the base of the tree trunk as this can cause it to rot. Instead, leave a few inches of space and spread the mulch out around the soil, about two feet in each direction from the tree.
You can then add a new layer of mulch each spring as the older mulch will naturally break down and provide nutrients to the area.
As long as your soil starts out alright, you don’t have to worry too much about fertilizing once it is established. However, adding fertilizer on a regular basis in the first year of growth will set it off on a strong life.
Try to fertilize once a month with a balanced commercial fertilizer. A 10-10-10 mixture will work back.
Crape myrtles don’t need a lot of pruning, so this is good news for most gardeners. Their shape is natural-looking so if you forget to prune for a few years, it won’t make too much of a difference.
When you do want to prune your crape myrtle, do so in the winter as they enter a period of dormancy. You should take the opportunity to look for any dead branches or diseased areas and remove these.
Try to focus on clusters of small branches or new shoots to promote airflow between branches. If there is enough room, it will prevent diseases from taking hold.
Unfortunately, pests enjoy crape myrtles so you want to be aware of any unwanted guests. Signs of pests include holes and brown spots in leaves.
Aphids are the biggest pest to be concerned about. Luckily, if you do see any bugs, you can simply spray with a mild soapy mixture and this should deter them from coming back.
How long does crape myrtle take to grow?
Crape myrtle trees will grow up to 15 feet tall, although some can grow as large as 30 feet. This takes about five years. They will start to bloom after two or three years of growth.
Once crape myrtle trees start to bloom, their flowers will last from late spring to early fall.
Crape myrtle trees offer continuous blooms throughout summer for a festive, gorgeous look. If you start with a crape myrtle tree in a container, you can plant it at almost any time of the year but if you start with a bare-root tree, plant it in the fall or early winter.