Crape Myrtle Is a Great Southern Plant

by Elmer Krehbiel, Master Gardener
October 27, 2000

Crape myrtles are the premier summer and fall-flowering shrubs or small trees in the Lower-Southern zone of the United Stated. If your landscape has suitable conditions, crape myrtles will provide additional color, texture, shape, etc. If they are properly planted and mulched, crape myrtles are considered low-maintenance plants.

Autumn is the best time to select and plant crape myrtles. Plants in containers may be selected according to your preferred size, shape, color, etc. If they are in full sun with good air circulation, they can tolerate heat, humidity, drought, and most well drained soils. But if the soil becomes extremely dry, additional water should be applied, and if a season is too wet, crape myrtles may need to be sprayed to control powdery mildew and aphids.

Crape Myrtle Characteristics

All crape myrtle flower buds develop on new growth. Flowers will form without any pruning of old twigs or stems. However, those smaller than a pencil could be pruned during late winter and again after each crop of flowers during the warm season to start new growth and flower buds.

  • The expected mature height of a crape myrtle ranges from 2 to 30 feet
  • The shapes are: mound, globose, spreading, upright, vase, and tree
  • The summer-fall flower colors are white, and shades of lavender, pink and red
  • The colors of the fall leaves are yellow, orange, red and maroon

Crape Myrtle Varieties

  • 2 to 5 feet: Centennial, Chickasaw, Hope, Firecracker, Ozark Spring, Pocomoke and Victor.
  • 5 to 10 feet: Acoma, Caddo, Hopi, Pecos, Prairie Lace, Tonto, Velmas RoyalDelight and Zuni.
  • 10 to 20 feet: Apalachee, Catawba, Centennial Spirit, Cherokee, Comanche, Conestoga,Lipan, Near East, Osage, Powhatan, Raspberry Sundae, Regal Red, Royal Velvet, Seminole, Sioux, Tuskegee, Wm Toovey and Yuma.
  • 20 to 30 feet: Bashams Party Pink, Biloxi, Byers Standard Red, Byers Wonderful White, Carolina Beauty, Choctaw, Dynamite, Fantasy, Hardy Lavender, Kiowa, Miami, Muskogee, Natchez, Potomac, Red Rocket, Townhouse, Tuscarora and Wichita.

You can see more on crape myrtle varieties and characteristics in this information sheet.

The best Victor cuttings that I know of have had maroon flowers since early June, and the plants grew 18 inches tall. The best Tonto cuttings have had red flowers since early July, and the plants grew 42 inches tall by fall. If your cuttings are not this well developed, then next time consider the method listed below for starting them.

Planting Crape Myrtles

Crape myrtles have shallow roots and are easy to transplant during the dormant season. Their branches should be pruned more than the damage to the root system. In fact, they may be pruned to several trunks, a single trunk, or to the ground to form a dense shrub with multiple stems.

If you sow seed, expect the plants to be variable. If youre looking for several identical plants, one method is as follows:

  • Small hardwood cuttings should be started during December
  • Small softwood cuttings should be started during May
  • cuttings may be about four inches long with a bud about 1/4 inch from the top end
  • Bottom end should be touched into a root-hormone (Rootone) powder to stimulate new roots to develop from the twig
  • Cuttings should be planted into a small container with top-grade potting mix
  • Cuttings should be under mist until planted in the yard
  • Cuttings may be planted in the landscape, or in a bed for transplanting in the landscape the next winter
  • Mulch should be placed around the cutting to prevent weeds and retain moisture and soil temperature
  • Cuttings should be kept moist until many leaves develop (An easy method is to use a milky color plastic gallon jug, remove the cap, cut the bottom out, cut a hold in the top of the handle, place the jug over the cutting, push a small stick or rod through the handle and into the soil to keep it there, then keep moist but not soggy wet)
  • Cuttings may grow from one-fourth to one-third of the expected mature size the first year, depending on the soil fertility, moisture and temperature

Fertilizing Crape Myrtles

In the Brazos Valley, early spring is the best time to apply a balanced fertilizer around crape myrtle shrubs and trees so that they develop more and larger flowers for the summer. Factors to consider are:

  • Do not use fertilizers containing herbicides
  • Do not apply inorganic fertilizers near the trunk
  • Fertilize with either complete inorganic or organic fertilizer (compost mulch), or a combination of both
  • Remove all other plants from around the crape myrtle, extending from the trunk to just beyond spread of its branches
  • Apply compost or other organic mulch materials to a total depth of 1 to 2 inches over soil area
  • Replenish organic mulch, as needed
  • Apply 1/4 to 1/2 pound of actual nitrogen per 100 square feet of a 1-2-1 ratio of N-P-K of an inorganic fertilizer for each one inch of truck or trunks, during May
  • Spread the fertilizer over feeder roots in a zone extending from just beyond the drip line to one-half the distance inward toward the trunk

More on Crape Myrtles

Dr. Elmer Krehbiel is the former President of Keep Brazos Beautiful. See his column in The Eagle.