Crape Myrtles Need Sunlight & Air

by Elmer Krehbiel, Master Gardener
July 16, 2004

Crape myrtles are considered the best warm-season flowering shrubs for landscapes in the southern states. They bear beautiful flowers during the summer and fall and colorful autumn leaves. During the dormant season, the larger varieties also develop attractive bark.

Crape myrtles grow best in a location with full sunlight, good air circulation, and moist fertile loam soil with good drainage. They can tolerate considerable heat, humidity, drought or excessive moisture, but not shade or poor aeration.

Crape myrtle should grow better in soil with medium to high fertility  than in soil with low fertility. Soil and water should be within the pH range of 6.5 to 7.5. In the Brazos Valley, apply mulch around crape myrtle plants, so that only a limited amount of local water (pH 8.5) is added. Plants will be healthier when rainfall is sufficient for them.

If the above conditions are poor, can they be improved for crape myrtle? I had to move all five of my shrubs because of limited air circulation and shade from a board fence and a large tree.

Crape myrtles will grow better in moderately moist soil than in extremely dry or wet soil.

Flowers develop on new growth. Gardeners should provide the best conditions for the roots to produce growth and flowers.

Crape myrtle shrubs sprout multiple permanent stems. The sizes and shapes of different varieties are genetic traits.

If you you prefer to develop a tree form with a single trunk or a few trunks, you must select a variety with an expected tall mature size. Then, as new stems continue to sprout at the base of the shrubs, these stems must be pruned off several times each season.

If you prefer medium or small crape myrtle shrubs with many stems, you should select a variety with a corresponding mature size. When you top off larger plants, that practice is termed crape murder because nodules form at each cut and many weak twigs grow out from them.

More on Crape Myrtles

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