Cultivate crepe myrtles

August 3, 2013

Americans adore crepe myrtles.

This love affair began in the late 1700s when the first Chinese crepe myrtle was reportedly introduced by way of South Carolina.

In the 1960s, the Chinese crepe myrtle was crossed with the disease resistant, but not widely grown, Japanese crepe myrtle to produce siblings with the best traits of both parents – disease resistance, abundant bloom, showy bark and fast growth rate. These hybrids are highly recommended in Southern states where humidity is an issue. Humidity tends to breed powdery mildew, which plagues crepe myrtles.

Selection is typically based on bloom color, but mature size is a more critical factor. If the wrong variety is planted, it may overgrow the site – or fail to fill it. Crepe myrtles come as miniatures (2-3’), dwarf (3-6’), semi-dwarf (5-12’), large shrubs/small trees (10-20’) and tree form (plus 20’).

Grow crepe myrtles in full sun in an area with good air circulation. Although the plants tolerate partial shade, bloom and disease resistance is best with abundant sunshine. Crepe myrtles are tolerant of most soil types and conditions, but they grow larger in sites with plenty of organic matter. Supplemental irrigation is necessary to get a newly planted crepe myrtle established, but after a few years it will be very drought tolerant. Many are capable of existing on rainfall alone.

Sources: “The New Western Garden Book,” “Doug Welsh’s Texas Garden Almanac”

For answers to horticulture questions, call AgriLife Extension, 817-579-3280.

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