This article was originally produced  on August 8, 2002  as a bi-monthly news column for the Vero Beach Press Journal.

 

Date of release:  August 11, 2002

Daniel F. Culbert, County Extension Agent

COLORFUL CREPE MYRTLE

Last week,  our Nation's county agricultural agents met in the beautiful city of Savannah, Georgia.  Between our professional seminars, we enjoyed their  local landscapes.   The vibrant colors of the Crepe myrtle dominated Savannah's landscapes during this time of year.  And, according to University of Florida Extension Specialists Bob Black and Gary Knox, this versatile plant can also be grown in the Indian River area.  Today's column will provide some basic facts about proper selection and care of this plant. 

 Crape myrtle is one of the most rewarding small trees or large shrubs for Florida Yards. It's easy to care for, has a long blooming period, and can grow in many soil conditions.   Whether it's called crepe myrtle here in the South, or crape myrtle elsewhere in the US, cultivars with different sizes and flower colors are available.  This native of India was introduced 150 years ago, and is popular in local landscapes.   A related larger tree-like species called Queen crape myrtle is adapted to extreme southern Florida.  The local flowering season for crape myrtle can begin in June, and continue until fall.  Each long cluster of flowers is composed of hundreds of one to two-inch, red, pink, white, lavender, or purple flowers.  Leaves are often tinged with garnet in the spring, but turn glossy dark green in summer, and change to yellow, orange or red in the autumn.

Because this is a deciduous plant, the leaves will fall in the winter.   Then, the crape myrtle becomes a living sculpture. The trunk and branches have an attractively gnarled, twisted character with smooth bark varying in color from light straw to rich deep brown. Patches of bark flake off in early summer to reveal new bark ranging in color from light pink to pale green. It is often home to lichens and air plants which can add to it's winter charm.

Crape myrtle is very versatile in Florida Yards.  Single-trunked or multi-trunked specimens make ideal small shade trees for a sunny deck, terrace, or entrance walkways.  Multi-trunked plants can be used as a seasonal visual barrier, a specimen plant in the garden, or a dominant landscape feature when planted singly or in groups. Semi-dwarf and dwarf types are suitable for foundation plantings, or even used in containers.  Against a background of evergreen shrubs or trees,  the floral spectacle of crape myrtle may be emphasized.

Crape myrtle can be used to created an "allee" in a large garden area - long walkways where the plant's canopies touch and enclose the pathways.  Patented, miniature weeping forms good for use as a bonsai plants or in hanging baskets are also available.

Crape myrtles are available in many flower colors and plant heights. Plant height is categorized as dwarf (less than 3 feet),  semi-dwarf (3 to 6 feet), medium, (6 to 12 feet) and tall (greater than 12 feet).  It's important to consider the space available at the planting site and choose a cultivar based on the mature size.  Proper selection  will reduce the need for pruning.  Our Extension office can supply you with a list of  cultivars and their characteristics.

Crape myrtle should be located in an area that receives full sunlight for most of the day. Otherwise, a weak spindly plant with a few flowers can be expected.  Plants growing in shaded areas will also be plagued by plant diseases such as powdery mildew.

Crape myrtle tolerates a wide range of soils, and can handle slightly alkaline pH, but avoid ocean front breezes or salty irrigation water.   Nutrient requirements are minimal; in fact, high fertility levels produce lots of leaves but fewer flowers.   Mulches help retain soil moisture and minimizing soil temperature fluctuations during the summer, but keep it pulled back from the stem.

CRAPE MURDER

While correct annual pruning will produce larger blooms, the unusual plant form of crape myrtle is often destroyed by severe pruning.  This "crape murder" occurs when the plant is topped without regard to the natural branching habit of this plant.   It results in weakly attached new branches and reduces flower bud formation. Instead, during the dormant season, thin out some of the stems from the base of the plant to rejuvenate the natural form. 

During the growing season, removal of seed heads will lengthen the flowering period of the crepe myrtle.  Small twiggy growth and crossing, crowded branches should be thinned out from underneath and within the canopy.  This keeps the trunk clean and allows air circulation, helping to prevent powdery mildew.

 Powdery mildew is a common pest problem of crape myrtle.  This disease is frequent when crepe myrtle is grown in damp shaded areas. The fungus distorts the leaves, and can also defoliate or kill severely infested stems.  Control can be achieved by spraying with labeled fungicides or planting resistant cultivars.  Cultivars with high resistance to powdery mildew include:  Acoma, Hope, Comanche, Hopi, Miami, and Natchez.
 
Crape myrtle is also attacked by aphids and whiteflies.  These insects suck the sap and cause small malformed leaves.  These insects excrete a honeydew material on which a black fungus (sooty mold) lives.  Both aphids and white fly can be managed by use of insecticidal soaps or in severe cases other labeled pesticides.

If you need additional information on growing crape myrtles, visit your county Master Gardeners, or call or stop by your county Extension office. For those with other questions about Florida Yards, contact me - my phone number is 863-763-6469 and you can send e-mail to dfculbert@ifas.ufl.edu.

  

References


UF/IFAS 

Black, Robert. The Versatile Crape Myrtle. [Dr. Bob's Gardening Tips]. Gainesville: Florida Cooperative Extension Service,  December 2001.
http://hort.ufl.edu/gt/crapemyrtle/crapemyrtle.htm

Herbert, John  and Mizell,  Russ F. III,  Crepe Myrtle Aphid (Featured Creatures)  EENY-365  Gainesville: Florida Cooperative Extension Service,  February 2006.  http://creatures.ifas.ufl.edu/orn/trees/crapemyrtle_aphid.htm 

Knox, Gary.  Crape Myrtles  in Florida [ENH 52].  Gainesville: Florid Cooperative Extension Service, May, 2000. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/MG266 

Mullins, Daniel E. Santa Rosa County Extension Agent. Help Stamp Out  Crape Myrtle Mutilation.  Pensacola News Journal,  February  9, 2002. http://leon.ifas.ufl.edu/crape_myrtle_pruning_020214.htm   

Shelby, Mark  Crape Myrtle (Master Gardener Training Course Plant ID List, 2001).  Sarasota: Florida Cooperative Extension Service, 2001.  http://sarasota.extension.ufl.edu/Hort/MG/Crape_Myrtle.htm

Other References

Common Crape Myrtle.  Auburn University Extension Service,  Alabama. [covers cultural practices for the deep south, plus an extensive
 cultivar chart complete with photos.] http://www.ag.auburn.edu/landscape/crapemyrtle2.htm

 Thompson, Paul, Smith, F. Brian & Arena, Mark. Crepe Myrtle Varieties.  Clemson University  Extension Service,  February 5, 2002. http://www.clemson.edu/crapemyrtle  

Crepe Myrtle Nursery & Farm. Gainesville: Crape Myrtles, Inc. [a commercial  website for a specialty crape myrtle breeder & grower]  http://www.crapemyrtle.com/

Cabrera, Raul I. and Lineberger, Dan R. The Crepe Myrtle. Texas A&M. http://dallas.tamu.edu/woody/cmyrtle/index.html

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Trade names, where used, are given for the purpose of providing specific information.  They do not constitute an endorsement or guarantee of products named, nor does it imply criticism of products not named. The Florida Cooperative Extension Service - Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer authorized to provide research, educational information, and other services to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap, or national origin. Florida Cooperative Extension Service / IFAS /University of Florida. Larry A. Arrington,  Dean.  Last update: 04/18/2006 .  This page is maintained by Dan Culbert