Crape myrtles are some of the most attractive and versatile landscape plants.They have been referred to as the lilac of the South and during the summer months they bloom profusely while requiring minimal maintenance.
Crape myrtles are long-lived, tolerate dry conditions, and are relatively free of disease and insect pests. They come in a wide variety of colors that vary from red and pink to lavender and white. The plants can range from less than 3 feet to more than 20 feet. They perform well in confined spaces and are well-suited for small areas.
Crape myrtles tolerate adverse soil conditions but perform better if they are planted in well prepared soil. As when planting other ornamentals trees and shrubs, dig the hole twice the width of the root ball and no deeper than the top of the root ball. Backfill the hole with the soil that was dug out removing rocks and other debris. Research has shown that organic matter amendments are not necessary when planting individual holes. Water the plants thoroughly once a week until the plants become established.
Once established crape myrtles can tolerate extended dry spells; however, supplemental watering does enhance flowering. Avoid applications of fertilizers high in nitrogen which will reduce flowering. These fertilizers stimulate vegetative growth that is susceptible to pests and, if fertilized in the fall, increase vulnerability to cold damage. Light applications of fertilizers in spring and summer are all that is needed.
The most common pest on crape myrtles is the fungus powdery mildew. It appears as a white to grayish powder on the surfaces of leaves, flowers and new shoots. Plants that are growing in shady, damp locations with poor air circulation are the most susceptible. The disease prefers dry, warm days and cool night temperatures with high humidity. To control the fungus, locate plants in full sun and plant resistant varieties like Natchez, Muskogee, Sioux and Tuskegee. Chemical control of powdery mildew is difficult to achieve. Sometimes tiny insects called aphids infest crape myrtles and secrete a sugary substance that promotes the growth of black sooty mold. The aphids can be controlled by applications of insecticidal soaps or summer horticultural oils.
Crape myrtle flowers on new growth each season, so you can prune plants any time during the late winter or early spring before growth begins without loss of flower buds.
Pruning the crape myrtles promotes the development of new shoots and flowers. However, very little pruning is actually necessary, and frequently people prune them far too aggressively.
Crape myrtles are a great asset to the landscape. They are easy to grow and provide excellent color during the summer. No landscape would be complete without them.
Timothy Daly is an Agricultural and Natural Resource Agent with Gwinnett County Extension. He can be contacted at 678-377-4010 or email@example.com.