ISTOCK Crape Myrtle

Crape Myrtle: A Plant For All Seasons

Crape myrtle is the ultimate landscape plant. That’s a pretty big claim to make, but what other plant has such a wide range of flower colors, including shades of red, pink, white and lavender? What other plant blooms for three months in the summer, boasts excellent fall color and striking bark characteristics in the winter? What other plant is available in a range of sizes—from 2’ to 30’ tall—and can be grown as a shrub or a tree? Or what other plant tolerates hot, dry conditions, and poor soil?

In terms of beauty, wide selection and durability, crape myrtles are tough to beat.

You’d think a deciduous flowering plant with that many attributes would be native to the Southeastern part of the United States. But it’s not. Crape myrtles hail from more than 7,000 miles away in southeast Asia.

As a result of the great work of the United States National Arboretum (USNA), crape myrtles have become a valuable part of our landscape. In the late 1950’s and early ‘60’s, the USNA initiated a breeding program to develop mildew resistant crape myrtles. L. indica (native to China) was hybridized with L. fauriei (native to Japan). This program resulted in the development of 29 improved varieties, which were released to nurseries in the mid-1980’s. Crape myrtles are grown in USDA hardiness zones 7 – 9.

The hybridization of the two species introduced resistance to mildew, dark bark color, brilliant fall color and improved cold hardiness from L. fauriei to the prolific flowering and colors of L. indica. The large, 15’ or more tree forms have been named after Southern cities and the smaller, 15’ or less shrub forms are named after Native American tribes. Now, more than 50 years later, the breeding program started by Dr. Donald Egolf continues to develop and introduce new varieties, expanding our world of crape myrtle forms and colors.

We carry more than 20 different types of crape myrtles at Merrifield Garden Center. We suggest that you select a variety that fits into the available space in your garden. Using a properly sized plant reduces the need for pruning, making life easier for you and your crape myrtle. After looking through the varieties of a chosen size, simply pick the color that best fits into your design. Still can’t decide? Think about how you can make space for more than one variety!

Some varieties to consider:

‘Acoma’

This is the only shrub form of crape myrtle with white flowers. It grows to about 10’ tall.

‘Hopi’

Growing to about 10’ to 12’ tall, ‘Comanche features coral pink blossoms and strong resistance to mildew.

‘Natchez’

A tall, arching tree with white flowers, ‘Natchez’ is a favorite in many gardens. It’s resistant to mildew, with spectacular fall color and exfoliating, chocolate-colored bark.

‘Pokomoke’

A dwarf that matures to about 3’ tall and 3’ wide, ‘Pokomoke’ boasts beautiful, rose pink flowers.

‘Tuscarora’

This small, umbrella-shaped tree grows to about 20’, with coral pink flowers and striking fall color.

‘Zuni’

A dense, 5’ to 10’ shrub, ‘Zuni’ boasts bright, lavender flowers and a deep, red fall color.

Two new introductions are causing a lot of excitement. The Black Diamond Series features crape myrtles with black foliage that emerges in early spring followed by masses of brilliant, jewel-toned blooms that last until the first frost. With a naturally compact habit, they are perfect for gardens of all sizes.

The First Editions Magic line of crape myrtles have colorful blooms and disease-resistant foliage. Two introductions in the series – Moonlight Magic and Midnight Magic – boast dark, deep purple – rich burgundy foliage that offer a perfect contrast to the beautiful blooms.

Caring for Crape Myrtles

Growing crape myrtles is easy. All they need is plenty of sun and some water. They’ll grow in partial shade, but require a good amount of sunlight to bloom to their potential. Like all plants, they need regular watering for the first couple of years after planting. But once their roots become established, crape myrtles are surprisingly drought tolerant.

Crape myrtles thrive in almost any type of soil, but if you take the time to prepare the soil by mixing in some Merrifield Planting Mix and starter fertilizer, they’ll be healthier and grow faster. Once they become established in your landscape, crape myrtles require a minimal amount of care and attention – and they’ll reward you with many years of enjoyment.