What is the most versatile plant in the Texas landscape? The
one which flowers all summer, is available in different colors,
has beautiful bark, has different shapes and sizes from groundcover
to shrub to tree, is drought tolerant after it is well established
(approximately two years), grows well in alkaline or acid soil,
is a fast-growing plant with a long life span, is disease resistant
and the foliage displays fall color? The answer has to be crape
Crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia species) is a handsome,
summer-flowering, deciduous (loses its leaves) tree-shrub-groundcover.
It has been called the lilac of the south. The most common species
in the United States is Lagerstroemia indica. It is native to
China and Korea but is naturalized in the Southern U.S. L. fauriei,
native to Japan, is another species found in the United States.
Hybrids of the two species generally result in excellent selections
as pictured and described at:
The crape myrtle is valued mainly for its long
period of striking summer flowers. These showy flowers may be
shades of white, pink, red or lavender. Bloom time varies, depending
on the variety. Large clusters appear on the tips of new branches
beginning in early summer and continue into fall. After flowers
fade and fall from the tree, the fruit (small brown capsules)
can be cut from the plant to stimulate more bloom in 30-45 days.
Fruit capsules should not be removed after September.
The attractive, exfoliating bark peels away to
expose a trunk which ranges in color from many handsome shades
of brown to gray. This bark is especially noticeable in the
winter months when the tree is leafless.
Fall leaf color ranges from yellow to orange and
red. Although the same plant may display leaves of several colors,
the white-flowered types often have yellow fall color, and the
pink and red flowered types show yellow, orange and red leaf
color in the fall.
The crape myrtle can be planted as a specimen
or in groups, and looks attractive when a ground cover is planted
under and around the plant; the dark green of the groundcover
contrasts well with the handsome bark. It adapts well to confined
spaces, and is, therefore, well-suited for small areas close
to sidewalks or parking lots, and can provide shade in deck
and patio areas. The plant typically develops several main stems.
These multi-trunk crape myrtles are more desirable than single
stem plants in landscape plantings.
Crape myrtle can be a low-maintenance plant, and the best way
to ensure this is to choose the cultivar that best suits your
landscape needs before planting. There are many new cultivars
in different sizes and colors. The dwarf (3 to 6 feet) and semi-dwarf
(7 to 15 feet) selections now available make it easy to choose
the right size plant for a certain space. As varieties are now
available in a wide range of growth heights, certain selections
can be used under utility lines without fear of interfering
with these lines.
The ideal planting site is in well-prepared, well-drained
soil, with full sun exposure and good air circulation. Crape
myrtles planted in partial or full shade will have reduced flowering
and increased disease susceptibility.
Heavy nitrogen applications cause the plants to
flower less and produce shoot and leaf growth that may be subject
to winter injury. Light applications of a complete, slow-release
fertilizer such as 19-5-9 in early spring should be made just
before new growth begins. A general recommendation of 2 pounds
(two cupfuls) of the slow-release fertilizer per 1,000 square
feet of root area is sufficient for most trees and shrubs. This
can be repeated again in the late fall. The number of square
feet in the root area is determined by the branch spread of
Severe pruning of crape myrtles has become a common
practice to maintain shrub size. This ruins the natural, graceful
effect of the plant. Many dwarf and semi-dwarf cultivars are
now available, making it possible for the homeowner to have
the desired plant size while maintaining the natural branching
effect. The practice of chopping off the tops of crape myrtle
has become very commonplace. Many people believe that it is
required to promote flowering; some prune because the plant
is too large for the space provided; others see their neighbors
doing it and feel the need to follow suit. There are some instances
in which heavy pruning is necessary, but light pruning is usually
all that is needed. The type and amount of pruning depends on
the desired shape and size of the plant.
Crape myrtle does not require heavy pruning to
promote bloom. Flowers are produced on new growth. It will produce
flowers without any pruning, although it will produce larger
flowers and bloom more profusely if at least lightly pruned.
Pruning in late winter or early spring will stimulate vigorous
new growth in the spring. For more information on the pruning
of crape myrtle, see:
Powdery mildew fungus caused by the fungus Erysiphe
lagerstroemiae is a common problem with crape myrtle. It first
appears on new shoots as a whitish powder that later spreads
to the surface of leaves, stems, and flowers (a black powder
on leaves is caused by sooty mold). Powdery mildew causes leaves,
stems and flowers to become distorted and stunted. In severe
cases, leaves may drop prematurely and flower buds may fail
to open properly. Shady, humid locations and cool nights encourage
powdery mildew as does frequent wetting of the foliage by irrigation
or rainfall. Powdery mildew is more prevalent in spring and
fall. Locating the plant in full sun and providing good air
circulation so that wet foliage dries quickly helps prevent
powdery mildew, but the best approach is to choose resistant
varieties as listed at:
Crapemyrtle aphid, Tinocallis kahawaluokalani,
was apparently introduced into the United States with crape
myrtle, its host plant. Crapemyrtle aphids are pale yellow in
color with winged adults having black wings and black protuberances.
They primarily are found on undersides of leaves and are particularly
attracted to new growth. Crapemyrtle aphid is not found on any
other commonly grown plant. No aphid species other than crapemyrtle
aphid infest crape myrtle.
These insects damage crape myrtle by inserting
mouthparts into soft tissue and extracting plant sap. Crapemyrtle
aphids can reproduce and develop large numbers rapidly. Heavy
infestations distort leaves and stunt new growth.
Sprays of insecticidal soaps or horticultural oils are the most
environmentally safe pesticides for controlling crapemyrtle
During feeding, aphids secrete droplets of a sugary
solution called "honeydew." Drops of honeydew fall
from the aphids onto leaves and stems below. This sugary solution
promotes the growth of sooty mold fungi, Capnodium species.
Sooty mold appears as a black staining or powdery coating on
leaves and stems (a whitish powder on leaves is symptomatic
of powdery mildew). The blackened leaves and stems are often
the most obvious sign of aphid infestation.
Although unsightly, sooty mold itself does not
directly harm crape myrtle. However, the black fungus shades
the leaves and interferes with photosynthesis, potentially reducing
the long-term vigor of the plant. Control of crapemyrtle aphid
will halt further development of sooty mold. Existing sooty
mold on leaves will wear off the leaves through the actions
of sun, rain, and wind. Sprays of insecticidal soaps and horticultural
oils for control of crapemyrtle aphid also help to loosen and
remove sooty mold. See article and images at: http://www.plantanswers.com/mist_from_above.htm
The bark is thin and can be easily damaged by
mechanical injury. Mulch around plants to prevent this problem.
Vigorous, shallow roots may create problems for healthy growth
of underlying plants. Use sturdy ground covers or shrubs to
be planted around the crape myrtles.
Many crape myrtles are hybrids of L. indica and
L. fauriei, developed at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington,
D.C. These were bred for disease resistance, good flowering
and attractive bark. (Disease resistance means that infections
are few, do not progress very far or do not occur).
If careful consideration is given to the projected
size of the mature plant, a selection can be found that will
not outgrow its boundaries and can be allowed to display its
graceful beauty with minimal pruning. It is important that tree
types are sited where they have a large area to spread. When
given an ideal location, these tree types should be allowed
to develop their natural style without whacking off their tops.
To develop a tree shape, remove all limbs growing
from ground level except the three to five strongest limbs.
As the tree matures, remove lower, lateral branches ("limbing
up") one-third to halfway up the height of the plant. Remove
branches that are crossing or rubbing against each other and
shoots growing into the center of the canopy. Make your cuts
to a side branch or close to the trunk. Head back wayward and
unbranched limbs. As it grows taller, remove lower branches
as needed. Remove any future growth from the ground to retain
the desired tree shape. This basal sprouting may occur whether
the tree is being pruned or not. Pull these out when succulent
instead of pruning them.
You may feel the need to improve the appearance
by removing the seed heads in late winter or early spring before
growth begins. This is recommended only if they are within reach.
Once this becomes a tall, mature plant, allow nature to take
its course - the seeds will drop, the plant will bloom, and
the natural grace of the plant has been retained.
Consider all your options when confronted with
a large, old crape myrtle in a space meant for a different shaped
tree or shrub. To create clearance under the canopy, limb up
old trees that have spread their lower limbs where they interfere
with people or cars. Limb up above the roof-line of a single
story home to clear obstruction of a window or door. Eliminate
one of the major trunks if it is leaning too close to a building.
Only as a last result should you top a beautiful, old specimen
to squeeze it into a confined space.
To keep a crape myrtle at a manageable height,
prune moderately by removing all twiggy growth back to lower
growing side branches. This will give the plant a more uniform
appearance. As mentioned earlier, the best way to maintain a
crape myrtle at a particular size is to plant a known cultivar
that will mature at the desired height and spread.
If you have a crape myrtle in a spot where you
want a low, compact plant, you have two options: (1)Dig it up
and plant a new dwarf cultivar that will require little or no
maintenance; (2)Prune the stems back to about six inches above
the ground each year. Severe pruning will not kill or injure
a healthy crape myrtle.
Practice corrective pruning to remove defective
or dead branches. This should be done at the time the problem
is detected. Otherwise, prune to remove lateral branches, small
twigs or branches in the center to create more open space for
sun and air movement while the plant is dormant (winter or early
History and Taxonomy
Lagerstroemia species are deciduous shrubs or trees with geographic
origins in China, Japan, and other parts of southeast Asia.
L. indica has been cultivated as an ornamental for centuries
and was introduced to the southern United States over one hundred
and fifty years ago. L. speciosa, commonly called Queen's Crape
Myrtle, has been popular as a flowering street tree in tropical
areas. L. fauriei, L. subcostata and L. limii have been used
in breeding programs, and cultivars of L. indica × fauriei
hybrids now constitute the most widely grown crape myrtles today.
One dwarf tri-species hybrid was named 'McFadden's Pinkie Myrtlette'
and has been maintained by Dr. Sam McFadden.
It will have use as one of the "Myrtle-ettes" or
small crapemyrtles among the Lagerstroemia cultivars. 'Pinkie'
was obtained from a cross between on of Dr. Donald Egolf's progeny
(L. indica x L. faurei) seedlings from the National Arboretum
that was being tested in Florida and a USDA plant introduction
from Japan of L. subcostata with very small florets. Other species
of Lagerstroemia are used as timber in their native ranges in
The scientific name, Lagerstroemia, was coined
in 1759 by Carl Linnaeus, who described and named the plant
in honor of Magnus von Lagerstroem, an avid naturalist and director
of the Swedish East Indies Company. Crape myrtle derives its
common name from its crepe-like, crinkled petals, and the resemblance
of its leaves to the true myrtle, Myrtus communis. "Crape
myrtle" is a peculiarly-American term. Elsewhere in the
world, "lagerstroemia" is often used as the common
name for crape myrtle.
Crape myrtle is valued as a landscape plant for
its prolific summer flowers, heat and drought tolerance, and
year-round landscape interest. Flowering begins as early as
May in some cultivars and continues into the fall. Each 6- to
18-inch cluster of flowers (or panicle) develops on the tips
of new growth and is composed of hundreds of 1-to 2-inch flowers.
Color ranges include shades of purple, lavender, white, pink
and red, including "true" red, a relatively recent
development. Some cultivars have bicolor flowers (two colors
on each petal), some cultivars have flower colors that fade
with age or certain environmental conditions, and other cultivars
have panicles composed of a mix of flower colors.
Many Lagerstroemia fauriei and hybrid cultivars
feature beautiful, colorful bark. Strips of bark peel off in
early summer to reveal mottled new bark ranging in color from
pale cream to dark cinnamon to rich brown to bright orange.
The bark color gradually fades over winter until it peels again
the next summer.
Leaves on many of the Lagerstroemia indica cultivars
are rounded or spoon-shaped and up to 3 inches long. Most hybrid
cultivars have lance-shaped leaves up to 5 inches long and 3
inches wide while other species have even larger leaves. Leaves
are often tinged red in the spring and turn dark green by summer.
Several cultivars are known for new growth that is bronze, red
or burgundy and some cultivars are claimed to have burgundy-colored
foliage all summer. In temperate climates, foliage may turn
brilliant yellow, orange or red in autumn.
When the leaves fall in winter, crape myrtle becomes
a living sculpture. The trunk and branches of tree-form plants
have an attractively gnarled, sinuous character with smooth
Crape myrtle has low salt tolerance, so it should
not be irrigated with saline water or used near the coast unless
it is well-protected from saline conditions.
Crape myrtle transplants easily. Best results
occur if container-grown crape myrtles are planted during early
summer when in active growth. Bare root or balled-and-burlapped
crape myrtles should be moved and planted while dormant. Plants
should be mulched to a depth of 3 inches.
Newly planted crape myrtle should be irrigated
regularly for the first few weeks to aid in establishment. Trees
with a trunk diameter greater than 1 inch benefit from regular
irrigation for several months. Crape myrtle is very drought
tolerant once established but moist soil or irrigation promotes
growth. Fertilization will stimulate growth of young crape myrtles
but established crape myrtles usually do not need fertilizer
because root systems extend into lawns where they can absorb
nutrients from applications of lawn fertilizers.
Young crape myrtles characteristically develop
multiple stems. If a crape myrtle is to be grown as a small
tree, the smallest stems should be removed, leaving one main
stem for a single-trunk specimen or 3 to 5 main stems for a
Crape myrtle generally requires little pruning.
"Suckers" or water sprouts may develop along the lower
portions of main stems or from roots. These should be removed
when using crape myrtles as trees. Small twiggy growth on disease-susceptible
shrub and tree forms should be thinned out from underneath and
within the canopy. This keeps the trunk clean to allow air circulation
and help prevent powdery mildew disease. Dwarf crape myrtles
periodically grow tall shoots that must be removed to maintain
the planting as a groundcover. Shoots of some dwarf cultivars
occasionally die to the ground over winter, and dead wood should
be removed in the spring.
If pruning is necessary to improve plant shape
or form, prune crape myrtle anytime after the leaves have fallen.
However if plants are pruned too early in the fall, new growth
may emerge and be killed by the first freeze. Plants are easy
to prune while dormant since the branch structure is readily
visible without foliage. Pruning while plants are dormant also
will not interfere with flower bud formation since crape myrtle
flowers form on new growth. Avoid annual or frequent hard pruning.
Severe pruning can induce excess vegetative growth, basal sprouting,
and fewer, but larger, flower panicles. It also spoils the beautiful
winter branch structure on crape myrtle trees.
Tip pruning to remove old flower clusters will
promote recurrent blooming but is not practical for large plants
or low maintenance landscapes. Tip pruning is largely unnecessary
on many newer cultivars that naturally repeat-bloom, but tip
pruning may enhance recurrent bloom of older L. indica cultivars.
Secondary pests of crape myrtle include metallic
flea beetle (Altica species), wax scale (Ceroplastes floridensis),
Cercospora leafspot (Cercospora lythracearum) and mushroom root
rot (Armillaria tabescens).
Crape myrtle can be propagated vegetatively by
softwood, semi-hardwood, hardwood, or root cuttings. Softwood
and semi-hardwood cuttings root easily when taken in spring
or summer. Hardwood cuttings from dormant plants also root easily,
although use of rooting hormone improves rooting percentages.
Root cuttings may be dug in early spring and planted in the
greenhouse. Root cuttings root inconsistently.
Seed capsules ripening in the fall may be collected,
dried, and stored in sealed containers. No seed pre-treatment
is necessary and seeds will germinate within 3 weeks after sowing.
Best growth results when seeds are sown during the lengthening
days of spring. Flower, bark and growth characteristics of crape
myrtle seedlings vary tremendously.
Many cultivars of crape myrtle have been developed
by private individuals, nurseries and public institutions. In
1962, the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington D.C. began a
crape myrtle breeding project with Lagerstroemia indica. Major
advances occurred when L. subcostata and L. fauriei were introduced
into the breeding program in 1966. The resulting hybrids were
highly ornamental and resistant to powdery mildew. As a result
of the late Dr. Donald Egolf's efforts, the U.S. National Arboretum
has released over 24 selected for cold hardiness, for resistance
to powdery mildew, and for varying heights, habits, flower colors,
fall foliage colors, and bark characteristics. All U.S. National
Arboretum cultivars have Native American names.
Complete descriptions of all Egolf releases at:
The U.S. National Arboretum is continuing Dr.
Egolf's work, and many other individuals also have joined the
ranks of crape myrtle breeders. Dr. Carl Whitcomb, Dr. Michael
Dirr and Dr. Cecil Pounders currently operate prominent crape
myrtle breeding programs. Much more about crape myrtles can
be found at:
Byers, David. 1999. Personal communication. Byers Nursery Company,
Inc., Huntsville, AL.
Byers, David. 1997. Crapemyrtle: A Grower's Thoughts.
Owl Bay Publishers Inc., Auburn, AL.
Davy, John. 1999. Personal communication. Panhandle
Growers, Inc., Milton, FL.
Dirr, Michael A. and Charles W. Heuser, Jr. 1987.
The Reference Manual of Woody Plant Propagation. Varsity Press,
Inc., Athens, Georgia. 239 pp. Pp. 144-145.
Egolf, Donald R. and Anne O. Andrick. 1978. The
Lagerstroemia Handbook/Checklist. American Association of Botanical
Gardens and Arboreta, Inc. 72 pp.
Knox, Gary W. and Jeffrey G. Norcini. 1991. "Lagerstroemia
cultivars under evaluation at the NFREC-Monticello." Proc.
Fla. State Hort. Soc. 104: 346-347.
Mizell, Russell F., III and Gary Knox. 1993. "Susceptibility
of crape myrtle, Lagerstroemia indica L., to the crapemyrtle
aphid, Tinocallis kahawaluokalani (Kirkaldy) in north Florida."
Journal of Entomological Science 28(1): 1-7.
Pooler, Margaret and Ruth Dix. 1999. Personal
communication. U.S. National Arboretum, Washington, D.C.
Westcott, Cynthia. 1971. Plant Disease Handbook,
third edition. Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, New York. 843
pp. Pp. 293-298 and 405-406.