Crape Myrtle - Summer's Biggest Show!

June Crape Myrtle.jpg

This week marked the longest day of the year, the first day of summer, and the start of Crape Myrtle season. 

Most blooming trees and shrubs last for only a few days or a couple of weeks.  But the crape myrtle holds the distinction of being our longest blooming shrub or tree.  Typically, the crape myrtle starts adding color to the landscape in mid-June and doesn’t stop until the first frost.  This year, due to the cooler than normal start to the summer, the crape myrtle hasn’t started to put on their summer show yet but will in the next couple of weeks.   

This past week, I was fortunate to spend a few days in Charleston, South Carolina, the first place the French planted crape myrtles in the United States.  One of our favorite activities of the week was a morning walk through Charleston’s crape myrtle lined streets. 

There are over 50 varieties of crape myrtles and new ones are introduced every year.  They are found throughout the southern US and perform well anywhere south of USDA zone 6. 

Crape myrtle Sizes    Standard Crape Myrtles  - When allowed to grow as a small tree will reach up to 25’ in our region and require little maintenance. Simply remove any dead wood from the tips of the branches in the spring and let the plant go for the season. They can be grown as a single trunk or a multitrunked tree.   Semi-dwarf Crape Myrtles  - Typically grow 8-12’ tall and make an excellent colorful screen when grown in a row.   Dwarf Crape Myrtles  - Grow only 2-4’ tall, are small and mounding, and ideal for a landscape bed where you want a splash of summer color.  Selecting the right sized plant is important. Crape myrtles are at their best when they can grow to their natural shape and size. Constant pruning on the wrong size plant to keep it in a space it was not meant to fit will reduce the summer blooms.

Crape myrtle Sizes

Standard Crape Myrtles - When allowed to grow as a small tree will reach up to 25’ in our region and require little maintenance. Simply remove any dead wood from the tips of the branches in the spring and let the plant go for the season. They can be grown as a single trunk or a multitrunked tree.

Semi-dwarf Crape Myrtles - Typically grow 8-12’ tall and make an excellent colorful screen when grown in a row.

Dwarf Crape Myrtles - Grow only 2-4’ tall, are small and mounding, and ideal for a landscape bed where you want a splash of summer color.

Selecting the right sized plant is important. Crape myrtles are at their best when they can grow to their natural shape and size. Constant pruning on the wrong size plant to keep it in a space it was not meant to fit will reduce the summer blooms.

Crape Myrtle Colors – The color pallet ranges from white, pink, purple and red.  Bloom color is not the only attribute of a crape myrtle.  Their foliage ranges from dark green, wine colored, velvet and dark purple. The combination of the bloom and foliage colors is one of the things that attracts me to the plant.

I am most fond of the large, full sized, tree formed crapemyrtles.  It is hard to narrow my list of favorite crapemyrtles, and my list often changes, but these are just a few of my current favorites:

Pink Velour  – Large 12-15’ small tree form with dark wine foliage and bright pink flowers. The foliage and flower combination are very striking.

Pink Velour – Large 12-15’ small tree form with dark wine foliage and bright pink flowers. The foliage and flower combination are very striking.

Dynamite  – Also a small tree that grows up to 15’. Dynamite was one of the first red tree form varieties. New foliage is nearly crimson in color and changes to a rich green as it matures. Flowers are brilliant red.

Dynamite – Also a small tree that grows up to 15’. Dynamite was one of the first red tree form varieties. New foliage is nearly crimson in color and changes to a rich green as it matures. Flowers are brilliant red.

Natchez  – One of the largest tree form crape myrtles reaching 25’. Foliage is rich green, and flowers are white. The cinnamon brown bark puts on a show of its own as it exfoliates.

Natchez – One of the largest tree form crape myrtles reaching 25’. Foliage is rich green, and flowers are white. The cinnamon brown bark puts on a show of its own as it exfoliates.

Ebony Flame  – A great accent plant that grows 10-12’ with dark red blooms on intense black foliage.

Ebony Flame – A great accent plant that grows 10-12’ with dark red blooms on intense black foliage.

One of the nation’s leading innovators of crape myrtles is Oklahoma’s own, Dr. Carl Whitcomb. Dr. Whitcomb holds 32 patents and has authored five books including Know It and Grow It, a book every landscape enthusiast should own. You can see all of Dr. Whitcomb’s crape myrtles by following this link: http://drcarlwhitcomb.com/Patented_Plants.html

Crape Myrtle Bark  – One of the most overlooked aspects of the plant is the bark. The bark is smooth and ranges in color from pink to gray. As the plant matures, the thin bark exfoliates to expose a different color underneath. Too often, tree form crape myrtles are severely pruned every spring and we never get to enjoy the beautiful bark of the mature plant.

Crape Myrtle Bark – One of the most overlooked aspects of the plant is the bark. The bark is smooth and ranges in color from pink to gray. As the plant matures, the thin bark exfoliates to expose a different color underneath. Too often, tree form crape myrtles are severely pruned every spring and we never get to enjoy the beautiful bark of the mature plant.

Crape Myrtle Fall Color  – Another overlooked characteristic of the plant is the fall color. Varieties range from yellow to red. Much of our fall color is found in larger trees. Crape myrtles add fall color to the landscape below the color of the large trees.

Crape Myrtle Fall Color – Another overlooked characteristic of the plant is the fall color. Varieties range from yellow to red. Much of our fall color is found in larger trees. Crape myrtles add fall color to the landscape below the color of the large trees.

I would challenge anyone to find another plant that offers so many features to the landscape.  From the long bloom, the variety of colors, the many shapes and sizes, and the addition of exfoliating bark and good fall color, you can’t deny the crape myrtle a place in your landscape.

Lorne Hall

Hall Stewart Lawn + Landscape