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Maximizing Crepe Myrtle blooms

By Max Day
Share to PinterestMaximizing Crepe Myrtle blooms

The crepe myrtle is a showy plant that does well in container gardens, as a foundation, or just as an ornamental. The different growth habits and the pruning possibilities make the plant a good choice for walkways, arches, and other statement plantings. The fact that they are easy to grow, low-maintenance, and provide bountiful, season-long blooms for little effort are a bonus. Crepe myrtle does prefer warm weather, which explains why it is a long time favorite of southern gardeners; with winter protection, however, some cultivars do well in cooler climates, too.


Planting your crepe myrtle

Crepe myrtles are most often planted directly into the ground, although they can be grown in containers as well. Plant it in a spot with well-drained soil. The hole should be as deep as the root ball on your plant and about three times as wide. If the soil in your area is very compacted or sandy, adding a commercial planting mix can improve drainage. Once planted, the root ball should be slightly above the level of the soil.

For container planting, choose a pot with drainage holes. Place stones inside the pot, over the holes, to ensure the water doesn't drain too quickly. The container needs to be large enough to allow for the soil on all sides of the plant.

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The best soil for crepe myrtles

Crepe myrtles do not require rich soil to do well, though poor drainage, which keeps their roots wet for an extended period, will have a negative effect. They do prefer slightly acidic soil. Improve the acidity of your soil by working in some sphagnum peat or using an acidifying fertilizer. If your crepe myrtle doesn't bloom during its second season in the ground, or the plant does not seem to flourish, an application of fertilizer can provide the boost it needs.

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Sunlight requirements

The crepe myrtle is known for its showy blooms that arrive early in the summer and into the fall, depending on the variety. To produce these flowers, crepe myrtles need at least six hours of full sun each day. The one exception is in areas with strong sun exposure during the summer. Here, a location with maximum sun exposure in the morning and more filtered sun during the afternoon protect the tree while still allowing it to bloom.

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Watering requirements

Once settled into its growing location, the crepe myrtle is somewhat drought-tolerant. The first year after planting, however, it needs special attention. Water the plant each week, soaking the soil thoroughly to ensure water reaches the root system. While the mature crepe myrtle can handle some dry conditions, it does best with at least one inch of water each week. Flowering will be impacted in dry conditions. Placing mulch around the base of the crepe myrtle helps the soil retain moisture and prevents grass from competing with the plant for water.

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Pests that can harm the crepe myrtle

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The Japanese beetle is a non-discriminating pest and attacks many garden plants, including the crepe myrtle. It feeds on both leaves and flowers. Removing Japanese beetles from plants by hand and using commercial Japanese beetle traps are the best way to control these pests.

The crepe myrtle aphid feeds on young leaves, sucking sap from the plant and leaving behind honeydew, a waste product that insects such as wasps and ants, as well as fungi, use as food. The salvia from the aphid causes yellow spots on the leaves, which often leads to disfigurement. Natural predators, such as ladybugs, can be used to fend off aphid infestation. Using a gardening hose to spray the tree with a strong stream of water can help reduce the aphid population, as well. Aphids are difficult to control with insecticides.


Potential diseases

If your crepe myrtle develops a sooty appearance on its leaves and stems, it may have sooty mold fungi, a sign of insect infestation. Insects such as aphids, whiteflies, and mealybugs create the honeydew that provides a food source for sooty mold fungi. The condition itself is harmless, although unattractive. You do need to identify the pests that are on your crepe myrtle and treat those before further damage occurs.

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Special care

Crepe myrtles require pruning to look their best and to remain healthy. Prune during the dormant winter months. A general cleanup is the minimum you should do, removing any dead or diseased branches. Then remove any branches growing toward the center or crossing another branch. To shape the shrub, remove side branches and sprouts emerging from the base. You can leave the remaining branches alone to allow for a more natural look or prune to create the shape you want. Thin out interior branches as needed.  Crepe myrtle will be healthier if you prune so as to allow air and sunlight to reach the interior of the shrub.

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Propagating your crepe myrtle

You can propagate crepe myrtles through cuttings, during the spring or summer. Take cuttings from where an offshoot meets the main branch. The ideal cutting is at least six inches long and has at least three nodes — spots where leaves attach to the branch. Remove all of the leaves except for a few at the very top of the cutting. Dip the base in rooting hormone and place the cutting in a pot filled with potting mix. Keep the soil moist and the pot in a sunny location. After about one month, the cutting should have a developed root system and be ready to transplant.

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Benefits of crepe myrtles

Crepe myrtles provide abundant blooms in a range of colors with little effort. The plant is easy to grow, long-lived, and not susceptible to many of the common pest and disease problems that other shrubs experience. This makes it popular with the home gardener and a top choice for planting in community developments and along city walkways.

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Varieties of crepe myrtles

  • There are many cultivars of crepe myrtle available. The shrubs are long-lived, so it makes sense to select one whose adult height will look good in the intended planting space.
  • Smaller cultivars, such as Chickasaw and centennial, are less than four feet tall at maturity and make nice container plants.
  • Taller options include Cado and Hopi, both with pink flowers and a spreading habit.
  • The Tonto, with dark fuchsia flowers, and Cherokee, with bright red blooms, have a globose, or rounded growing habit.
  • Some of the tallest cultivars — such as the Conestoga, which can reach 19 feet — have an arching habit, while others, such as the Powhatan that matures to 20 feet, have an upright growth habit.

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Understanding the dangers of "crepe murder"

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Often, garden enthusiasts might be tempted to over-prune their crepe myrtles, a practice colloquially termed "crepe murder." This severe pruning not only disrupts the tree's natural form but can also lead to long-term damage, resulting in unsightly growth patterns. It's crucial to approach pruning with a gentle hand, focusing on enhancing the tree's inherent beauty and health. By understanding the implications of over-pruning, gardeners can ensure their crepe myrtles remain both healthy and aesthetically pleasing.


The significance of soil pH for crepe myrtles

Crepe myrtles, like all plants, have specific soil needs. They flourish best in neutral to slightly acidic soils. The right pH ensures that the tree can absorb essential nutrients effectively, leading to vibrant blooms and robust growth. Gardeners should consider regular soil tests to monitor and maintain the optimal pH level. By doing so, they can create a thriving environment for their crepe myrtles, ensuring a spectacular display season after season.

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Pruning and fertilizing: Timing is everything

The health and appearance of a crepe myrtle can significantly benefit from proper timing. Late winter presents the ideal opportunity for pruning, and preparing the tree for a new growth season. Conversely, early spring is the perfect moment for fertilizing, providing the tree with the nutrients it needs just as it embarks on its growth journey. By understanding and respecting this natural rhythm, gardeners can optimize the health and beauty of their crepe myrtles.

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Addressing seed pods for a flourishing tree

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While seed pods on a crepe myrtle aren't inherently harmful, they can become a burden. Heavy clusters can weigh down branches, sometimes causing them to droop dramatically. By gently pruning these pods, gardeners can alleviate this weight, allowing the tree to maintain its graceful form. Additionally, early removal of seed pods might encourage a delightful second bloom, offering a prolonged display of the tree's beauty.


The art of branch spacing for crepe myrtles

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A well-spaced crepe myrtle is not only aesthetically pleasing but also healthier. Proper spacing ensures better air circulation and sunlight penetration, both of which are vital for the tree's well-being. During pruning sessions, it's essential to thin out areas that seem crowded or tangled. This approach not only promotes the tree's health but also accentuates its natural elegance, making it a garden centerpiece.


Transplanting advice

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Even the most established crepe myrtles might need a change of scenery, whether it’s due to growth outpacing their current space or a landscape redesign. The late fall or winter months, when these trees are dormant, present the best time for transplanting. Prepare the new location by digging a hole twice as wide and just as deep as the root ball, ensuring good drainage and the right soil composition. Gently place the tree in its new home, backfilling with soil and watering thoroughly. Remember, the transition can be stressful for the plant, so give it plenty of TLC with regular watering as it adjusts to its new location.


Encouraging reblooming

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One of the crepe myrtle's most delightful features is its potential to rebloom, extending the color and vibrancy of your garden into late summer or early fall. After the first bloom cycle concludes, snip off the spent flowers to encourage the plant to focus its energy on producing more blooms rather than seeds. For some varieties, this deadheading process can stimulate a second, although typically lighter, bloom cycle. Regular feeding with a low-nitrogen, high-phosphorus fertilizer early in the season can also support robust blooms throughout the warmer months.


Mulching practices

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Mulching serves a dual purpose for crepe myrtles: it helps retain soil moisture and adds a decorative touch to your garden. A 2- to 3-inch layer of organic mulch, such as shredded bark or pine straw, is ideal. Apply it around the base of the tree, taking care to leave a small gap around the trunk to prevent moisture buildup and potential bark rot. This practice not only conserves water but also suppresses weeds, creating a clean and attractive bed around your crepe myrtles.



Overwintering crepe myrtles

Share to PinterestGiant Crepe Myrtle Trees in Winter.

As the days shorten and temperatures drop, your crepe myrtle requires a bit of preparation to ensure it emerges in spring ready to dazzle once more. In regions where winters are mild, little to no special care may be needed. However, in cooler climates, applying a layer of mulch around the base can provide extra insulation. For particularly young or sensitive plants, consider wrapping the trunk or using a burlap shield to protect against harsh winds and frost. Come spring, remove any protective coverings promptly to allow the tree to resume its growth cycle.


Soil amendment techniques

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The secret to vibrant crepe myrtle blooms often lies beneath the surface, in the quality of the soil. Crepe myrtles favor well-draining, slightly acidic soil. If your garden's earth doesn't naturally meet these conditions, incorporating organic matter such as compost can improve drainage and lower pH levels. For soil that's particularly clay-heavy or alkaline, adding elemental sulfur a few months before planting can gradually adjust the pH to a more crepe myrtle-friendly level. Remember, soil amendments are a long game, with benefits accruing over time, leading to healthier plants and more spectacular blooms.



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