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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.