Popular as a landscape plant, the height of crape myrtles (also known as crepe myrtles) may range between 20 inches to 25 feet. These plants are extensively grown in warmer regions, where they are planted with a ground cover. The dark green ground cover offers a good contrast to the light tan-colored bark of crape myrtles.
Smaller varieties are often used in hedges, screens, or in masses. These flowering plants are very commonly used for landscaping in the southern parts of the United States, and are sometimes called the 'Flower of the South'. Though they are best suited for warm regions, some cold-hardy varieties can be seen in the northern states too.
How to Care for Crape Myrtles
These plants are easy to care for and require very little maintenance. However, a basic knowledge of crape myrtle care may prove beneficial for growing them properly.
Choose the variety which is best suited for your landscape. These plants love direct sunlight and thrive in moist, well-drained soil. So the location for planting should offer direct sunlight, as partial shade may result in less flowers. Full shade may promote the growth of fungi and other diseases.
It is always advisable to plant a crape myrtle, when it is dormant. While planting it, make sure that the root ball is even with the ground level. You can create a water ring around the root ball, and cover it with three inches of mulch. Some of these plants may require staking.
Watering and Feeding
Though crape myrtles are drought-resistant, they need plenty of water, in order to establish their roots after planting. Once planted, you have to water the crape myrtle daily, until the root ball gets soaked. You can reduce the frequency of watering after two to three weeks.
However, regular watering is recommended for the first two years after planting. Older plants need frequent watering during summers. In case of dehydration, the leaves will wilt. So water the plant, as soon as you notice this sign.
Crape myrtles do not require large amounts of fertilizers, but you can opt for a light application of a balanced formula, while the plant establishes itself. For such plants, fertilizers can be applied during March, May, and July.
In case of established plants, you can apply fertilizers once in a year, during early spring. Fertilizers with a high nitrogen content may help in promoting the growth of foliage, but these curb blooming.
This is an important part of crape myrtle care, as blossoms develop on new shoots. Pruning depends on the specific variety, which can be a tree or a shrub. If you want to develop a tree, then pruning should be done several times, during each season, to remove the new shoots that arise from the base of the plant. Such pruning is not needed for shrubs.
For younger plants, most of the pruning is done in winter, to establish a strong framework. You have to remove the thin stems from the base and lower trunks, seed balls, branches that grow inward towards the center of the plant, and the stem tips. Make sure to remove damaged, dead, or rubbing branches. Always make the cut just above the outward pointing bud.
For established plants, limited pruning during late winter is preferable. Clipping of the fading blooms during the summer triggers development of new blooms. Severe pruning of trees is not advisable. This practice, which is termed 'crape murder', does not affect blooming, but robs away the natural character of the plant.
Powdery mildew and sooty mold fungus are the common problems associated with this plant. Powdery mildew can be controlled by planting crape myrtles in direct sunlight, or by selecting varieties that are resistant to the disease. Sooty mold fungus can be removed by washing the affected stem with soapy dishwater, followed by rinsing with clean water.
In short, crape myrtle care is not a difficult task, as these plants are not fussy. Pruning is the most important aspect, as it affects the rate of blooming.