Hot pink crape myrtle flower Crape myrtle tree red flowers                       Indian River County Extension Service
                                     1028 20th Pl, Suite D
                                     Vero Beach, FL 32960

                                                                                                                              FOR RELEASE: 11 August 2002
 Daniel F.  Culbert,  County Extension Director

                                                                COLORFUL CREPE MYRTLE

 Last week,  our Nation's county agricultural agents met in the beautiful city of Savannah, Georgia.  Between our   professional seminars, we enjoyed their  local landscapes.   The vibrant colors of the Crepe myrtle dominated Savannah's landscapes during this time of year.  And, according to University of Florida Extension Specialists Bob Black and Gary Knox, this versatile plant can also be grown in the Indian River area.  Today's column will provide some basic facts about
proper selection and care of this plant. 

 Crape myrtle is one of the most rewarding small trees or large shrubs for Florida Yards. It's easy to care for, has a long blooming period, and can grow in many soil conditions.   Whether it's called crepe myrtle here in the South, or crape myrtle elsewhere in the US, cultivars with different sizes and flower colors are available.  This native of India was introduced 150 years ago, and is popular in local landscapes.   A related larger tree-like species called Queen crape myrtle is adapted to extreme southern Florida.  The local flowering season for crape myrtle can begin in June, and continue until fall.  Each long cluster of flowers is composed of hundreds of one to two-inch, red, pink, white, lavender, or purple flowers.  Leaves are often tinged with garnet in the spring, but turn glossy dark green in summer, and change to yellow, orange or red in the autumn.

Because this is a deciduous plant, the leaves will fall in the winter.   Then, the crape myrtle becomes a living sculpture. The trunk and branches have an attractively gnarled, twisted character with smooth bark varying in color from light straw to rich deep brown. Patches of bark flake off in early summer to reveal new bark ranging in color from light pink to pale green. It is often home to lichens and air plants which can add to it's winter charm.

Crape myrtle is very versatile in Florida Yards.  Single-trunked or multi-trunked specimens make ideal small shade trees for a sunny deck, terrace, or entrance walkways.  Multi-trunked plants can be used as a seasonal visual barrier, a specimen plant in the garden, or a dominant landscape feature when planted singly or in groups. Semi-dwarf and dwarf types are suitable for foundation plantings, or even used in containers.  Against a background of evergreen shrubs or
trees,  the floral spectacle of crape myrtle may be emphasized .

Crape myrtle can be used to created an "allee" in a large garden area - long walkways where the plant's canopies touch and enclose the pathways.  Patented, miniature weeping forms good for use as a bonsai plants or in hanging baskets are also available.

Crape myrtles are available in many flower colors and plant heights. Plant height is categorized as dwarf (less than 3 feet),
 semi-dwarf (3 to 6 feet), medium, (6 to 12 feet) and tall (greater than 12 feet).  It's important to consider the space available at the planting site and choose a cultivar based on the mature size.  Proper selection  will reduce the need for pruning.  Our Extension office can supply you with a list of  cultivars and their characteristics.

Crape myrtle should be located in an area that receives full sunlight for most of the day. Otherwise, a weak spindly plant with a few flowers can be expected.  Plants growing in shaded areas will also be plagued by plant diseases such as powdery mildew.

Crape myrtle tolerates a wide range of soils, and can handle slightly alkaline pH, but avoid ocean front breezes or salty
irrigation water.   Nutrient requirements are minimal; in fact, high fertility levels produce lots of leaves but fewer flowers.   Mulches help retain soil moisture and minimizing soil temperature fluctuations during the summer, but keep it pulled back from the stem.

While correct annual pruning will produce larger blooms, the unusual plant form of crape myrtle is often destroyed by severe pruning.  This "crape murder" occurs when the plant is topped without regard to the natural branching habit of this plant.   It results in weakly attached new branches and reduces flower bud formation. Instead, during the dormant season, thin out some of the stems from the base of the plant to rejuvenate the natural form. 

 During the growing season, removal of seed heads will lengthen the flowering period of the crepe myrtle.  Small twiggy growth and crossing, crowded branches should be thinned out from underneath and within the canopy.  This keeps the trunk clean and allows air circulation, helping to prevent powdery mildew.

 Powdery mildew is a common pest problem of crape myrtle.  This disease is frequent when crepe myrtle is grown in damp shaded areas. The fungus distorts the leaves, and can also defoliate or kill severely infested stems.  Control can be achieved by spraying with labeled fungicides or planting resistant cultivars.  Cultivars with high resistance to powdery mildew include  Acoma, Hope, Comanche, Hopi, Miami, and Natchez.
Crape myrtle is also attacked by aphids and whiteflies.  These insects suck the sap and cause small malformed leaves.  These insects excrete a honeydew material on which a black fungus (sooty mold) lives.  Both aphids and white fly can be managed by use of insecticidal soaps or in severe cases other labeled pesticides.

If you need additional information on growing crape myrtles, visit our website <>  or call or stop by our office.  Our office Master Gardener Clinic hours at the Extension office (1028  20th Place, Suite D, Vero Beach) are weekday mornings and most afternoons, Wednesday morning at the North County Library in Sebastian, and the first Saturday of the month at the Environmental Learning Center.   Our phone number is 770-5030;  e-mail us at <> .


 Robert Black, UF Extension Horticulture Specialist. The Versatile
 Crape Myrtle.  Dr. Bob's Gardening Tips, December 2001.

 Gary Knox, UF Professor of Environmental Horticulture.  Crape Myrtles
 in Florida.  UF Extension Bulletin ENH 52.  May, 2000. [our primary
 Crape Myrtle bulletin for Florida] 

 Daniel E. Mullins,  Santa Rosa County Extension Agent . Help Stamp Out
 Crape Myrtle Mutilation  Pensacola News Journal ,  February  9, 2002.

 Mark Shelby,  Sarasota County Extension agent.  Crape Myrtle (Master
 Gardener Training Course Plant ID List, 2001) [ plant identification
 features with lots of good photos]
 Common Crape myrtle  Auburn University Extension Service,  Alabama.
 [covers cultural practices for the deep south, plus an extensive
 cultivar chart complete with photos.]

 Paul Thompson,  F. Brian Smith &  Mark Arena, Clemson niversity
 Extension Agents.  Crepe Myrtle Varieties.  February 5, 202. [has
 links to bulletins on Crepe Myrtle pruning and propagation.]>>
 Crepe Myrtle Nursery & Farm  [a commercial  website for a specialty
 crape myrtle breeder & grower]  <>

Texas A&M-Dallas

 Daniel F. Culbert, County Extension Director
 1028  20th Place - Suite D Vero Beach, FL 32960-5360
 (772) 770-5030 Fax (772) 770-5148
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