Some call it “the tree of one hundred days” because of its long flowering period, and others are enticed by its colorful fall foliage and beautiful winter bark. Regardless of which side of the fence you’re on, the tree is the same—the crape myrtle. Yet, while many are familiar with its magnificent summer blooms, little is commonly known regarding the care and maintenance of the crape myrtle.
The crape myrtle’s roots (no pun intended) date back to China, where it was called “Pai Jih Hung,” which means a hundred days red. The Chinese were also known to call the crape myrtle “monkey tree” – mocking the fact that monkeys could not climb their smooth, slippery trunks.
The crape myrtle is not considered a true myrtle – which is actually an evergreen shrub – but retains the name due to its similar leaf shape. The “crape” actually refers to how the flowers appear crinkled like crape paper.
Though the tree has been cultivated in the United States for more than a century, there is often much debate about the best care and maintenance of the crape myrtle.
The tree is a slow to moderate grower with an attractive domed shape, standing some 25 feet tall and extending the same in width.
Crape myrtle is adaptable to a wide range of soil conditions but prefers well-drained ones. Like any newly planted tree, regular watering is critical for establishment. Crape myrtles are, however, extremely drought tolerant in the second growing season. Therefore, an occasional deep root watering (once or twice a month) is all that is required for optimal growth.
The common debate about care and maintenance of the crape myrtle surrounds pruning. Many believe that pruning is necessary, as with many trees growing more than 25 feet.
While experts agree that trimming wilted flowers to encourage a second blooming and pruning branches that crisscross each other is recommended, many believe it’s best to prune crape myrtles as little as possible. Those prone to over-pruning are often referred to as “crape murderers.”
For starters, over-pruning often ruins the beautiful natural shape of the tree while weakening branches from supporting the flowering canopy and making it more susceptible to insects and diseases. Additionally, lopping off too much at the top forces the tree to expend its energy creating new branches and leaves rather than producing the magnificent flowers it’s famous for.
Another part of care and maintenance of the crape myrtle is fertilization and insect and disease control.
Slow-release fertilizers are recommended twice a month during the spring and summer growing seasons as crape myrtles are known to feed heavily during this period.
Crape myrtles do experience fungal leaf spot and powdery mildew, as well as scale and aphids. But proper fertilization and plant health care programs often make them less vulnerable.
Crape myrtles naturally produce multiple trunks, and it’s often recommended to choose three to five main trunks with enough space to grow. Trees with multiple trunks often have larger flowering canopies. Trim any small suckers and lower developing trunks as close to the ground as possible.
Still unsure of the proper care and maintenance of the crape myrtle tree? Schedule a consultation with your local SavATree branch today!