Crepe Myrtles: Plant Care and Collection of Varieties

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The Crepe Myrtle is a fast-growing, small to medium-sized deciduous tree that produces large, colorful flowers over a long period from midsummer to fall. The foliage is attractive in fall and the textured bark provides winter interest. Another common name is southern lilac. It is typically cultivated as a multi-trunked flowering tree grown throughout the warmer climates of the world.

It is native to the Indian subcontinent, southeast Asia, northern Australia and parts of Oceania. Its genus was named after the Swedish merchant Magnus von Lagerström, who supplied Carolus Linnaeus with plants he collected.

The Crepe Myrtle may be the most widely grown ornamental shrub in the southern United States. In the summertime, the showy blooms last for several months, withstanding high temperatures, punishing heat, and powerful sunlight.

Flower colors include pink, red, purple, and white, depending on the variety. Most grow 15 to 25 feet tall and wide, with some shorter varieties growing only 2 to 5 feet tall. Dwarf varieties can be grown in containers.

Ongoing Care
Apply a layer of compost under the tree each spring, spreading it out to the dripline (the area under the outermost branches). Add a 2-inch layer of mulch to retain moisture and control weeds, keeping mulch a few inches away from the tree trunk. Water plants during the summer if rainfall is less than 1 inch per week. Flowers are produced on new wood, so prune back weak, spindly growth in spring to encourage better flowering. Prune off dead, diseased, and broken branches anytime.

Propagation Methods
Crepe myrtles can be propagated using pretty much every method out there. Cuttings, divisions, seeds, and layering all produce good results.

For seed starting, stratify seeds for 60 days. Best results can be had using the paper towel method. Sow seeds into a paper towel inside a plastic zip-top bag, moisten and place in the fridge for 2 months, then place the bag under growlights. As soon as the seeds sprout pot them up into 4" pots. Transplant into the ground once nighttime temperatures stay above 50 degrees. Seedlings started in the spring will often bloom during their first year.

Crepe myrtles have a habit of suckering - putting up new shoots out of the ground. With most varieties, you can carefully dig out these suckers along with some roots and have a new plant.

Softwood and hardwood cuttings both work fine. Rooting hormone and frequent misting dramatically improves cutting success.

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