Crape myrtles have become a dominant landscape plant in Florida over the last 30 years. Crape myrtles are deciduous shrubs or trees with origins in China, Japan, and other parts of Asia. They were introduced to the southern United States over one hundred and fifty years ago. Commonly called Queen’s Crape Myrtle and has been a popular flowering tree in tropical areas, including Florida.
Crape myrtle is valued as a landscape plant for its prolific summer flowers, heat and drought tolerance, and year-round landscape interest. Flowering begins as early as May in some areas and continues into the fall. Each 6- to 18-inch cluster of flowers (or panicle) develops on the tips of new growth and is composed of hundreds of 1-to 2-inch flowers. Color range from white to deep red and nearly every color in between.
Crape myrtle has adapted to climatic conditions throughout Florida. Well-established plants are extremely drought tolerant and have low fertility requirements, although they respond to fertilizer and water with lush growth. Crape myrtle has low salt tolerance, so it should not be irrigated with saline water or used near the coast unless it is well-protected from saline conditions.
Full sun is necessary for best flowering and development of a full, symmetrical crown. Crape myrtle is tolerant of a wide range of soil types but grows poorly in wet soils. It is best adapted to loamy soils that are slightly acid.
Crape myrtle transplants easily but best results occur if container-grown crape myrtles are planted during early summer when in active growth. Bare root or burlapped crape myrtles should be moved and planted while dormant. Plants should be mulched to a depth of 3 inches.
Newly planted crape myrtle should be irrigated regularly for the first few weeks to aid in establishment. Trees with a trunk diameter greater than 1 inch benefit from regular irrigation for several months. Crape myrtles are very drought tolerant once established but moist soil or irrigation promotes growth. Fertilization will stimulate growth of young crape myrtles but established crape myrtles usually do not need fertilizer because root systems extend into lawns where they can absorb nutrients from applications of lawn fertilizers.
Young crape myrtles characteristically develop multiple stems. If a crape myrtle is to be grown as a small tree, the smallest stems should be removed, leaving one main stem for a single-trunk specimen or 3 to 5 main stems for a multi-trunked tree.
While crepe myrtles do not require pruning, removing seed pods, crossing branches and small twiggy growth improves the appearance and form of the plant. Suckers or water sprouts may develop along the lower portions of main stems or from roots. These should be removed when using crape myrtles as trees.