By Janice Aulisio, VCE Southside Master Gardener Crepe myrtles, called the “lilac of the South”, are prized for their long vibrant summer blooms in the height of the summer heat from June to September, colorful fall foliage and attractive exfoliating bark. They are deciduous (lose their leaves in winter) and come in a variety of sizes. Crepe myrtles can be considered a tree or a shrub depending on size.
Crepe myrtles are a great specimen tree/shrub with four season interest if not “murdered”. Contrary to popular opinion, severe pruning does not increase the amount of blooms. Crepe myrtle is the commonly accepted “southern” spelling but is also spelled crape myrtle. Either spelling is correct. The common name is derived from the crepe paper-like petals. The genus name Lagerstroemia indica is attributed to Magnus von Lagerstroem (1691-1759) a Swedish botanist and friend of Linnaeus. Although native to China and Korea, the epithet (indica) indicates the plant originated in India. When Europeans first encountered crepe myrtles in India, they assumed it was native. It was introduced into South Carolina in the late 1700’s by Andre Michaux, a French botanist. Cultivar heights range from dwarf, semi-dwarf, medium to tall. Flowers can be white, pink, lavender and a deep red. The bark peels away to expose trunks (usually multi-stemmed) which range in color from brown, gray, pink and green. It is especially noticeable in winter giving them much winter interest. Some things you need to consider about these wonderful trees. • They can get taller than you may realize (up to 40 feet). • Be sure to plant the right tree in the right place to prevent excessive pruning. • They thrive in harsh sun and drought conditions. • Can grow in poor soil. • Remember to water newly planted trees frequently. • Grow in Zone 7, 8, 9 or 10. • Don’t forget to fertilize. • Prune correctly and don’t be a “crepe murderer”! • Powdery mildew and bark scale can be a problem in our area.. Birds like to eat the seeds including cardinals, finches, juncos and sparrows. Butterflies, bees and hummingbirds love the abundance of blooms. If you are looking for a colorful, low maintenance, hardy tree, consider a crepe myrtle! o: