Native to China and Korea, the crapemyrtle was introduced to North America in 1747. The crapemyrtle is an adaptable plant — it can thrive from north Alabama to the Gulf Coast.
It grows best in moist, well-drained soils and prefers full sun. Amazingly, it can withstand our Alabama heat and is resistant to drought.
Crapemyrtles vary in size, ranging from 18 inches to more than 25 feet, and can be used as large shrubs or small trees. They are often planted in groups, underplanted with a ground cover. The smaller varieties can be used as hedges, screens or in masses, which offers a grand display of color throughout the summer months.
Crapemyrtles are commonly multitrunked but can be trained to a single trunk. A canopy of glossy, medium-green foliage covers the top half of the plant, while the bottom half remains leafless, revealing the beautiful bark. In the fall, the leaves turn yellow, red-orange or red and the smooth bark flakes off in irregular patches to reveal various shades of brown and gray.
The flowers are the most prominent and prized features of the crapemyrtle. From mid-June to September, large panicles grow from 6-8 inches in length and 3-5 inches in width, and come in a range of colors from white to various shades of pink, purple and red. The petals have a crinkled appearance similar to crepe paper, hence the name crapemyrtle.
To produce large flowers and control larger growing cultivars, plants should be pruned before the new growth emerges in the spring. Blooms are most abundant in soils low in nutrients, especially nitrogen. Throughout the blooming season, additional flowering can be stimulated by fertilization and the removal of faded blooms.
Crapemyrtle must be grown in full sun for satisfactory flowering and to reduce disease. While it will tolerate a wide range of soil conditions, once established crapemyrtle will not thrive in a wet location.
Container-grown plants can be planted any time of the year, however they must be watered conscientiously, particularly if they are planted in the summer. Balled and burlapped and bare-root plants generally become better established if they are planted during the dormant season. Crapemyrtle roots remain active until early winter.
Heading back crapemyrtles in late winter promotes lush new growth in the spring. Flowers are produced on the current season’s growth, so flowers develop even after pruning. Severe pruning is not recommended because it destroys the natural character of the plant and may promote sucker growth on the trunk.
A few pests, especially aphids and Florida wax scale, can be a problem for crapemyrtle. Diseases such as powdery mildew, black spot, sooty mold, tip blight, leaf spot and root rot can also be a headache but can be limited with fungicides.
For help on other home and garden questions, contact your local county Extension office or visit us online at www.aces.edu.
Shane Harris is an Extension Agent for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.