Crepe myrtles are one of the most popular and well-known tree species in the South. They are versatile plants that thrive in a variety of soils as long as they are well drained. Crepe myrtles have the ability to withstand heat, humidity, and droughts. They provide stunning summer flowers, vibrant autumn foliage, and beautiful sculptural trunks. While these trees are owned for a variety of reasons, they do require proper care and pruning to remain healthy and avoid common landscaping pitfalls. Here are some of the basics of crepe myrtle care to keep your trees blooming for many years.
Types of Crepe Myrtles
Taller crepe myrtles that mature to a height between 5 and 15 feet include the white-flower producing 'Acoma,' light pink 'Hopi,' dark pink 'Comanchee,' lavender 'Zuni,' and red 'Tonto.' These types are resistant to powdery mildew – a leaf-distorting fungus that is a common concern with crepe myrtles.
More compact varieties stand between 3 and 6 feet tall and unfortunately are not resistant to powdery mildew. Those include the white 'Hope' variety, lavender-colored 'Ozark Spring,' and red 'Victor.' Careful selection of the right type of crepe myrtle based on projected size of the plant will help prevent it from outgrowing its boundaries and require minimal pruning.
Pruning for Blooms
Crepe myrtle trees do not require pruning to produce blooms as flowers are produced on new growth. They will grow larger flowers and bloom more profusely if you do some light pruning, however. Pruning in late winter or early spring encourages healthy growth in the spring. Pruning blooms immediately after they fade can also stimulate a second bloom in summer.
Many people also prefer to remove old seed heads in late winter or early spring, but this is only advisable until the plant matures. At that point, it's prefer to allow nature to take its course – seeds drop, the plant blooms, and the innate design of the tree is retained.
Maintain the Proper Shape
The objectives of pruning are to maintain the tree's beautiful sculptural form, produce robust branches that can hold flowers upright, and open up its midpoint to reveal the smooth, multi-toned bark of developed trunks and branches. To preserve a manageable height, remove all twiggy growth back to lower side branches, giving the tree a more uniform appearance.
Erroneously hacking a plant back to thick stubs each year will prevent the tree from producing pretty bark. This overzealous style of pruning also makes branches too spindly and weak to hold up flowers. To maintain a healthy tree shape, remove lower, lateral branches – called 'climbing up' – one-third to halfway of the height of the crepe myrtle. Also remove branches and shoots that are crowding the center of the canopy or rubbing against each other.
Consult a Landscaping Professional
Crepe myrtles are beautiful, vibrant additions to Southern landscapes. If the proper type of tree has been selected for the given space, they can be fairly simple to maintain. However, if your crepe myrtles have been damaged through over-pruning or mildew, it is best to consult a landscaping professional. They are capable of cultivating and pruning trees, plants, and other types of landscaping to their ultimate potential.