Crapemyrtles are named for the delicate, crape-paper-like, ruffled flowers they carry at the tips of each new stem. They tolerate extreme heat and drought, and are used often in public streetscapes in the south. They are perfect under utility lines. Their showy blooms can last over one hundred days! How many other trees can you name that do that? As a result, they are very popular, and can be overused. Nobody complains, though!
Crapemyrtles are tree-formed by default, so you must make a special effort to let your supplier know if you want the natural, shrub form, instead. They are also sold in standards with a single trunk, so communication is very important when bidding a project. Don’t forget about the possibility of plain-old shrubby-formed Crapemyrtles. They can have a certain old-fashioned charm to them, especially in a shrub border. I doubt you will resist the tree-formed versions. Their legs are just too pretty.
Everybody wants to grow Crapemyrtles, but as you travel north, they are less and less hardy. Crapemyrtles can get killed back by a cold snap. Temperatures below ten degrees can be a problem, especially for newly-planted shrubs. You can count on them in California, Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina. You might get kill back to the roots each winter farther north. Once in West Virginia and Kentucky and Utah, forget about it.
Some gardeners attempt to force a second bloom by deadheading the first flush when it is spent. This is possible for shorter shrubs, but anything above your natural reach is a pain to manicure in this fashion. Another thing gardeners do is try to force huge blossoms by stump-pruning the larger limbs each winter to push out desperately large, new stems in early spring. It’s an ugly thing to do to a tree. I could attempt to convince you to stop doing this, but more respected experts than me have tried, and failed. Leaving the natural tree-form and pruning only limbs less than an inch and a half in diameter is an option if you want nice, big blooms. Another option is to simply leave the little tree alone and let it grow into graceful, sinewy beauty. The picturesque trunks (sometimes with peeling bark) are half the benefit of the tree. It’s not all about the flowers. In fact, some have really beautiful fall color, too.
The tall, twenty-five to thirty-five-foot Crapemyrtles come in lavender and any shade of pink or rose pink you can imagine. They also come in white, with the gold standard cultivar being ‘Natchez.’ It has cinnamon-colored, peeling bark and a vase shape that is outstanding. A new variety, called ‘Dynamite’ is almost scarlet.
You can learn more about larger Crapemyrtles and other trees in The Advanced Guide to Trees; Choose Trees Like a Professional, available at Landscape Consultants HQ, part of The Advanced Guide Series.
There are only a few semi-dwarf Crapemyrtle cultivars that stay below the magic fifteen-foot shrub definition. Here they are:
• ‘Acoma’ – white with beautiful bark and the best vase-shaped, tree-like form, purple fall color.
• ‘Near East’—An old fashioned favorite with ballet-shoe pink blooms. The limbs tend to curve over and droop. The effect is delicate and graceful.
• ‘Caddo’—Barbie pink, peeling cinnamon bark, orange-red fall color
• ‘Hopi’—Watermelon pink, tan bark, orange-red fall color
• ‘Pecos’—Medium pink, cinnamon bark, maroon fall color, globe form
• ‘Prairie Lace’—A gaudy dark pink and white tipped bloom, tan bark, orange-red fall color
• ‘Tonto’—Fuchsia blooms, brown and white bark, maroon fall color. Another cultivar that can be tree formed easily.
• 'Zuni’—Another tree-formed cultivar. Pinkish lavender blooms, beige bark, red-orange fall color
The older cultivars of Crapemyrtle are susceptible to powdery mildew, which ruins the blooms. Don’t plant them.
Crapemyrtles can be attacked by black sooty mold (not pretty) in areas with lots of ants, which you can prevent by stopping ants from climbing the trunks to commune with aphids. Painting a clear, wide stripe on each trunk with chemicals particularly offensive to ants is an easy fix.
Japanese Beetles love Crapemyrtles and can turn the flowers black by sheer numbers feeding on the blooms! You can knock them off the blooms into buckets of hot water. The best, and truly effective method of control, is cooperation among all the neighbors in your area. If they all treat the ground surface in a grid with Milky Spore Disease powder in late summer, you can eliminate the grub population. This is inexpensive, you get to meet your neighbors, and you work together on a mutually-beneficial, positive project for the neighborhood.