Take a drive through any Georgia town during summer and you’ll think we have cornered the market on crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) bushes. These tall bushes with colorful crepe paper-looking blooms abound everywhere from highway medians to state parks to front lawns and courthouse lawns. Even though this unofficial Georgia state bush can be found growing everywhere, it still seems to be a mystery for many homeowners. As a Master Gardener, it’s the one plant I’m asked most frequently about regarding planting and care. Take the mystery out of caring for this blooming bush with these tips for planting and growing crepe myrtle.
Crepe (also spelled crape) myrtles come in a many different heights, ranging from a dwarf variety that reaches a mature height of 3 feet to the standard bush that can reach a mature height of 30 feet.
Bloom colors are dark pink (almost red) or light pink, dark purple or lavender and white.
Make a bush choice based on the growing space available, since even the tallest growing varieties can be kept pruned to fit within a space. Crepe myrtles also put on a brilliant display of fall foliage colors that ranges from orange to red and the bushes have interesting bark year ’round.
Crepe myrtles are drought-tolerant bushes and grow best inn full sun and well-draining soil. After selecting the planting site, dig a hole that is twice as wide and twice as deep as the root ball. Place compost in the bottom half of the hole, then place root ball in the center of the planting hole. Add soil under the root ball if needed to raise up the top of the root ball evenly with the surrounding soil. Back-fill the planting hole, water bush well and firm soil with hands.
Add 3 inches of organic mulch (pine bark, straw, etc.) around the base of the bush, being careful to keep the mulch from touching the trunk of the crepe myrtle.
This is the biggest mystery surrounding this southern flowering bush – How to prune it without committing ‘crepe murder’, which is essentially sawing the top of the bush off to a one-layer, overall height.
Prune in late winter when bush is dormant and start in the center of the bush and prune away all twiggy growth. Next, prune away side branches that have developed on the main trunk up to about 4 feet in height. If you want to take some of the height of the bush, prune the branch tips in a semi-circle, starting low on the outside branches, working up and over, then heading back down on the other side.
Feed and Water
One application of any tree or balanced lawn fertilize a year is sufficient for a crepe myrtle. Water only during times of extreme drought.