Crape myrtle dead branches

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The top growth of this crape myrtle is dead, but young shoots are visible poking up from the live roots.

(George Weigel)

Q: We have three crape myrtles. One is a tree type, and the other two are more shrub-sized. We planted the tree two summers ago and the shrubs last summer. The tree is coming back, but only from the ground. The shrubs appear dead or dormant. Because of the harsh, long winter, should we be concerned about the shrubs or will they come back once the weather gets sustainably hot?

A: I wouldn’t count out your lagging crape myrtles quite yet. The cold winter definitely killed some of these borderline-hardy woody plants, but many more had their branches die back to the ground but without killing the roots.

Normally, new growth emerges by mid-May. But because of the cool, slow start to spring on top of the cold winter, we’re 2-3 weeks behind in recovery.

I’ve seen some crape myrtles fully leafed out already, but I’ve also seen plenty with dead tops and new growth coming up around the base. In my garden, it was just last week that I saw the first few new shoots coming up from around one of my seemingly dead shrubby crape myrtles.

I wouldn’t yank anything yet. Give even your shrub ones a couple of more weeks just to be sure the roots won’t make a comeback.

Leafless branches won’t come back, so they’ll have to be pruned off once you’re certain nothing is going to happen above ground.

Your shrub-type crape myrtles were at a slight disadvantage because they were only planted last year and not as well rooted as the tree-type crape myrtle, which had two growing seasons under its belt.

However, variety also can make a big difference. Some crape myrtle varieties can withstand slightly colder temperatures than others – to the point where even a degree or two of overnight lows can make the difference.

I’m going to wait about 2 more weeks to cut off anything. By then, I’ll know for sure that there are no live buds in the top growth and also know which plants are making a comeback from the roots and which are completely dead.

Dead wood can then be cut off at the base to clear the way for the new growth. Crape myrtles grow fast, so they may actually look pretty good and bloom well by later in the summer (although smaller in size than before).

If nothing’s coming up from the ground or from the branches by mid to late June, then I’d say you can dig up the whole plant and buy new ones.

Crape Myrtle with very few leaves – Knowledgebase Question

Crepe myrtle is at the edge of its winter hardiness zone in your area, and depending on which variety you have planted it might suffer terribly in a bad year. A dry and extra cold or windy ,winter or a dry fall followed by frozen ground, could certainly cause it to dry out, thus making it more susceptible to cold damage. (A very wet winter could also cause it to have too much moisture at the root zone and suffer damage as a consequence of that.)
Usually this type of winter damage (and also drought damage) would cause dieback from the branch tips first, then working its way down the plant. So you would see buds and new growth from older wood and possibly from the ground as well.
If you are seeing new growth at the tips, or have lost the tips but are seeing it midway along the branches, it is possible the plant is beginning to take on some tree-like characteristics as it matures. This would eventually result in a bare trunk with growth at the top.
If you like it in a tree shape, any new growth from the roots could be trimmed off to accentuate the single (or multi-stemmed) form. If you would prefer to have it more bush-like, you can prune back the oldest stems in late winter, cutting them off at the ground. This will stimulate new growth from the base of the plant.
Crepe myrtles bloom on new growth of the season, so either way you should still have blooms this summer.
One other possibility is that there is a rooting problem underground causing the plant to begin to be stunted a bit. This could be the result of poor rooting for whatever reason such as poor planting procedure or a rootbound plant or an underground obstruction or so on.
Since I have not seen the plant it is difficult to really tell what is happening long distance. If you are unsure, I would suggest you work with your professionally trained and certified nurseryman and/or your county extension. They should be able to tell you if crepe myrtles in general in your area had a rough winter and if this is typical of what they are seeing as a result, or else help you troubleshoot if it might be related to something else.
Good luck with your crepe myrtle!

When Your Crepe Myrtle Doesn’t Leaf Out

Photo: pennlive.com

You’ve waited and waited and waited. Still no leaves on the trunks of your crepe myrtle. All of the neighbors’ crepes are leafed out and getting ready to bloom. Is yours doomed? Are you cursed? What the heck happened?

Well, first off, you may very well be cursed. There are just so many angry people with axes to grind nowadays that it’s almost impossible not to be cursed sometime. Even I’ve been cursed. Satan once switched all 1800 of my cable channels to “Entertainment Tonight.” I had to call an exorcist.

Image zoom emPhoto:

There is a small chance, however, that the Dark Lord isn’t targeting you. The weather is. The number one reason crepe myrtles fail to leaf out in spring is a very cold winter.

Crepe myrtle selections vary in their cold-hardiness, but most are hardy to around 0 degrees. Drop below that and they may be killed to the ground or killed entirely. And the actual low temperature isn’t as important as how long it stays really cold. The longer it does, the more severe the damage.

Sudden arctic blasts can be just as deadly, especially after weeks of mild weather. If the tree hasn’t had a chance to harden off, water inside may turn to ice, burst the cells, and split the bark. When that happens, expect major damage.

So is your crepe myrtle dead or will it come back? To find out, first do the scratch test. Scratch the bark with your fingernail to see if you can find a green layer underneath. If you can, the branch is still alive and may leaf out. If not, it’s a goner.

Second, inspect the base of your tree. Do you see little, red-tipped shoots popping up from it? This tells you that your tree was killed to the ground, but is in the process of growing back. Here in the South, regrowth happens quite fast. Leave the dead trunks there for the rest of summer to support the new shoots. They will become the new main trunks and may even bloom in late summer. After the leaves drop in fall, cut the dead trunks to the ground.

If your tree passes neither of these tests, there is one last saving stratagem to employ. Put a stole over your shoulders, gaze intently at the plant, and bellow, “The Power of Grumpy Compels You!”

Good luck with that.

Is My Crape Myrtle Dead?

Does Your Crape Myrtle Look Lifeless?

There it stands in the middle of your yard or in a key spot in your garden. The tree you prize so much for its late summer blooms when not much else is in flower. It looks dead. It looks lifeless. All the other plants are leafing out and looking lush and green. Do you find yourself muttering “My Crape Myrtle looks dead”?

Crape Myrtles are one of the most prized of all landscape trees. Blooming pink, red, white or lavender in late summer and into fall, it is no wonder homeowners prize this special tree.

Should I Worry?

If you have not noticed yet, there are a lot of Crape Myrtles that have not leafed out yet. Some of this is normal, some is not and could be cause for concern.

Crape Myrtles are typically one of the last landscape plants to leaf out. Some varieties will not even leaf out until early June. It does not help that their wood is so brittle that they look like there is no life in them. We get tons of phone calls around now from people asking if there plant is dead or alive. Our usual response is to tell them to wait until June and then we will know for sure. In most cases, The Crape Myrtle leafs out and all is good.

How To Tell If You Have A Dead Crape Myrtle

One way to check is to use your fingernail and scratch off a small section of bark. You should see some green just under the surface. If you do, this means the tree is still alive. If you do not see green, you’ll have to wait awhile before you know for sure. A really cold winter may have of killed the top growth, but the roots may still be alive. If this is the case, you’ll have to just wait and see if new shoots develop. Continue to care for the tress just as you would any other tree.

A little patience goes a long way with Crape Myrtles, but it is worth it.

Want to learn more about crape myrtles? Learn all about Crape Myrtles here.

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What to do with half-dead crepe myrtle?
August 7, 2014 1:09 PM   Subscribe

Wow. That is a tough case. I am also a Crape Myrtle grower at their zone limit (Massachusetts south coast) and some in my area suffered similarly to yours last winter, although mine wasn’t harmed a bit. First, it was good of you to NOT do any cutting back prematurely this spring. You now have a good idea what part of the plant is truly dead. Based on what I am seeing you could follow one of two very different plans:
One plan would be to try to preserve the existing stature of the tree as much as possible. To do this, I would cut back all the dead branches as far down to the base as they go. Don’t remove all the new growth at the base yet (reason below). This plan will make your tree look lopsided or misshapen for a few years. But if it survives, it should fill out again and look decent. The splits in the trunks could be a problem because they represent access points for disease and pests. They are most likely caused by “sunscald” during winter. This is most common on thin-barked trees which includes crape myrtles. Those splits need a chance to heal. So you need to protect those trunks from winter sun by wrapping them. Remove the wrap in spring after the danger of serious sub freezing temperatures has passed. You can get tree wrap for this purpose at the big box stores. Now, keep in mind that your tree has taken a hit and it is weaker now. In this weakened state it might die completely next winter. So for this plan to work you really need a string of milder winters for the tree to reinvigorate and thicken those trunks. I have read that Crapes become a bit more cold tolerant once they mature.
The other plan is to just cut the crape back to the ground completely. It will then grow back at the base–and yours is already trying to do this because so much of the top died back. You could pick the strongest of those new branches at the base (maybe an odd number like 3 or 5) and let those grow into a new multi-trunked Crape. If you adopt this approach DO NOT do it now. Wait until next year. In fact, you can leave this open as an option by NOT cutting back the new growth at the base this year as I indicated above. Just let the new growth stay. It is possible that if the rest of the plant died next winter, the growth at the base might live, particularly if it is covered by snow during the coldest weather. You can then let those new base branches grow larger next spring and then thin them out as i suggested to start a new small tree. If it all dies back next winter, then you will start over completely with new base growth. Crapes bloom on new growth, so even if it all died back you might get some blooms on the new base growth next summer.
If all else fails and you want to rip it out and replace, then this is a chance to plant the hardiest possible crape myrtle. A plant nursery in Coatesville PA has field tested lots of Crapes. The hardiest ones that I would select are those good to at least -8 F near the top of the chart.
Good Luck!
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 3:03 PM on August 7, 2014

Disease & Pests

Powdery Mildew

Though there are a handful of resistant varieties, most crape myrtles are susceptible to mildew. This is the most common disease on crape myrtles. If there is a white or grey powder film on the leaves and flower buds of your crape myrtle, it may have powdery mildew. This is a fungal disease that causes damage by halting photosynthesis and other basic life processes of the leaves and buds, which harms the tree. It can be eradicated by applying any fungicide that is labeled for mildew on a weekly basis until the flower buds open. In addition, thinning out branches in order to allow sun and air flow penetration into the canopy can help reduce susceptibility to mildew problems.

Aphids

These are yellowish green insects that can cover the underside of the crape myrtle’s leaves and cause damage by sucking sap out of the tree. In addition, they produce sticky honeydew drops that get all over the tree itself as well as nearby decks, chairs, cars, and patios. These pests are controlled by predators, such as lady bugs. But if you are using pesticides, it may be killing the predators and not the aphids. Quit using pesticides and see what happens – it should allow the predator population to grow and they in turn will eat the aphids. If that does not work, try spraying your crape myrtles with insecticidal soap, such as Safer’s Soap, or with an oil product, such as Neem Oil Spray or a paraffinic oil.

Japanese Beetles

Whole books can be (and have been) written about controlling Japanese Beetle infestations. Here are some of the basics. If you are able to start early before there are too many Japanese Beetles, hand removal is the most effective control method. The best time to do this is early in the morning, when the beetles are still sluggish. The goal is to remove the beetles while they are emerging, before they have a chance to emit pheromones. Just pluck the beetles from the tree, reaching from above (so they cannot fly away) and drop them in a bucket of soapy water. A variation to this method, which can be used if a) there are many beetles or b) you do not want to touch these critters, is to simply place a bucket of water underneath a branch or cluster of flowers, then tap the branch. The beetles usually fall to the ground when disturbed and they will land in the water. Again, the early morning is the best time to do this since the beetles are generally still lethargic. Other methods include:

  1. Use a shop vacuum to suck up the beetles.
  2. Blend dead beetles with some water, then spray this on the plant. Many farmers swear this method is most effective.
  3. Blend garlic and hot peppers in water and spray this on the trees.
  4. Shower the trees with a commercial garlic spray used to deter mosquitoes. This usually works with beetles as well.
  5. Encourage birds to take up residence by placing birdbaths, feeders, and nesting boxes nearby. Birds, especially Starlings, love eating Japanese Beetles.

There are many other methods for getting rid of these pests, but do keep two things in mind: First, Japanese Beetle traps are a bad idea. They generally attract more beetles than they kill, which leaves an excess of new bugs to prey on your trees and plants. Second, it is usually not worth spraying Japanese Beetles with pesticides since this will also kill aphid predators and likely lead to an explosion in the aphid population.

Crape Myrtle Care

News article for July 23, 2018

Crape myrtles are having an excellent blooming year which seemed to start earlier than most years. I am also noticing a lot of premature leaf drop and leaf color change and it is way too hot to be autumn already.

The problem that I am seeing is a fungal leaf spot known as Cercospora leaf spot. Symptoms include leaves that turn yellow, orange and red and are falling from the tree. This leaf spot on crape myrtles can cause severe defoliation during wet periods in the summer. I have seen it much worse, but we also have a lot of hot weather to go this year. The severity will usually depend on how much rainfall you receive. Since rainfall has been spotty, I would expect this outbreak to be spotty; however I have seen it in multiple locations.

Treat leaf spots with a systemic fungicide which contains propiconazole (such as Fertilome Liquid Systemic Fungicide II and Bonide Infuse Systemic Disease Control) or tebuconazole (such as Bayer Advanced Garden Disease Control for Roses, Flowers and Shrubs).

Another prevalent problem in crape myrtles is sooty mold, which is a black crusty mold that gets on leaves and is very unattractive. Sooty mold is actually the results of sucking insects such as aphids, which leave a high sugar secretion or honeydew on leaves. Sooty mold is always in the environment and will attach itself to the honeydew. The way to control sooty mold is to control sucking insects.

If you are using an Acephate band to control sooty mold, which works well, the end of July to the first part of August should be your timing for the second and final application for the year. If you did not make an early treatment, it is not too late to start. The insecticide treatment is to mix 4 parts of Orthene 75S or Acephate 75S with 1 part water to make a paste. Use the paste to paint a band around each trunk of the crape myrtle tree several inches above the base of the trunk. The band should be twice the diameter of the trunk. So, if you have a 1 inch diameter trunk, paint a 2 inch band around it. Everything above the painted band will be insect protected.

Each crape myrtle variety has different growth and flowering characteristics. Some varieties will start blooming as early as mid-June and others will not start until mid-July. The flowering period for some varieties will only be 70 days and others will flower for 110 days.

If blooming is waning, in addition to insect and disease issues, never overlook the obvious. The obvious is hours of sunlight. The best flowers are produced in full sun and at least 8 hours of daily sun is necessary for good flower production. Many people fail to realize that as shade trees mature, they allow less sunlight for understory plants and rob small trees like crape myrtles of needed sunlight. Without proper sunlight, plants cannot manufacture enough energy through photosynthesis to produce vibrant floral displays. Evaluate your sun patterns.

Fertilization is another key to good flower production in crape myrtles. I would not fertilize now as it is too late in the year to stimulate growth, but be ready to fertilize with a complete fertilizer next spring.

Last on the list for good flower production is do not commit crape murder. Crape murder is a term for excessive pruning. It can hinder flower production, especially when drastic pruning occurs in early spring. Severe pruning will promote so much foliar growth that you get very little flowering. Crape myrtles require very little pruning when the right variety is planted in the right place.

For more information on these or related topics contact Kenny at 225-686-3020 or visit our website at www.lsuagcenter.com/livingston.

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