White crepe myrtle tree

Top 10 Questions About Crepe Myrtle Trees

Crepe myrtles are among the most ornamental trees available, emblematic of southern gardens. Their popularity stems from their generous crop of showy flowers. Although crepe myrtles are usually vigorous and hardy, it makes life easier if you have ready access to tips on caring for these gorgeous plants. We all have questions now and then, and Gardening Know How has answers. Here are the 10 questions readers ask most about crepe myrtle trees.

1) How and when do I prune a crepe myrtle?

Sometimes you prune a tree to fortify or form it, sometimes you prune to please yourself. With crepe myrtles, the tree doesn’t require pruning for health, vigor or branch structure. If you prune, it is to create a specific look, natural or formal. You can prune to open up the inside of the tree for a natural look. For natural pruning, clip out potential problems like broken or overlapping branches, then remove smaller inner shoots. Alternatively, prune formal-style, removing outer branches to shape the tree to particular height or width. In either event, prune in late winter or early spring.

2) Why is my crepe myrtle not blooming?

Most gardeners plant crepe myrtle for the gorgeous flowers, so it’s frustrating when your tree doesn’t bloom. With attention, you can probably figure out the problem. If you pruned after the tree started bud production, you might have removed all the flower buds. But sometimes a tree can’t bloom because tightly crowded branches prevent light and air from reaching the tree center. Too little sun can also result in a flowerless tree. If none of these describe your situation, check the soil. Too few nutrients or too much fertilizer can also explain why your crepe myrtle isn’t full of flowers.

3) Are the roots of a crepe myrtle invasive?

Crepe myrtle roots travel far and wide, spreading three times the width of the canopy. This might make you wonder whether they will dig into plumbing lines or sidewalks like some tree roots do. While it is never a good idea to plant trees close to walkways, septic systems or foundations, crepe myrtle roots shouldn’t cause you worries. They are long, but shallow and weak. They won’t strangle nearby plants or cause issues with pipes or driveways. On the other hand, don’t plant flowers or grass under a crepe myrtle since the tree’s roots can’t compete well for nutrients.

4) What is blight on crepe myrtle?

It’s an awful moment when you look at your crepe myrtle leaves in early summer and notice that they are turning brown. If the spots are tiny black spore-bearing bodies, your tree may be suffering from tip blight. Blight can be caused by overly moist foliage, so immediately stop overhead watering and prune the plant to let the air pass through. You should apply a copper or lime sulfur fungicide as soon as you notice the browning leaves. Repeat the applications every 10 days throughout the wet season. It also helps to replace old mulch to prevent a new outbreak.

5) Why are there no leaves on my crepe myrtle?

While crepe myrtle trees are known for frothy blossoms, the trees also need to have leaves for photosynthesis. If your crepe myrtle has few or no leaves, something isn’t right. Check the tree for lines of ants. They suggest that your trees have a significant aphid problem. But your tree’s problem could also be a late freeze that killed the young buds or stress from inadequate irrigation or pollution. If only a few branches aren’t developing leaves, your crepe myrtle may have a disease called verticillium wilt. Prune the branches back to healthy wood, then dispose of the diseased portions.

6) Can I propagate a crepe myrtle with cuttings?

Once you’ve experienced the joys of a crepe myrtle in your backyard, it’s natural to want more. Propagating your own trees is inexpensive and fun. A popular method of propagating crepe myrtle is to sprout a cutting. Take tip cuttings in spring and plant them in sandy soil until they root. Covering them with a plastic bag helps keep them moist. Root cuttings also work to create new plants. Additionally, you can grow new crepe myrtles from the seeds of the plant. If you don’t deadhead, spent blossoms produce berries that are followed by seed pods. Collect them for planting in spring.

7) Why is the bark is falling off my crepe myrtle?

You may live with a healthy crepe myrtle in the garden for a few years, then wake up one day to find that the tree’s bark is falling off. Don’t panic. This is likely a perfectly normal phenomenon. One of the beautiful features of a mature crepe myrtle is peeling bark that reveals the coloration in the wood. But this peeling doesn’t happen until the crepe myrtle is fully mature. So just sit back and enjoy the bark’s display that adds winter interest to your tree. Of course, it’s always a good thing. In some instance, insects may be to blame, so check for aphids or other pests.

8) What are these pests on my crepe myrtle?

Crepe myrtle trees are not without their share of problems. If your crepe myrtle’s leaf edges look tattered or you notice similar damage, your tree may have pests. One of the common pests that plague these large shrubs is spider mites. Look carefully at the crepe myrtle foliage for tannish spots on the leaves, pinpoints of red or white moving about the leaves and/or tell-tale cottony webs on the underside of leaves. Get them off your plant with strong jets of hose water or by bringing in hungry ladybugs. Crepe myrtles also attract eastern tent caterpillars, but these are more of an eyesore than a threat to your plants.

9) Why are there yellowing leaves on my crepe myrtle?

Yellowing leaves indicate that all isn’t well with your crepe myrtles. You can bet that the culprit is aphids if you see a sappy substance on the leaves or falling on the objects beneath the tree canopy. Aphids produce a sweet syrupy substance called honeydew when they infest a plant’s foliage. Honeydew can attract other pests, like black sooty mold. Ants also love honeydew and often arrive in lines when the aphid population gets out of control. Aphids cause the leaves to become distorted and often yellowing occurs. Get rid of aphids naturally by bringing in insect predators like lacewings and ladybugs. Neem oil is also effective.

10) What are these shoots around the base of my crepe myrtle?

If you see shoots growing around the base of your crepe myrtles, these are root suckers. The tree grows these suckers from its roots if it is stressed. Grafted trees and street trees always suffer from a little stress, so you are likely to spot root suckers regularly. Reduce the amount of root suckers by reducing the crepe myrtle’s stress. Be sure it gets sufficient water and nutrients, limit pruning and check for pests. It’s not hard to remove the suckers. Use pruning shears and clip them off as close to the tree as you can, leaving the collar intact.

We all have questions now and then, whether long-time gardeners or those just starting out. So if you have a gardening question, get a gardening answer. We’re always here to help.

Should I Worry if My Crepe Myrtles’ Leaves are Changing Color Before Fall?

At Bayou Tree Service, we are often contacted by concerned tree owners when they notice something different or “off” about their trees. That’s where regular tree maintenance comes in!

One of the most common trees that we get questions about this time of year are actually Crepe Myrtles!

Crepe Myrtles are among the most popular trees decorating homes, commercial, municipal and educational landscapes in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and throughout the southeastern United States. With their signature flowers that bloom in whites, pinks and reds, they are a beautiful sight to behold in southern Louisiana’s hot summer months.

But, have you ever noticed that your Crepe Myrtles’ leaves have black spots, or are changing colors or shedding before the autumn hits?

Image Credit: YouTube

If this is happening to your crepe myrtle trees, are they still healthy?

What Are Those Black Spots?

If you’re noticing black spots on the leaves of your Crepe Myrtles, your trees are experiencing a disease called Cercospora.

Initially displaying dark spots, these leaves eventually turn yellow, orange or red and fall off your trees, well before the hot Louisiana temperatures have dropped and fall has begun. While Cercospora is a known disease of Crepe Myrtle trees, you need not worry.

What Can You Do?

First, if you’ve noticed these telltale signs of Cercospora, the disease has already taken ahold of your tree. There is no reversing it, not even by spraying your trees.

In fact, if a Crepe Myrtle tree owner truly wanted to control Cercospora, he or she would need to spray the tree every 7 to 10 days with a fungicide, from early summer into the fall. That’s simply too much tree maintenance for most Crepe Myrtle owners, especially considering how many of these beauties can be found across our local landscape.

Second, even though Cercospora may cause some unsightly discoloration of your Crepe Myrtle tree leaves, it is not a life-threatening disease.

Trees that are affected with Cercospora can be expected to reach their normal lifespan of more than 50 years!

Third, heavy summer rain showers are known to cause more and more cases of Cercospora in Crepe Myrtle trees. And we all know just how much rain we get in the summer in Louisiana!

You Can Relax ?

The simple fact is, there’s really nothing feasible or worthwhile that you can do to prevent Cercospora from infecting your tree, but since it isn’t life threatening, it truly isn’t something to worry about.

And think about it. With so many Crepe Myrtles planted across the southeastern United States, they are a reliable, long-living tree, despite their tendency to become infected with Cercospora.

If you have a Crepe Myrtle that is displaying another issue, or other types of trees that you think may be diseased, we are happy to inspect them. Call Bayou Tree Service today at (504) 608-0712 in New Orleans, or in Baton Rouge (225) 414-4076.

Crepe Myrtle Lifespan: How Long Do Crepe Myrtle Trees Live

Crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia) is affectionately called the lilac of the south by Southern gardeners. This attractive small tree or shrub is valued for its long blooming season and its low maintenance growing requirements. Crepe myrtle has a moderate to long life span. For more information about the lifespan of crepe myrtles, read on.

Crepe Myrtle Information

Crepe myrtle is a versatile plant with many ornamental features. The perennial tree flowers all summer long, producing showy flowers in white, pink, red or lavender.

Its exfoliating bark is also lovely, peeling back to expose the inner trunk. It is especially ornamental in winter when the leaves have fallen.

Crepe myrtle leaves change color in autumn. White-blossomed trees often have leaves that turn yellow in fall, while those with pink/red/lavender blossoms have leaves that turn yellow, orange and red.

These easy-care ornamentals are drought tolerant after they are about two years old. They can grow in either alkaline or acid soil.

How Long Do Crepe Myrtle Trees Live?

If you want to know “How long do crepe myrtle trees live,” the answer depends on the location of planting and the care you give this plant.

Crepe myrtle can be a low maintenance plant, but that doesn’t mean it requires no maintenance at all. You have to be sure that you select a cultivar that suits your region, hardiness zone and landscape. You can pick one of the dwarf (3 to 6 feet) and semi dwarf (7 to 15 feet) cultivars if you don’t have a large garden.

In order to give your tree the best chance at a long life, select a planting location that offers well-drained soil with full direct sun. If you plant in partial shade or full shade, you’ll get less flowers and the crepe myrtle lifespan may also be limited because of increased disease susceptibility.

Lifespan of Crepe Myrtle

Crepe myrtles live quite a few years if you take care of them. A crepe myrtle lifespan can exceed 50 years. So that’s the answer to the question “how long do crepe myrtle trees live?” They can live a good, long time with suitable care.

Are My Crape Myrtles Trees Dead?

Dead Crape Myrtle Tree?

Crape myrtle trees are normally one the last plants in the spring to start leafing out and you may ask yourself… Do I have a dead crape myrtle tree?

Crape myrtles go dormant during every winter. During the dormant stage crapes will lose all their leaves and look like a dead tree. Don’t worry, just like a bear sleeps for the winter, your crape myrtles may still still be sleeping . Crapes won’t normally start leafing out until temperature reach the 80’s for a few weeks in a row. Some will start leafing out early if you have a some late warm winter weather. Some crapes will be really stubborn and ‘sleep in’ as long as possible. You’ll have to wait for another few weeks of consistent warm weather for them to leaf out again.

Another way to determine if a crape is dead or not is performing the ‘Scratch Test.

Using Scratch Test to determine a Dead Crape Myrtle

Are my Crape Myrtle Tree Dead or Alive?

The picture above was taken around mid April in Texas. Compare the dead looking trees on the left to the scratched bark on the right..

Scratch the lower base of the stem and if it’s green it is still alive. If it’s not, it may still be alive, but 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 water when dry as if it were still alive. Don’t over water though… over watering will drown the roots and kill it. During the dormant stage, crapes don’t really need that much water. Some may not develop new shoots till June. After June I’d probably give up on it.

Crape myrtle trees are super tough and very hard to kill. I would take weeks of more likely months of neglect to kill a crape myrtle.

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Can I Grow Crape Myrtle on Long Island?

There was a time, not too long ago, when we could not grow crape myrtle on Long Island. They were not hardy enough to live through our cold winter months and instead thrived only in warmer climates like North Carolina. Luckily many of those southern varieties have been cross-bred with hardier types, making crape myrtles more accessible to areas of the Northeast. Long Islanders can now enjoy growing a variety of these hardy crape myrtle hybrids.

A large shipment of crape myrtle arrived at the nursery today. The leaves are brilliantly colored in shades of green and burgundy and many of the flower buds are just beginning to pop. Known for blooming for up to 100 days, crape myrtles are a great choice for sunny summer gardens.

Why Should I Grow a Crape Myrtle?
Crape myrtles are of interest for many reasons.
• They are highly ornamental and are available in a variety of colors including white, pink, purple and dark red.
• They bloom in mid-late summer and the flowers can last as long as 100 days.
• There is a crape myrtle for every garden! They come in a range of sizes.
• The interesting bark color and patterns of crape myrtle is a real landscape asset.

How Do I Care For a Crape Myrtle?• Wait to prune until the buds break in spring.
• If the plant has been injured by cold, simply prune out the dead wood in the Spring. *Please note: These plants are very late to leaf out in spring (late April/early May), so be patient.
• Because crape myrtles bloom on the current season’s growth, they can recover from winter injury and bloom by late summer.
• Fertilize when new growth begins to appear in late spring; use a well-balanced shrub fertilizer such as Espoma Plant-tone.

What Other Plants Look Nice with Crape Myrtle?
That really depends on the size and shape of the crape myrtle you choose. Look for plants with color and texture such as hosta, heuchera, azaleas, grasses, roses or hydrangea. Ultimately you should choose plants that you find interesting and that fit your sunlight and size requirements.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Tuscarora: Upright large shrub or small tree with showy dark pink flowers all summer. Peeling and colorful bark really adds to its appeal. Mature size: 20-25 ft. tall.

Dynamite: Large multi-stemmed plant with beautiful crimson buds that open and turn cherry red in the summer. New leaves emerge crimson then turn dark green. Vigorous grower to 15 ft. tall.

Muskogee: Panicles of light lavender-pink flowers appear amid glossy green foliage that turns red in the fall. The cinnamon-colored bark is smooth, peeling to a shiny light gray. Moderate grower to 15 ft. tall.

Coral Magic: A shrub form crape myrtle with lovely salmon-pink flowers. Outstanding reddish new growth turns a brilliant green. Moderate grower 6-10 ft. tall.

Try a crape myrtle in your garden – you won’t be disappointed!

Tuscarorra Crape Myrtle.

Dynamite Crape Myrtle

Muskogee Crape Myrtle

Coral Magic Crape Myrtle

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