The crape myrtle tree, or Lagerstroemia indica, is a native of the Indian subcontinent, as well as Southeast Asia, parts of Oceania, and northern Australia. It’s a beautiful tree that sends out stunning blossoms for up to three months of the year. The pink, purple, red or white blooms come in the summer months, all clumped together to make an eye-catching display.
There are around 50 varieties of crape myrtle, which range in size from 18 inches tall to more than 30 feet in height.
The growing location
Crape myrtles grow best in full sunlight and moist soil. The trees thrive in the USDA zones 7-9 although there are new varieties of crape myrtle tree from thetreecenter.com that do well in areas 6 and 10, which have harsher winters. They only need a small amount of fertilizer because too much encourages foliage rather than flowers.
The name of the crape myrtle comes from the distinctive look of the flowers. They seem to resemble crinkled crepe material or paper. Although they look like crepe, the accepted spelling outside of the southern states and overseas is actually “crape”.
The stunning flower clusters are around 12 inches long and up to five inches wide. All the flowers bear six petals and each flower is just 1.5 inches across. A strong point of the crape myrtle is that once dead flowers and seedpods are removed, more flowers will develop, lengthening the blooming season.
The leaves of the crape myrtle grow opposite one another all along the stems. The leaves are four inches long and two inches across. They appear first as yellow or bronze in color – this depends upon the variety – and they slowly change to shades of green. When fall comes, these leaves transform into gorgeous shades of yellow, orange and red before falling.
After the tree has flowered, it produces tan brown or almost black fruit. Each pod contains six capsules and these capsules stay on the tree over the winter months. Eventually the pod splits open and a disc-shaped seed is released, which easily germinates. Most people choose to snip off the seedpods to encourage more flowers to grow.
Suckers form around the base of the tree, growing out from its root system. If a treelike look is desired, rather than the appearance of a multi-stemmed bush or shrub, the suckers should be removed as soon as they appear. If any seeds drop from the pods, they germinate readily so they can be dug up and moved to a new location.
Pests and diseases
Aphids are particularly fond of the crape myrtle’s sap and they can form huge colonies all over the stems and leaves. A further problem is caused by the aphids’ honeydew secretions, which attracts black sooty mold. Hosing the tree down with water – with or without pesticides in – is a good way to keep down the numbers of aphids and wash away any honeydew that’s accumulated.