The Stars of Summer: The Crape Myrtle

Crape myrtle trees and bushes provide year-round interest with their summer flowers, colorful fall foliage, and attractive exfoliating bark

While springtime is the time of year when most trees put on their floral display, there are some trees that bloom in the summer months. The most popular is the crape myrtle which usually blooms in our area in July and August. It is also OK to spell it, Crepe Myrtle, depending on what part of the country you are from. Either way you spell it, it is pronounced the same (like Crepe Paper).

Tree form crape myrtles are usually multi-stemmed and grow to be small trees, typically 15 to 20 feet tall in our area. In addition to a long season of flowers during the summer months, crape myrtles have good fall foliage color and some varieties like ‘Natchez’ have very colorful exfoliating bark that can look almost sculptural in the winter.

Tree form varieties that we recommend are:
• Muskogee (Light Lavender Flowers)
• Natchez (White Flowers)
• Rhapsody in Pink (Light Pink Flowers)
• Tuscarora (Coral-Pink Flowers)

Shrub form varieties that we recommend are:
• Enduring Summer Red (Scarlet flowers; 4 to 5 feet tall and wide)
• Pink Velour (Wine-Red Leaves, Pink Flowers; 6 to 12 feet tall and wide)
• Pocomoke (Dark Pink Flowers; Dwarf Size 3 to 5 feet tall and wide)

Crape Myrtles like full sun and are adaptable to most soils. Usually associated with more southern states, there are a few crape myrtle varieties that are winter hardy in our Bucks County, PA location. We do recommend protecting Crape Myrtles for the winter months, especially their first couple of years in the ground. Read more on winter protection HERE.

Make sure that you plan for the mature size of your crape myrtle rather than relying on heavy pruning to keep it at a size smaller than it wants to be. Resist ‘Crape Murder’ which is hacking your crape myrtle down to size ruining its natural graceful shape. Since crape myrtles bloom on new wood, we recommend light pruning in the early spring before they break dormancy. Fall pruning is especially not recommended for Crape Myrtles as it makes them more prone to winter injury.

One thing to know about Crape Myrtles is that they are one of the last trees in our area to get leaves in the spring. It is not unusual for Crape Myrtles in Pennsylvania to have no leaves by Mother’s Day when most other flowering trees in our area have already bloomed and leafed out. If you are worried that your Crape Myrtle did not survive the winter, try scratching the bark of a few branches. If the branch is green just under the bark, there is nothing to worry about ― your tree is alive and is perfectly normal. If the branches are brown under the bark, brittle, and easily snap, then that branch is indeed dead. But don’t panic yet, sometimes if it was a particularly cold winter, the plant will lose some limbs or even die back entirely to the ground and then grow back from the roots as the weather gets warmer.