How to Protect Your Crape Myrtle this Winter

Crape myrtles are chiefly known for their colorful, long-lasting flowers and multiple trunks.

Crape Myrtles are very popular with their long blooming time and an assortment of colors. Unfortunately, many Crape Myrtle varieties are at the top of their hardiness zones in our Bucks County location. Severe winters can damage them, so here are some precautions you can take to protect them.

Do Not fertilize After the End of August

Fertilizing in the fall months (September-December) is not recommended because it could promote plant growth, which will not have time to harden off before the first hard frost of the fall season. The first hard frost usually occurs in our area between October 15-31. If the growth is not hardened off, it risks injury or damage over the winter.

Continue to water your Crape Myrtle throughout the fall months

Continue to Water your Crape Myrtle Throughout the Fall Months

It is also essential to be sure your tree is given adequate water throughout the fall, encouraging continued root growth. Even when your plant has lost its leaves and gone into its winter dormancy, its roots will continue to grow into the surrounding soil. Healthy root growth over the fall and winter months will position your new plant to be better prepared to handle the upcoming heat next summer.

Add Extra Mulch over the Root Zone

Add Extra Mulch over the Root Zone

Increase the amount of mulch over the root zone of your crape myrtle up to 6 inches to insulate roots from the cold. One bag of premium triple shredded bark mulch per tree should be sufficient and is available throughout the season at Gasper Home & Garden Showplace in Richboro, PA. Removing all extra mulch in early Spring (March-April) is very important. Too much mulch, especially around the trunk and root flares of the tree, can also be detrimental.

Wrap and Insulate Young Trees

Wrapping young (1 year or less) and small Crape Myrtle trees is advisable. Wrap burlap around the branches and add an insulating filler such as leaves or straw to provide additional protection. Shrub jackets are reusable insulating covers that cover the entire plant and can be used for small or dwarf plants. Remove all wrapping and insulation in early spring (March-April). 

How do I know if my Crape Myrtle Survived?

We often get this question in late spring and early summer, as Crape Myrtles are one of the last trees in our area to leaf out. It is not unusual for Crape Myrtles in Pennsylvania to have no leaves after Mother’s Day when most other flowering trees have bloomed and leafed out.

How do I know if my Crape Myrtle Survived?

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 under the bark, there is nothing to worry about ― your tree is alive and perfectly normal. If the branches are brown under the bark, brittle, and easily snap, then that branch is dead. But don’t panic yet; sometimes, in an icy winter, the plant will lose some limbs or even die back entirely to the ground and grow back from the roots as the weather gets warmer.

In cold northeast winters, the top growth dies back even though the roots are alive. New shoots eventually emerge from the roots. Even when everything seems fine, crape myrtles are among the last plants to leaf out, usually in May.

If you do not see any new growth by the end of June, your Crape Myrtle most likely did not survive. Try reevaluating the location for suitability before replanting.

The blossoms are scattering off the crape myrtles every time the wind blows, falling like hot pink confetti.

Gin Phillips, author and winner of the Barnes & Noble Discover Award.