How to Protect your Crape Myrtles during the Winter

With their long blooming time and assortment of colors, crepe myrtles are very popular. Unfortunately, many Crape Myrtle varieties are at the top of their hardiness zones here in our Bucks County location and can be damaged by severe winters, so some precautions should be taken.

First, the use of probiotic fertilizer like Dr. Earth, in fall will naturally build up a plant’s winter hardiness and strengthen the roots. It is also important to be sure your tree is given adequate water throughout the fall as this will encourage root growth.

Second, a minimum of 3” layer of mulch should be applied over the root zone to insulate the roots from the cold. A 6” layer is more beneficial.

Thirdly, it might be advisable to “wrap” small crepe myrtles or trees that have been planted 1 year or less. Burlap can be wrapped around the branches and then an insulating filler such as leaves or straw can be added to provide additional protection. Bush jackets can be used for dwarf plants. These are insulating covers that cover the plant and can be reused for multiple years.

Each spring, all extra mulch and wraps should be removed.

Is My Crape Myrtle Dead?

This is a question we get very often 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 our area to have no leaves after 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 snapped, then that branch is indeed dead.  But don’t panic yet, sometimes if it was an extremely cold winter, the plant will lose some branches or even die back completely to the ground and then grow back from the roots as the weather gets warmer.  In this case, if you do not see any new growth by the end of June, your Crape Myrtle is indeed dead.