- Author: Michelle Krespi
When I moved into my new house, one year ago this February, I had no idea that we had a crape myrtle on the property! When I first moved to Suisun, I discovered that the larger streets are lined with this flowering tree. Having grown up in NYC, crape myrtle was a tree I had never encountered, and I was shocked by its flowering beauty. Having taken Plant Identification at Solano Community College with Sandra Diehl (a 30+ year Master Gardener herself), Lagerstroemia indica was one of the first trees that we learned about! It is part of the plant family Lythraceae.
This deciduous, slow growing, perennial small tree or shrub named after Swedish botanist Magnus von Lagerström and received the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit. It is a native of the Indian Subcontinent as well as Southeast Asia, Korea, Japan, and China. It can grow up to 25' tall and wide. The features that visually define it are its' multi-stemmed branches growing in a dome or arching vase formation, it's
flowers which are assorted colors on different trees and its thin, smooth either grey or light brown bark which peels off, revealing a smooth pinkish inner bark. The flowers grow in 6”-12” showy, panicles and can be found in light pink ranging all the way to bright fuchsia, white, red and even purple. The flowering period can last up to 100 days. The best part about this beauty is that it is easy to manage, has a suitable growth rate, a long life and good drought tolerance. Because of these factors you can find them growing in different gardens and urban landscapes.
Best to plant them in areas that get full sunlight (6-8 hours) to enhance their growth and keep them blooming. As you can see from the picture, I took today of mine it is delivering the last of this year's flowers all the way in mid- December! Be careful not to plant this tree next to tall fences, buildings, and other trees. The reason for this is excessive shade will diminish the blooms but will cause diseases and pests on the leaves and buds such as powdery mildew and sooty mildew.
Crape myrtle can tolerate many types of soil but prefers moist, fertile, and well-draining sandy load or loam. If your soil is anything like mine (rock hard clay) try amending, it with compost and fertilizing it with slow release
organic fertilizer that has both sulfur and iron as these minerals are beneficial for the tree's growth. Once the tree has matured, fertilize it once a year in the spring. The best application is spreading it on the soil and watering it in. Be careful though as too much fertilizer will produce an overgrowth of leaves, less flowering and can enable diseases.
Another fun fact about Crape myrtles is that its root system can be long and scattered but are weak and non-aggressive. They do not produce many lateral roots so they will not damage sidewalks, driveways or foundations.
To sum it up crape myrtles are a long-lived, adaptable tree with a long cultivation history spanning thousands of years. It symbolizes good luck and is a popular nesting shrub for small birds. It gets its name because the leaves look like the leaves of a myrtle plant and the blooms have the texture of crepe paper. It needs full sun, but once given what it needs it brings rich color and beauty to any landscape!
 Hortus Third-A Concise Dictionary of Plants Cultivated in the U.S. and Canada
 The New Sunset Western Garden Book pgs. 396-397