Crepe Myrtles: Flowering Xeriscape Trees for the TX Landscape
Crepe Myrtles are one of the easiest flowering trees you can use in Central Texas for zones 7-9. They come in an array of colors and sizes and are low maintenance, low water use plants. You can find them as small as 2′, or as tall as 30′ and in just about every color but yellow or blue.
Crepe Myrtles are one of my absolute favorites because they have a spectacular bloom that lasts from Spring to Fall and the Fall foliage on most Crepe Myrtles is spectacular. Having grown up in the North, I have a great appreciation for this tree as it reminds me of the Lilac. The silvery smooth bark which is sleek and sexy (if you can say such a thing about a tree) is a lovely feature of this tree and as it grows the tree sheds its bark exposing brown patches beneath which is also an interesting element.
As for planting, this tree can withstand just about any soil and it is one tree that really can be planted from Winter until the heat of Summer. You can plant well into May with great success. Always be sure to water regularly when planting your trees and hand water deeply for the first two years. Usually you will water every day for the first two weeks, then weekly or every other week for the Summer to follow as is necessary until established. Most Crepes are very quick growers and for the most part are disease and bug resistant. Some varieties are susceptible to sooty and powdery mildew , so be sure to check the label for mildew resistant varieties.
When trimming your Crepe Myrtle, you really only need to trim to shape it and clear out the middle and crossing branches. You NEVER need to crop the tops off of your Crepes as not only does it make them terribly unattractive but you change the structural integrity of the tree making it difficult to hold the weighty branches and seed pods. This practice began with misinformed home owners following the example of poorly trained landscapers who believed this was a thing…In fact the reality was that people planted the wrong size trees for the space because they liked the color “pink” then punished the tree because it was too tall.
This practice makes the once statuesque tree limbs become gnarled and thin, then the new limbs are very weak and can have a difficult time holding up the heavy flowers and seed pods. I usually only cut off the spent seed pods to encourage a second or third bloom season, and I never cut any top branch that is larger than a pencil width.
Trimming the “suckers” that will sprout from the bottom of the tree is also a good practice. This keeps the tree growing at the top where you are trying to achieve height and flowers instead of encouraging growth at the base of the tree. Clearing the center of branches also helps circulate air through the tree to keep fungus away and encouraging growth by allowing sunlight to reach the inner branches. If you would like your Crepes to serve as a large shrub, then little if any trimming is really necessary. Otherwise, only cut off the dead branches and twigs.
When initially planting your tree you want to be sure to plant your root ball slightly above ground. They do not like wet feet and planting too low can cause issues.
You can use a root stimulator and organic fertilizer to get your tree going the first year or so, but after that it really isn’t necessary. I rarely fertilize mine once established and I have just as long a growth season as anyone else. As always, be sure to leave enough room for the trees mature height and width.
Crepes make a great privacy fence, a floral backdrop to your property, a shade tree for summer or a specimen tree. I love the way the flowers fall and leave the ground covered in blossoms. Crepe Myrtles are an adapted plant native to China, they are an excellent choice for Austin Texas and live to be 100 so be sure you plant it where you want it, plant the appropriate size for the space, then enjoy….
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Click here for a list of Crepe Myrtle varities