Crape (sometimes spelled crepe) Myrtles are both a must-have and go-to plant in summer gardens in the South. Stately plant shapes, a wide range of beautiful flower clusters, and woody canes that sport barks from dark and scaley to blonde and smooth add elegance and tradition to any landscape.
As beautiful as they are in the growing season, many crape myrtles look anything but beautiful in the winter. This is because of “crape murder,” the aggressive pruning of main canes in the center of the plant. Whether it’s laziness or ignorance that leads to “crape murder,” the root cause is often the same: improper plant selection. Knowing a little more about selecting the proper plant for a given landscape will keep you on the right side of “garden law.”
There are four main considerations in crape myrtle selection:
- Plant architecture
- Flower color
- Foliage color
- Bark color/texture
Many people don’t realize that crape myrtles of various plant architectures are available for purchase. Mature plant sizes range from 2-3 foot shrubs to full size trees that may grow over 30 feet in height and spread nearly as wide. For smaller “nook” areas choose dwarf varieties that take the shape of a rounded shrub. To screen your landscape from roads, or to provide a stately backdrop for your garden, choose full size varieties. Be sure and envision what the plant will look like in several years when it is full size. Many “crape murdered” plants stand alongside roads or at the ends of driveways where owners are trying to get their unobstructed view back.
Crape myrtle flowers are really panicles of flowers. These clusters are made up of hundreds of tiny flowers and may be 8-10 inches long. Available flower colors range from white to dark purple with all manner of pinks and reds in between. Crape myrtle aficionados are always on the search for rare and elusive colors.
Crape myrtle leaves are green in the summer and early fall, turning to blazing yellows and oranges later in the year. Newer varieties offer foliage of dark green leaves that are almost black, while older varieties feature lighter leaves with minty colors.
Crape myrtle bark is an often overlooked feature of the plant (most often on display with incorrectly pruned plants) that can really bonus a landscape. Variety in texture is difficult to find in many gardens, and the deep, dark, scaley to smooth blond finish on crape myrtle canes can be used to dramatically increase depth and finish in the landscape.
Crape myrtles are beautiful, traditional, functional plants that bring beauty to any landscape when a little thought and planning are used in their selection.