Have you whacked your Crape Myrtle down yet? Well, if you have, you have committed a horticultural crime. Yes dear folks, I am here to tell you that you should not copycat what some misinformed homeowners and even landscape companies have done already. Would you whack down your Oak, Maple or Magnolia tree? I didn’t think so. Starting now and going into April is actually a great time to limb them UP.
Firstly, Crape Myrtles bloom on new wood, so you are safe to trim them now without cutting off buds, and secondly, right now, you can actually see their form. Trust me when I say that you should keep the Crapes in a tree form (unless it is a dwarf shrub type). Why? Because they are trees. I do understand, however, that sometimes people plant the Crape Myrtle somewhere that they shouldn’t -- like 3 feet from the foundation or maybe under power lines. In this case, pruning is a must or you might even need to replace it altogether. It depends on the damage it might cause as it reaches its full size. Watch out though, if you just cut it down, it usually results in a large shrub racing to get as big as its supposed to grow except you will end up with a ton of shoots/branches coming out of the stump you left in the ground. Not a great fix believe me.
The best time to plant a Crape Myrtle is when the plant is dormant (from fall through late spring). If you plant at any other time (to make sure they are all the same color) be prepared to keep them watered until they get established. Crapes prefer full sun, well drained average garden dirt and they love our extended summer heat here in Georgia. They grow best in zones 7, 8 and 9. If you live in a zone where it’s colder, well, you can try to grow the Crape Myrtles but the extended freezing time can sometimes kill the tree down, but doesn’t kill the roots- and you might end up with a shrub -- if it lives at all.
This year, watch for Powdery Mildew when the humidity is high. To kill this fungus, use Daconil or Immunox and follow directions. Another issue can be the Black Sooty Mold. This is a mold that grows on the honeydew from aphids. Get rid of the aphids and the mold will have nothing to grow on. To kill the aphids, you can purchase an Insecticidal Soap and spray it on, or purchase a systemic (that is absorbed into the leaves and stays in the system of the tree). A good one to use is Ortho Max Tree & Shrub Insect Control. Follow the directions on the label.
Another issue to watch for is the Ambrosia Beetle. If you see something sticking out of the bark here and there like little toothpicks, you have a serious problem, which usually results in the fast death of the tree(s) if not caught quickly. I spoke with Doug Batchelder, Manager at Outdoor Specialty -- a great nursery in Watkinsville -- about the Ambrosia Beetle and this is what he had to say: “Pruning most deciduous trees including Crape Myrtle, even in late winter when they are dormant can leave them susceptible to insects and disease. In the case of the Crape Myrtle, Ambrosia Beetles can smell the chemicals that the Crapes release when they are pruned and will take advantage of the damage to the tree's armor. Ambrosia beetles can quickly kill large trees. I would recommend waiting to prune your crape myrtle when the sap is really moving through the tree sometime in April or May when it can recover much more quickly from being pruned." Hey, Thanks Doug! If you haven’t pruned your Crapes, don’t worry. You have some time. Just don’t commit the terrible horticultural crime of “Crape Murder” as it is called here in the South.
You can fertilize your Crapes this spring, but they don’t need a whole lot. Oh and one more thing, after your Crapes bloom, you can cut those seed head balls off and your Crape just might bloom again! The best way to enjoy your Crape Myrtles is to pick the one that fits the space where you will be planting it. “Dwarfs” are 3 to 5 feet tall. “Small” Crapes can be 10 to 15 feet tall. “Medium” Crapes can be 10 to 25 feet tall, and “tall” Crapes are just huge -- over 25 feet tall -- especially if they love where they live. Razzle Dazzle (in different colors) and Pocomoke (a dark rosey pink) are some cute little dwarf ones (which can still get 4 feet tall). If you want white Crapes, some gorgeous ones are Acoma (a small one, can be up to 10 feet tall or more) and Natchez (tall, with beautiful foliage, is tall, to 25 feet and more). Hopi is a small pink one, and Miami is a tall pink one. And for all the UGA fans, Victor is a dwarf red, Tonto is a small red, Dynamite is an awesome medium- sized tree, and it is UGA red! Last but not least, WaterMelon Red is a tall red one. Purples: Centennial and the Petite Orchid are dwarfs, and Catawba is a medium sized tree.
Also be selective and find out which ones are susceptible to the problems that you don’t want to deal with. A lot of the Indian named selections are pretty resistant to problems. One more thing, some people spell it Crepe Myrtle, like it has always been spelled, and some people spell Crape. The line seems blurry now and maybe the spelling doesn’t really matter, but what does matter is the Way you prune these spectacular trees. Have fun pruning but remember, less is more. But if you just still feel the need to whack something, go after the Knock Out Roses if you haven‘t already. They won’t mind -- and you will have blooms again in 8 weeks.
Spring is right around the corner! So here is a short video of How to Prune those Crape Myrtles correctly. Enjoy!