Fall is in full force, with winter following close behind, but that doesn’t mean you should set aside your projects until spring. If anything, start planning for the future and decide over the next few months on the plant varieties that will complement your yard space and aesthetic.
One tried-and-true genus that we often recommend is the crape myrtle.
The crape myrtle is a flowering ornamental plant that ranges from small ground coverings to bushes that reach a mere 2 to 3 feet high, all the way up to 25-foot pedestal trees. This diverse presentation is a top reason it’s a go-to must-have that so many homeowners gravitate toward when planning out their front- and backyard landscaping.
It’s also a favorite due to the vibrant hues it produces in the spring and summer. You can find anything from lavender to deep-red and watermelon-red, light and hot pinks, and shades of white. Some even have leaves that turn purple or red when the seasons change in fall.
Since it’s easy to find the perfect size and color tree to plant in your yard, crape myrtle is an obvious choice. But you still need to know how to care for a crape myrtle tree before making your decision.
First, the area where you place your tree should get at least six hours of direct sunlight each day, ideally in the morning hours. Yes, these varieties love the sun, but the continuous rays are also its main defense against powdery mildew.
As the name suggests, powdery mildew looks like a white powder on tree leaves, but it’s actually a collection of millions of microscopic fungal spores. While this won’t affect the tree much, it’s unsightly. Chemical treatment is available if it arises on your crape myrtle, but you’re less likely to experience this issue by placing it in an appropriately sunny location near your home and selecting newer varieties that are more resistant.
Pruning is a hot-button word when it comes to crape myrtles. Some landscapers prune heavily in the winter, knowing that large growth will occur before flowering. Others prune to achieve an ideal shape. While you can certainly take a heavy-handed approach, the main thing to know is that it’s not necessary. Your tree will do just fine if you simply remove the dead parts come winter.
Picking the right size and shape tree for your property will also dramatically limit the amount of pruning that’s necessary.
However, the one thing to consider is when you—or professionals—are trimming from the top, this often creates suckers at the bottom. And these suckers need to be removed before the flowering season, as they’ll greatly hinder tree growth. That’s because they draw the tree’s energy toward themselves at the base of the trunk and away from the top of the tree where the leaves and flowers emerge.
If you forget, your tree will likely remain healthy, but it won’t flower much that year.
In the Willamette Valley, we receive enough rain each spring that you shouldn’t have to spend much time worrying about watering your crape myrtles. These trees are indeed very drought-tolerant. In fact, some years, the large amount of rain could cause more harm.
However, if it has been a dry winter and spring, then you may find that fewer flowers bloom. You don’t need to be too concerned if they just appear late. It’s quite common for the crape myrtle to bloom a week or two later than most ornamental trees, but the color may last into late spring.
If you’re going to fertilize, add it to your bushes or trees once they’ve started to flower. Then make sure to remove the fertilizer at the end of summer—basically, leaving it on from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The right fertilizer can extend the life of the colorful hues, but then you want your tree to naturally go dormant by winter.
Think of fertilizer like a blanket. If you’re nice and warm and cozy, you won’t realize how cold it is outside. But you want your crape myrtle to pick up these natural cues and allow itself to shed its leaves until next year.
When learning how to care for a crape myrtle tree, what you’ll quickly notice is that it’s a favorite snack for local bugs of all sorts. Lots of insects love to chew them, especially Japanese beetles. If you have Japanese beetles in your neighborhood, you’ll invariably notice bite marks on leaves. But don’t worry about this too much.
What you do need to keep an eye out for are aphids. Aphids are an insect that will secrete a sugary substance that then drips onto the leaves and makes it develop a sooty mold appearance. This is another unsightly issue that you want to prevent. So if you see any aphids around your plants, spray them down with water to remove them or connect with your local arborist to determine the best chemical compound to combat the problem.
At Mr. Tree, we take on all sorts of projects. From diagnosing and treating tree diseases to pruning and shaping, and even tree removal. We’re tasked with fielding questions from the neighborhood on all your crape myrtle questions and beyond. We can also help you determine if this could be the right tree for your yard or connect you with a local gardening center to get you on your way during your spring beautification project.
If you’re still unsure about how to care for a crape myrtle tree, reach out to our team of arborists today.