Tips To Grow Crepe Myrtles In Containers
By: Heather Rhoades
The crepe myrtle tree is considered to be the pride of the South and with their gorgeous blooms and lovely shade, a Southern summer without seeing a crepe myrtle tree in bloom is like having a Southerner without a Southern drawl. It just doesn’t happen and it wouldn’t be the South without it.
Any gardener who has seen the beauty of crepe myrtles has probably wondered if they can grow one themselves. Unfortunately, only people who live in USDA zone 6 or higher can grow crepe myrtles in the ground. But, for those Northern climated people, it is possible to grow crepe myrtles in containers.
What to Grow Crepe Myrtles In?
The first thing to keep in mind when you are thinking of planting crepe myrtles in containers is that a full grown tree will need a rather large container.
Even dwarf varieties, such as ‘New Orleans’ or ‘Pocomoke’, will get to be 2 to 3 feet (0.5 to 1 m.) tall at their mature height, so you want to take this into account. Non-dwarf varieties of a crepe myrtle tree can grow to be 10 feet (3 m.) tall or taller.
Requirements for Crepe Myrtle Plants Grown in Containers
When grown in cooler climates, a crepe myrtle tree benefits from full sun and moderate watering. Once established, crepe myrtle plants are drought tolerant, but consistent watering will promote faster growing and better blooms. Your crepe myrtle tree will also need regular fertilizing in order to achieve healthy growth.
Container Crepe Myrtle Care in the Winter
When the weather starts to get cold, you will need to bring your container grown crepe myrtle plants indoors. Store them in a cool, dark place and water them once every three to four weeks. Do not fertilize them.
Your crepe myrtle tree will look as though it has died, but in fact it has gone into dormancy, which is perfectly normal and necessary to the growth of the plant. Once the weather is warm again, take your crepe myrtle tree back outside and resume regular watering and fertilizing.
Can I Leave Container Grown Crepe Myrtle Tree Outside in Winter?
If you are planting crepe myrtles in containers, it likely means that your climate is probably too cold in the winter for crepe myrtle plants to survive. What a container allows you to do is bring a crepe myrtle tree in during the winter.
It is important to remember that while planting crepe myrtles in containers allows them to survive the winter indoors, it does not mean that they are better able to survive the cold. As a matter of fact, being in a container outdoors raised their vulnerability to the cold. The container is not as well insulated as the ground. Just a few nights of freezing weather can kill a container grown crepe myrtle.
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Read more about Crepe Myrtle
Guide to Crepe Myrtle Tree Care
What does the term “crepe myrtle” bring to your mind?
For me, I think of my mom’s house. She lives in the southern United States and these bushes are a staple in this area. The reason this plant variety is common in warmer climates is because they’re beautiful and difficult to kill.
If you’re searching for a hands-off tree, crepe myrtle could be what you need. Here’s how you can add them to your yard or garden:
Growing Conditions for Crepe Myrtle
If you’ve seen one crepe myrtle, you haven’t seen them all. This plant comes in 50 different varieties which range from shrubs to full-grown trees. So if you’re buying one for a particular part of your yard, make sure that you pick one that is the right size!
Don’t plant a tiny one where you wanted to have a large one, or a giant one where you just have room for a small accent tree.
Some varieties have been tamed and reproduced for mass production. While some crepe myrtle varieties still grow wild in warm and tropical settings.
Since the crepe myrtle originated in warmer climates, it should come as no surprise that it requires full sunlight. It also needs well-draining soil to grow properly.
This plant is a perennial in planting zones six through ten. In planting zone six, it may die back to soil level over colder months, but it should return the following year without issue.
If you live in cooler planting zones, or don’t have the grow space, you’ll be glad to know that crepe myrtle can be planted inground or grow in containers.
This no-fuss, versatile plant has earned its place as a southern staple because of its flexibility and willingness to return year after year to provide beauty to our landscapes.
How to Plant Crepe Myrtle
There are four methods to growing crepe myrtle. Three will be discussed in this section and the fourth in a later portion.
The most common way to grow crepe myrtle is to pick up a plant at your local nursery. Once you get the plant home, pick out a sunny location with well-draining soil.
Dig a hole in this proper location. The hole should be approximately three times larger than the plant’s width but only deep enough for the root ball to sit comfortably.
Place the plant in the hole and add compost at the same time. This should help the soil retain adequate moisture.
Once everything is in place, pack the soil around the base of the crepe myrtle. Water the plant deeply and add mulch around the base to serve as a moisture and weed barrier.
You can use this same planting technique when growing crepe myrtle in a container. Ensure the container is wider than the plant. Place the crepe myrtle in quality soil, cover, and water deeply.
It’s a good idea to mulch around the plant in the container for retaining moisture over longer periods of time.
Our next common method for growing crepe myrtle is to propagate the plant from root cuttings. In early spring, dig up established crepe myrtle plants.
Use a sharp knife or set of shears to cut a portion of the root from the plants. When you’ve removed the part of the root desired, plant the established crepe myrtles back in their places.
Place the root cuttings in a pot with quality soil or sand. The pot should be placed in a warm location where it will receive plenty of sunlight.
Water the roots adequately, over the coming weeks, until they create their own root systems. Leave the roots in the pots for approximately two to three months until they become well established. You can transplant at this time.
Another option is to directly plant the root cuttings into a perennial bed. Plant the roots four inches into the soil and keep a space of six inches between each root cutting.
The roots need adequate sunlight, warmth, and water. Over time, they should develop a root system and grow into established plants. Be sure to water the roots adequately while they mature.
Our last method for growing crepe myrtle, that we’ll discuss in this section, is propagating the plants from a cutting of an established plant.
Look at an established crepe myrtle. Find where new growth of the plant, containing nodes, meets an older branch. Cut where it meets the branch, ensuring the length of the cutting is between six and eight inches long.
You want a minimum of three nodes per cutting. Leave only three leaves on the cutting. Remove the rest.
Dip the cutting into rooting hormone and place it in a pot filled with sand. Provide adequate sunlight, warmth, and water over the next two to three months.
After this time period, the cutting should have developed a root system and be ready for transplant into a larger container or perennial bed.
These are three methods to help you grow crepe myrtle in your yard. It’s a simple process that can be cost-effective as well.
How to Care for Crepe Myrtle
Crepe myrtle is a simple plant to care for. It needs water, fertilizer, deadheading, and pruning. Understanding how to provide these needs properly can be the difference between gorgeous or stressed plants.
To begin, crepe myrtle needs consistent watering. The secret is to make sure the ground isn’t soggy. If this happens, you’re asking for root rot to become an issue for your plants.
This can be deterred by planting in well-draining soil. You should also use the deep watering method. This is where you water fewer days for longer periods of time.
It ensures the plant receives the right amount of moisture during a watering session without becoming soggy. The time between watering sessions allows the plant to absorb the moisture. By mulching around the base of the plant, it should help retain moisture for longer periods.
The next task which should be performed on crepe myrtle is to fertilize without going overboard. Applying a slow-releasing fertilizer to the plant annually should be enough to keep it healthy.
You could even reapply fertilizer around the base of the crepe myrtle each spring as it’s waking up from dormancy. This will help supply a nutrient boost and ensure that any nutrients the plant used over the previous grow season are replenished.
Most gardeners don’t anticipate deadheading a bush or tree when planting it. You don’t have to deadhead crepe myrtles but by doing so, it allows for a second blooming.
Be advised, the second blooming may not be as rich in color as the first blooming. It’s up to you whether you perform this maintenance task or not.
The final step to properly caring for crepe myrtle is pruning. It’s important you only prune crepe myrtle over winter.
This plant only blooms from new growth. If you wait until the plant is producing new growth, you’ll remove that year’s blooms.
Therefore, prune the plant while dormant. When pruning, your goal is to shape the plant. It may not need it every year, but if it begins to look unruly, use a pair of shears to prune it back to your desired shape and size for it.
These are the only needs gardeners must meet to keep crepe myrtle healthy, vibrant, and continuously adding beauty to the landscape.
Garden Pests and Diseases for Crepe Myrtle
As gorgeous and low maintenance as crepe myrtle can be, it does have pests and diseases you must watch out for.
Aphids are the biggest pest gardeners should know about. They’ll not only feed on the sap of your plant, they can also cause disease.
Sooty mold is brought on by aphid excrement. The best way to treat both the aphid infestation and sooty mold is to spray your crepe myrtle plants with insecticide. Repeat as needed.
Crepe myrtle is prone to fungal disease. Some of the biggest concerns are powdery mildew and leaf spot. Powdery mildew looks like powdered sugar has been sprinkled all over your plant.
Leaf spot starts as dark spots on your plant’s foliage. It ends with devouring your plant in black mold. Both of these diseases can be treated with a fungicide.
The last disease you should be aware of is root rot. This forms when your plant isn’t placed in well-draining soil. Beat this disease by picking a choice location for your crepe myrtle.
If you choose a proper planting location, stay mindful of pests, and treat at the first signs of disease you should have a positive gardening experience.
Growing crepe myrtle trees isn’t a complicated process. By picking the easiest grow method for your taste, providing a proper grow space, and supplying a few basic needs, you should be able to grow this plant without issue.
Don’t Murder Your Crepe Myrtle!
One of the biggest misconceptions about crepe myrtle trees is that they need to be pruned back significantly each year. It’s painful to see someone in your neighborhood who has chopped the tree back so much that you only see the trunk of the tree. Although the tree will grow back, this isn’t healthy for it and it looks bad and takes a long time for the tree to recover.
Here are two great guides to how you should and shouldn’t prune your crepe myrtle tree each year, and the appropriate quotes.
“Crapemyrtles are among the toughest, most adaptable, and showiest plants that we can grow in our Texas landscapes. They have very few pests. They bloom all summer long. They require no supplemental irrigation. They have exfoliating bark that reveals spectacular smooth trunks. And they happen to have a branching structure that any floral designer would crave. They pretty much do every thing but mow the lawn for us.
But for some reason, a mysterious reason that I haven’t quite solved, the majority of the “gardeners” (and ALL of the landscape crews) in Texas have made it a horrid ritual of butchering them.”
“Each Saturday morning after football season ends, legions of bored men armed with saws and loppers emerge from their garages to commit “crepe murder.” They needlessly reduce majestic crepe myrtles to ugly stumps–in many cases, ruining them forever.”
More About Crepe Myrtle Trees
I noticed what look like a plastic mesh fabric sack surrounding the bottoms of several crepe myrtle trees. They appeared to be full of something kind of coarse. Any ideas on this?
Crepe myrtles (Lagerstroemia spp) are a great addition to any garden, providing year round interest with attractive bark, spectacular flower displays and autumn coloured leaves. Native mainly to eastern Asia there are approximately 50 species of crepe myrtles.
The most popular in Australia is Lagerstroemia indica as it grows well in just about every climate zone. It produces clusters of ruffled flowers in summer and autumn that provide a long lasting display for months. Flower colours include white, pale pink through to reds and mauve/purple. In Autumn the leaves turn yellow, orange or red depending on the variety and then once they drop the striking trunk takes over the show with its smooth, mottled trunk in colours of brown, pink and grey.
Crepe myrtles grow into small trees 6-8m high with a natural vase-shape but there are some smaller growing varieties (see our suggestions at the bottom).
How to Grow Crepe Myrtles
Crepe myrtles are ridiculously easy to grow. Simply choose a sunny, well drained position and plant your tree. Water in with eco-seaweed and apply some mulch to keep weeds away and help retain moisture. In heavy clay soils add eco-gypsum to break up the clay and improve drainage. Trees perform best in rich fertile soil but will still grow in poorer quality soils.
Crepe myrtles are frost tolerant but in areas with very hard frosts plant in a sheltered position. Young plants may need some protection until they develop hardened wood and some height about them.
They can withstand hot dry summers but will still appreciate some summer watering. Be sure to give extra water to new plants through their first summer to help them establish well. Crepe myrtles will also happily grow in the warm humid conditions of northern Australia.
Regardless of your climate choose a spot which has good air movement around the tree to reduce powdery mildew outbreaks.
Established trees don’t need much more than a yearly feed of organic fertiliser, manure or compost in Spring. To encourage growth in young trees apply these fertilisers in Spring, Summer and Autumn. And for the gold star treatment water in eco-aminogro and eco-seaweed every 2-4 weeks right through the growing season.
Maintenance & Pruning
Crepe myrtles flower on the ends of new growth. Traditionally established trees have been pruned back hard in winter (a term known as pollarding) to encourage more new shoots in Spring which will develop flower heads in Summer. However, this does result in a harsh ‘stump’ and ruins the naturally beautiful shape of the tree. Crepe myrtles will still flower very well when left unpruned (flowers just tend to be higher up). If your intention is to grow your crepe myrtle as a tree then we recommend not pruning it.
For dwarf or smaller growing plants, trim the foliage back after flowering by about 20cm being careful to maintain a good shape.
As the tree matures, it’s a good idea to lift the canopy of the tree by pruning away any small, spindly growth lower down on the main trunks. This accentuates the lovely colours and patterns of the bark.
One downside with crepe myrtles is that they are prone to suckering. Once planted avoid digging around the base of the plant and damaging the roots. Suckers are more likely to shoot from the site of damaged roots.