Plant of the month

Lagerstroemia - Crepe Myrtle

Each month, OGV sub-committee member, Gayle Parkes presents the 'Plant of the month'. She also posts to OGV's Instagram - make sure you check back regularly for her latest post. This month Gayle brings us the Crepe Myrtle.

Lagerstroemia, commonly known as crape myrtle or crepe myrtle is a genus of around 50 species of deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs native to the Indian subcontinent, southeast Asia, northern Australia, and parts of Oceania, cultivated in warmer climates around the world.

Ahhh yes…. The Crepe Myrtle! A tree for all seasons.

Lagerstroemia, Crepe Myrtle, is a robust and very rewarding deciduous shrub or small to medium sized tree that provides year-round interest and colour with its showy, long lasting summer blooms, rich autumn foliage and attractive winter bark, just perfect for suburban gardens.

I think they are simply one of the world’s best summer-flowering trees, at their peak now in the height of summer. I have planted a white flowering cultivar in my small space, just next to my garden shed, hoping it will grow quickly and provide some shade for me whilst “playing” in my shed, propagating, potting up, etc. It has only been in since April so although it has put on lots of growth, I have no flowers on it this season. I have also planted a pink flowering shrubby variety in a huge pot and was so thrilled to see bunches of flower buds bursting from the new growth that it put on in just its first year. I was able to enjoy those beautiful flowers for two days before my resident ringtail ate my gorgeous blooms for his dessert! We have nailed some of those plastic spikey barrier things along the fence either side of the plant so fingers crossed for next year’s growth. The joys of gardening…

Crepe Myrtles just keep on giving. Their new spring growth is lush with shiny mid to deep green foliage on strong upright stems. In summer they are smothered in showy ruffled flowers that seem to have a texture like crepe paper. They are available in shades of white, through to pale or hot pink, mauve, lavender and red. They have a long flowering season with the intense vibrant flowers lasting on some varieties for up to three months, depending on the cultivar.

Most varieties colour up well in autumn with foliage ranging from bright red, deep maroon, vibrant yellow, pink and burnt orange, all on the one tree. Gorgeous! We all need more autumn colour in our gardens.

The Crepe Myrtle also has incredibly handsome bark that looks magical in winter when low light hits the bare branches. They get better with age as the trunk develops a wonderful gnarled appearance and the bark exfoliates to give a gorgeous mottled look with patches of pink, grey and brown.

Crepe Myrtles thrive in a warm, dry climate with long summers and will tolerate cold winters while they're dormant. They like a full sun position for best results. Provide well draining, fertile soil that is rich in compost. Water plants regularly until established. They are fairly versatile trees, adapting to coastal situations and dry conditions. The only thing they dislike is wet feet. 

Crepe Myrtles bloom on the current season's growth. They can be heavily pruned in winter encouraging long, arching branches of flowers, however the downside of this type of annual pruning is that it creates an ugly, butchered looking plant. Left unpruned, Crepe Myrtles develop a naturally appealing, beautiful shape. A light prune in autumn or winter (just to remove the finished flowers only) will result in many more flowers next summer.

Past varieties of Crepe Myrtle are known to be susceptible to powdery mildew. This has been largely corrected due to plant breeding and plant selection. Be sure to keep an eye out for newer, more resistant varieties that are widely available in our garden centres now.

With so many options of size and form, you’ll be able to find the perfect Crepe Myrtle for your garden, whether it be a small shrub or a tree. They love the heat. They make beautiful shade and specimen trees. They can be grown as single or multi-trunk specimens. Dwarf varieties look fabulous growing in small spaces or containers. Coordinate the colour of a large pot to the colour of the flowers for a stand out feature in your garden. They look outstanding planted en mass, planted along a fence line or lining a driveway.

You really must have at least one, or three, or five……..