LAGERSTROEMIA: Crape Myrtle
Crape myrtles are one of our favorite plants for summer color. Their flowers, in saturated pink, magenta, purple or white, add an unexpected pop of color at a time of year when most shrubs and trees have finished blooming. They don’t stop with great flowers though; pretty red-tipped summer leaves turn glorious gold, orange, red and purple in autumn before falling off. Great bark completes the ornamental trifecta. The bark on many Crape myrtles peals in puzzle patterns to reveal smooth cinnamon or tan colors that glow during winter, especially when glistening in Portland rain.
Lagerstroemias are available in different mature sizes; some are shrubs, growing between 4-8 feet. Others are larger, growing into lovely trees up to 20-25 feet. Tree types are now included on Portland’s street tree lists, and are an excellent choice for parking strips that are very hot, provided that they are watered weekly.
Crape myrtles are native to areas where summer rain is frequent, often in the form of thunder storms. Portland summers are typically hot and dry, so supplying weekly deep watering is important for good blooming and strong growth. They also love heat. South-facing, blazing sun all day or reflected heat from sidewalks and walls is their ideal site. Surprisingly Crape myrtles thrive in heavy soil, having thick roots that push through clay. They languish in soil that is soggy during wet months and soil that is nutrient rich and amended.
Plants are available in a wide range of mature sizes, from dwarf forms maturing at 3-4’ to trees growing to 20-25’.
Laegerstroemia 'Petite Plum'
Peeling cinnamon colored bark
adds winter interest.
Follow the links below for help with selecting a Crape myrtle that is well-suited to Portland.
Genus: Lagerstroemia – named for Magnus von Lagerstrom (1691-1759), a Swedish merchant and friend of Linnaeus
Common: Crape Myrtle or Crepe Myrtle. The traditional Southern spelling is "Crepe" Myrtle because the delicate flowers resemble crepe paper.
Origin: Native to Japan, China and Korea
Characteristics: Crape myrtles are small trees or shrubs with multi-season interest.
Flowers occur in panicles, cone-shaped clusters at branch tips, and resemble crepe paper with their finely crinkled texture. White, pink, red and lavender flowers are available, but beware: flowers described as red are often dark pink, rather than true red. Bloom occurs from July thru September and berries follow.
Leaves appear late in spring, once temperatures are consistently warm. Don’t be surprised if everything else in your yard has leaves before your Crape myrtles; just hold out for a few more weeks and you’ll be rewarded with small red leaves that soon turn green. Several cultivated varieties maintain dark red foliage through summer. Leaves steal the show in autumn, turning gold, orange, red and deep mahogany before falling off to reveal beautiful mottled or peeling cinnamon, tan or gray bark.
Plants are available in a wide range of mature sizes, from dwarf forms maturing at 3-4’ to trees growing to 15-20’.
Light: Crape myrtles love sun and heat. South or west-facing sites with at least eight hours of sun per day is ideal.
Water: Summer watering is important for good flowering and growth - a soaker hose, used once a week for 45 minutes is ideal. Do not plant Lagerstroemias in sites that are soggy during rainy months.
Soil: Many soils in Portland are heavy with clay and full of rocks, but Crape myrtles are okay with that! Their ropy roots grow through tough clay. They prefer not to be planted in areas that are nutrient rich and well-amended, or in spots that are soggy during rainy months.
Diseases: Powdery mildew is a common problem for Crape myrtle that can be helped by allowing for proper light, water and soil, increasing air circulation around the plant and avoiding wetting the foliage when watering. Some varieties of Lagerstroemia and resistant to powdery mildew, but if your plant develops the problem, Serenade Garden (Read about Serenade) is a good choice for fungicide.