The Crape Myrtle naturally grows as a very large shrub, with lots of twiggy upright branches. However, most people grow this plant as a multi-trunked tree.
This show stopper can be easily pruned as it grows, so that it develops into three to five sturdy trunks. In time, the lower side shoots can be thinned out or pruned off up to around 6-7 feet in height. In about 10 years, you’ll have an interesting and very attractive tree.
The ultimate height of most varieties is around 12-15 feet tall. I have found that in the northwest only the varieties named after native American tribes are reliably cold hardy and do not develop powdery mildew. For example, we use Zuni, Tuskegee, Tuscarora, Catawba, Seminole, Lipan, Tonto, Sioux and Natchez.
In our climate, the advantages of this amazing tree are:
- In the late summer and early fall, it puts on massive blooming shows when there are few if any other blooms and color in the landscape. It is available in a myriad of blossom colors, such as white, pink to red, and lilac to purple.
- In late October and early November, the leaves turn quickly into yellows, oranges and reds. Bonus: those leaves are small and easily composted in the landscape.
- In winter, the trunks develop shiny cream to tawny smooth colors with streaks and mottles. I would consider growing this tree just for the fall and winter trunk display.
- In spring the new foliage buds out as a darker color than the summer green foliage, giving it a spring and summer display as well as the bloom, bark and fall leaf color.
- It grows best and blooms only in hot reflective heat situations where many northwest plants such as rhododendrons, would burn. The center of a hot asphalt parking lot or the side of a south facing building are ideal locations for the Crape Myrtle.
- Once it is past the first summer, when it should be watered well and deeply once a week, it does not need to be watered. It is very drought tolerant.
- It does not need any fertilizer after being planted, other than a good three-inch diameter circle of bark mulch kept at about a two-inch depth.
- When it is young, trimming off the 8-10-inch dead bloom spikes can help to show off the tree bloom better. As it gets older it can be just left alone.
This is not a native tree; however, it fits beautifully in our human landscape ecosystem, where it can fill in locations that no native tree or shrub would be happy.