Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Crepe Myrtles are Strangers

Someone looking at the bark of the trunk of this tree might think it had a disease. Truly, at first glance the tree does seem diseased, but in my opinion, the mottled bark of Lagestromia indica, aka Crepe Myrtle, is one of the best features of the tree. I love crepe myrtles more than any other small tree in the south. These trees do not grow up north so part of my fascination with them might be the fact I was never exposed to them growing up in Maine.

I have more than a dozen in my garden and keeping planting more. I was successful in rooting some cuttings this summer. It was a difficult process though. Only five total survived and do you know what I did? I forgot about the little pots out in the sun on a hot table for several days. By the time I found them one had suffered irreparable damage and passed away. The other four are still hanging in there though they were severely wilted.

Most of my crepe myrtles have been bargain buys at either Lowes or Home Depot. Whenever I see one reasonably priced it just seems to call my name and I have to take it home. Nevermind the fact I have no place to plant it, and not enough sun to make it truly happy, in the garden it goes.

In addition to mottled bark, crepe myrtles have a great fall show, and most bloom for over three months in the summer when little else is blooming. It is hard to miss a crepe myrtle as I think they are the show offs of the small tree group and by their very nature demand attention from all who see them. That is probably why the Japanese beetles love them so much. Sometimes too much attention is not a good thing.

The crepe myrtle with mottled bark is 'Biloxi', and the other picture is of 'Byers Wonderful White'. Biloxi is planted on the south side of my porch, and Byers is out near the road. Normally I limb up my crepes, but since the Byers is near the road and I want to block the road, I have let some lower limbs grow in. Additionally, this tree does not get quite enough sun so the more leaves it has, the more it can photosynthesize and grow.

Neither of these two crepe myrtles were well marked when I purchased them. This is a bad thing for gardeners. You really have to know your crepe myrtles if you want to plant them in your garden. I looked at half a dozen types at a big box store and the labels all said the same thing about height and spread. I am here to tell you, not all crepe myrtles grow exactly 5-8 feet in an upright manner. Some grow to over 25 feet in a vase like pattern, or spreading pattern or shrublike pattern...the list goes on. Now when I think I may purchase some crepe myrtles, I carry a handy list consisting of three pages of many cultivars, their growth patterns, height, color, length of bloom, and spread. Prepare yourself before you come home with a complete stranger and you wake up one day to find out the crepe myrtle you thought you knew so well was really something else. Know what you are buying a head of time and do not rely on the plant label as there is quite a bit of variation within crepe myrtles.

in the garden....


  1. I think you make a good point many people overlook (unless they are die-hard gardeners like yourself). So many people think only of the flowers or the leaves of plants and overlook other attributes that add to the overall beauty, like the bark as you mentioned.

    That's why I love the white birch--there is no bark more beautiful.

    Another of my favorite trees is the willow tree. It relaxes me just to look at it's shape and form.

    I would love to hire you to come here and do a landscape plan, especially for my back yard! We've changed the deck and need to redo a path to the gate. I just don't know where to begin! I know what I want, but not the proper way to do it! So if you ever want to come out for a visit, feel free!

  2. We have 10 crepe Myrtles in our yard that were planted by the precious homeowner! They are beautiful each summer. We see them in most landscapes here in GA as they are a wonderful asset in the summer months with their blooms and they can take the heat and drought conditions too…

    We had crepe myrtles in Texas and loved them! We pruned them back each spring as we thought that was the normal as we saw everyone else doing that around us. Once moving here, we did the same thing the first two years of living in the house. Then I noticed them in landscaping at business’s where they did not prune them! So we stopped pruning them and a couple of them are getting so large! One in our island within the driveway is getting to big and will have to be pruned next spring because it is getting hit every time we take the boat out of the shed. Saint wants to remove the driveway island but I told him that would be cause for a divorce! He enjoys my cooking and spoiling him too much to tangle with the possibilities of a divorce so I think the island is safe, well for now anyway!

    We also have 12 crepe myrtles up on the street in a row (also from the previous homeowners) and they do not bloom! They were planted too close to the woods so they are too shady to bloom. Sniff-sniff, they would be beautiful if they bloomed but too much trouble to relocate and too much trouble to cut down huge pines, etc to give them the proper light to bloom. So they will remain where they are and just be twig trees I reckon!

    Sandy, Be warned that Tina loves whimsy! You might end up with a bathtub pond! (just joking Tina, I love your pond!)

  3. Hi Sandy and Skeeter,
    Sandy, I would love to come and see your garden. I have done some yard designing (pro bono of course) and would not mind taking a look at your yard. No, Skeeter, Sandy would not wind up with a bathtub pond UNLESS she really wanted one and I am thinking if she does, she wouldn't need a designer. lol

    I think a designer has to listen to the person who lives there. Ultimately they are the ones who will be left with the end product. Therefore, communication is key. I am thinking Sandy's house might be a little rustic with a natural flow. Am I right Sandy? Skeeter's house is pretty formal and neat with great organization. (I got the beautiful pictures of the crepes and pine needles and will share them tomorrow) That is probably your style, right Skeeter? Am I hitting the target or way off? I haven't done a formal landscape class and this is helping me.

  4. Sandy, You are so right, gardeners need to know what they are planting so I am trying to educate them in some small way. If I could get paid for it, I would probably stand in the garden shop at Lowes or Home Depot and just talk to people who come in to shop. That would have to be my job because I would NEVER be able to do anything else. Gardeners like to talk.

  5. Yes, I like rustic. Had wanted a log cabin, but since we built the house ourselves, that couldn't happen so we put Western Cedar siding on it. That became a chore, because the south side where the deck is got really faded and you have to stain and seal the siding, so we put up vinly.

    The yard in quesiton faces south and is the back of the house.It's the dogs' yard. We have a huge deck on two levels, part of it covered. The house is on a slope, so the back yard isn't even, but not steep. It's a mess right now and I really need a plan! What I'd love to do on the deck is have more container plants, and I have a place for my container vegetable garden I want to set up. I'd also LOVE to have some container plants at the posts that hold up the roof (most are big cedar posts The Boss cut hiimself) where I can plants that would grow up the posts and cover the underside of the deck roof. Of course, I have know idea what to plant or how to go about it! Then where the new deck steps go into the yard, I want some kind of large stepping stone to the gate. Then there's the Scooter digging problem and he can move mountains of heavy block to get at a lizard!

    So maybe sometime after the holidays you can come out for a visit. I'm off Fridays and Saturdays. I live out by Yellow Creek off of Hwy. 13. You have Skeeter's email, right? You can ask her to give you my email and phone number.

  6. I know...Just alittle over excited about Mondays nailbiter. A diehard football fan would know when the quarterback goes for 1 yard gain (almost impossiable for a QB sneak so close to the end of the game) and the other teams coach calls time out? The game was helped by them giving it to the pats, they should of lost but instead have the 1 season record for 12-0. I do know the color of the titans, burnt orange. Anyway I have only seen a crepe once, 2 years ago in Texas and I begged Aunt for one.I even offered a white birch for a trade, she tried that years before and it died. She informed me I could do nothing for a crepe. Fyi if you are traveling and see a white birch with peeling bark it is actually a paper birch. The bark can be peeled back w/o hurting the tree. This is useful for wrapping wreaths. I have wrapped a rain stick that Jack of all trades made from a cardboard carpet roll insert and gave it as a housewarming gift. It is a easy way to bring the natural look of the tree into your hous--flaws and all.

  7. Sandy, did you see Dawn's comment on bringing in the birch bark to the house? Dawn is a very talented crafter in addition to gardener and also a "Jack of all trades" just like her hubby Jack. Love the name.

    I think the Titans wear light blue and white. You are probably thinking about the Vols. I think they are the orange color and are a college team. We love our Vols down here too. Good luck to the Pats.

  8. Sandy and Tina, also the company Signals sells vases that are of birch. They sell a set of 2 for $40.00. If you go to and then put in he3982 in the easy find item box it should come up.
    Dawn, When Jimmy was in the hospital in Nashville some of the Titans players were visting the kids and they gave him a banner. I think. Actually it might be a different team...Tina could tell you for sure.

  9. Dawn, forgot to tell you, you are deprived to not be able to have crepes up there-as you know!

  10. What a bummer...I fell in love with this flowering tree. Grandmothers crepe was in full bloom, the end of August? Aunts was not and she commented on the bark looking dead.
    I just got teased about my burnt orange fleece coat by a classmates mother, friend of my son. Her sister lives in Tenn. I had gotten it because it is the close colors of Texas. I really thought she said it was Tenn. Titans because that is how the subject of our sisters living there, came up. Jack of all trades corrected me about his name. He actually described himself "as master of one", "not master of none" and hold a Master License in heating. He likes his title, so I stand to change his impression.

  11. You are so wrong with my true style Tina. The Saint and I currently live in a formal type house as an investment. With all investments it is best to stay on top of things, therefore, I keep the formal setting in the event we need to cash in on that investment by selling the place! When selling, you want a house and yard to be in tip top shape… We watch a lot of HGTV.. LOL

    The Saint and I would much rather prefer to be living in a small cabin on the lake with a rustic look but neat, organized and clean as can be! We laugh and say that if we ever do get that cabin, we will have to sell everything inside and start all over again as the current look would not work in a cabin…

  12. Hey Skeeter, I thought I had replied to you yesterday but my computer must not have been working. Sorry about your style. I have been known to not always be right. lol You have a beautiful house and garden and personally, I like formal. And, believe it or not, I do like organization in a garden though you can't tell it from mine!