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Averaging 6 to 15 feet in height (2 to 4.5 m), the dwarf crepe myrtle is one of several types of myrtle trees or shrubs from the genus Lagerstroemia. Also spelled "crape myrtle," the dwarf crepe myrtle is smaller than the typical crepe myrtle, but larger than the miniature crepe myrtle. Although the dwarf is generally larger than the miniature, their names are often used interchangeably. Many of the species originated from Asian regions, and the crepe myrtle family is primarily comprised of heat-loving, deciduous trees or shrubs that produce colorful blooms during the summer months. The unique characteristic of myrtles is the shedding of its bark when the tree reaches maturity, leaving behind distinctive wood limbs that change in color as the tree ages.
There are more than 50 species of crepe myrtles, with the dwarf and miniature varieties preferred for smaller spaces. Some of the larger species can reach more than 100 feet (328 m) in height, while the miniature versions are generally less than 6 feet (2 m). Within the dwarf family are also semi-dwarf varieties that average on the tall side, but are still smaller than the common crepe myrtle tree. Some of the dwarf crepe myrtle varieties include the Okmulgee, prairie lace, and centennial.
Like its larger counterparts, the dwarf crepe myrtle is a fast-growing flowering plant. Depending on the size and the variety, crepe myrtles can be grown as a tree, shrub, or container plant. The dwarf crepe myrtle is well-suited for small landscapes, ground cover, and containers, and it can be trained to form a bonsai. Blooms will vary in color from white to shades of red, depending on the species. Dwarf varieties, such as the Razzle Dazzle and Tonto Hardy Crape Myrtle, display pink to red-toned flowers, while the Zuni and Centennial types produce lavender to purple blooms.
The main requirement for caring for myrtle shrubs is sunlight. To ensure bountiful blooms, a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight is needed. The dwarf crepe myrtle is drought-tolerant; however, regular watering will aid with the plant’s growth and healthy appearance. Avoid over-watering and soil that is not well-draining, as these may lead to root rot. Fertilizing myrtle trees and shrubs should also be done regularly to help maintain the plant’s hardiness.
Although pruning is not a regular requirement, trimming of the limbs and unhealthy branches are beneficial for new growth. Pruning should be done when the shrub or tree is dormant, with the dormant season varying depending on the climate. Deadheading blooms will keep the shrub flourishing and encourage new blooms to form.
Just make sure you when you buy a dwarf crepe myrtle, you have a pretty good idea of how big it's going to get. I've seen crepe myrtles people bought for a dwarf species grow over 20 feet tall.
The good thing about a crepe myrtle is that it requires very little fussing and care. They seem to thrive on neglect, in fact. A crepe myrtle will survive and bloom in the worst conditions.
Case in point: when the April 2011 tornadoes ripped through north Alabama, a row of crepe myrtles in front of a subdivision took a direct hit from an EF-5 tornado. All except three not only stayed right where they were, but they even bloomed that summer. Crepe myrtles are tough customers!