Crepe myrtle, also spelled crape myrtle, is a showy, hardy, flowering tree popular for landscaping in warm climates. Native to China and Korea, crepe myrtle was introduced to America in 1747. During the 18th century, it became popular in the South for its vivid flowers and captivating colored bark. In the family Lagerstroemia, crepe myrtle trees brighten yards with little maintenance, watering, or fertilizing.
Although deciduous, crepe myrtle remains attractive year round. During its extended flowering season, in the summer, it explodes in crinkly red, lavender, pink, purple, or white blossoms that resemble thin, bright crepe paper. During spring, when not in bloom, the glossy, dark green foliage forms an umbrella-like canopy of leaves. Autumn brings leaves that turn gold and crimson before they drop. Finally, during its dormant season in winter, the unusual, exfoliate bark sheds long strips, so that the trunk and branches display intricate, multi-colored layers of brown, gray, and tan.
Different varieties of crepe myrtle have been hybridized for certain uses or conditions. Crepe myrtles vary from dwarf, container shrubs of just 18" (46 cm) to towering landscape trees up to 30 feet (9 m) tall. Some species withstand drought better or flower longer than others do. However, all crepe myrtles prefer the Plant Hardiness Zones 7-9, found throughout the South, Southwest, and West Coast of the United States. They also prefer nitrogen-poor sandy soil with good drainage. In the first year of becoming established, though, they should be kept moist.
Crepe myrtle is propagated by means of cuttings as well as seeding. They can be purchased balled and burlapped as a sapling rootball from numerous breeders, especially from the South. However, if you are interested primarily in their blossoms, it's best to choose your exact tree while it's flowering, to be sure of its shade. A crepe myrtle must be delicately and carefully trimmed to maintain its shape, but should not be aggressively pruned, even in winter.