Saturday, August 18, 2012

I don't love crape myrtles, but...

A crape myrtle in Ginny's back yard.
I don't love crape myrtles (Lagerstoemia indica & spp.) because they are sooo over planted in Florida. Most species are native to India and other parts of Asia, but they certainly do well here and new varieties are released each year. The Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants shows that it has escaped in a number of counties in central and northern Florida.

As a native plant enthusiast, I would not plant crape myrtles in our landscape. I would choose something native and not so commonly planted.  This way I would add to the diversity of the canopy in our yard and in our neighborhood, which is what we strive for when creating habitat and balanced ecosystems.

That being said, as a sustainable gardener, I let established plants stay as long as they are not invasive. When we bought our house in 2004, there were a few crape myrtles already in the landscape. As is the custom around here, they had been hat-racked at about seven feet high. We did a little judicious pruning to reduce the number of sprouts at the seven-foot level, and now eight years later, this crape myrtle has become a lovely, 25-foot-tall tree.

The insect-eating birds use it as a perch as they wait to pounce on bugs in the lawn, plus the hummingbirds drink the nectar. So while I would not have planted it, I think the crape myrtle enhances our backyard and its ecosytem.

Why do people think this is attractive?

These two crape myrtles at the end of a neighbor's driveway are trimmed every year. The trunks are about as large around as our trees. I don't understand why people think that this is attractive, when they could have a graceful, small tree that would not need much in the way of pruning--maybe just cutting back extra suckers.

When given an opportunity, I hope you are increasing the diversity in your landscape with some native plants that are appropriate for your region and your site, but ones that are not too common. However, if you do have a crape myrtle, give it a chance to be beautiful.

For more information see:

The Florida Extension EDIS page for crape myrtles

The plant profile of crape myrtles

The fact that the Arbor Day Foundation hands out crape myrtle trees as one of their membership options is irritating to me. But providing more crape myrtles is not nearly as bad as their offering golden raintrees, which is invasive in parts of Florida. But the Arbor Day Foundation's offerings is a rant for another day.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt


  1. I was given a tiny crape myrtle seedling at an Earth Day event ~10 years ago and it looks just like yours now. And as you stated, birds like to perch on it and bees like the flowers.

  2. Where do I find the info on how you did that with your crape? This just shows the differences, which is awesome but I need the how to. We have a bunch of them on the property we just bought and part of me just wants to stump them because the prior owner of 30+ years just hatted them.

    1. What we did was to cut off most of the sprouts where it had been hat-racked and encouraged just a few of the most vertical sprouts. We had to repeat that trimming for a couple of years until the tree gave up on creating new sprouts at the seven-foot level. We also trim away new sprouts at the base of the tree every few years.