Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica)
Arabic name: لجستروميا
The deciduous Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) is an outstanding ornamental tree that has a long blooming season of showy flowers and a winter season of architectural beauty, highlighted by distinctive exfoliating bark. It is among the longest blooming trees, with flowering periods lasting from 60 – 120 days. Large heads of small crinkled flowers last through the late summer and into autumn. Flower colors range from white, through pink and rose, to red and violet. Of the 50 species of Lagerstroemia, L. indica - native to China and Korea - is the one most commonly seen in the Mediterranean region.
Crape Myrtle can grow to a height of 5m, with a spread of 4m, and has a moderate growth of about 25cm per year.
Crape Myrtle grows in full sun or partial shade, and is drought-tolerant. It thrives in fertile, well-drained soil and tolerates hot and dry conditions once established.
It requires some watering once established. Generally, trees need supplemental irrigation to get established, especially if planted after the rainy season. During the first year, irrigate in the amount of 20 – 25 liters of water twice a week. During its second year, a tree needs to be irrigated in the amount of 40 liters once a week. Beginning with the third year, trees usually get established, and some, like the Crape Myrtle, need to be irrigated in the amount of 50 – 60 liters once a month.
Crape Myrtle grows into a multi-stemmed tree with a rounded crown and dense branching. Spring foliage is light green tinged bronze-red. Mature leaves are 2.5 – 5cm long, oval, and are a deep glossy green. Fall foliage is yellow, more rarely orange to red. Crinkled, 3cm flowers are borne in rounded, slightly conical clusters, 15 – 30cm long, at the ends of branches. The clusters of flower buds develop at the tips of the shoots in spring and early summer and burst open to show their brilliant crinkled petals from June to September. The flowers are produced even on young plants. Bark is smooth, pale brown or gray and often peels and shows new pinkish-brown bark.
Notes on use:
A small tree distinguished by its pink, violet, or white flowers; is suitable as a solitary tree or in groups. Place it where the well-shaped trunk, peeling bark, and autumn color can be appreciated. It also is a good container plant.
Transplanting Crape Myrtle is risky, but it is easy to propagate from seed.
Pruning is recommended to remove overly dense branches, and crossing limbs. Prune in the winter for compactness and ample bloom, as Crape Myrtle flowers with the new season’s growth. Removing spent flower clusters can promote a second and third round of flowering. Over-fertilizing creates abundant foliage at the expense of bloom.
Crape Myrtle tends to produce many suckers that should be removed as soon as they appear if you want to maintain a tree with distinct trunks.
The Crape Myrtle is one of the favorite plants for aphids, upon whose excrement sooty mold grows. This can give the leaves a gray, sooty coating that is not harmful, but is unsightly. It needs to be checked regularly. Aphid infestations can be controlled with a soapy water solution.
This article is part of a series of articles prepared by the Center for the Study of the Built Environment (CSBE) on water conserving landscapes.
For additional information on water conserving gardens, visit the CSBE web site at www.csbe.org
Support for the CSBE project on water conserving landscapes is provided by WEPIA (Water Efficiency and Public Information for Action), a program being implemented in collaboration with the Ministry of Water and Irrigation and funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).