Young crepe myrtle shrub
image by MUmland, Morguefile
Crape Myrtle provides the garden with dramatic late summer blooms on a majestic looking shrub. This plant performs well in full sun and with proper drainage. Like any shrub, however, crape myrtle requires basic maintenance throughout the growing season to increase blooms and limit overgrowth. These plants should be pruned to control growth and to encourage flowering the following season.
Crape myrtle will overwinter and retain foliage in warmer climates. In cooler growing zones, preparing the shrub for winter involves a few simple activities to keep the plant healthy during the dormant season.
Groom the crape myrtle in the spring to optimize growth and blooms during the growing season. Prune off crossed branches and small shoots along the lower trunk of the shrubs. Thin the shrub by choosing old branches to clip off at a 45-degree angle where the branch meets the parent stem of the plant. Clip off small buds and new growth extending out of the soil near the plant base. This minor maintenance should suffice to keep your crape myrtle looking beautiful every year.
Cut off blooms with clippers directly behind the flower in a process called "deadheading." Deadheading blooms as they wither during the flowering cycle will rejuvenate the plant and if you're lucky, you might even get a second round of blooms from the plant. In addition, this removal of flowers helps the plant concentrate growing efforts on roots instead of on seed production.
Water the plant leading into the fall month, especially during dry stretches. Despite the loss of blooms and the tendency to ignore plants leading into the winter, crape myrtles do require adequate water after blooming. Soil should be kept slightly moist without being allowed to dry out completely.
Place a 3 to 4 inch layer of mulch around the bottom of the plant. Be careful not to mound the mulch around the trunk of the shrub and in fact, leave a gap around the trunk to allow air circulation.
Allow the plant to drop wilted flowers and leaves when the weather cools. The layer of insulating mulch will protect the roots.