can crepe myrtle (lagerstroemia) be grown as a cutback shrub?

ellen_z7ny(Long Island)August 7, 2007

Can it be pruned hard in the spring like cotinus, for example, and serve as a very long-flowering perennial rather than a small tree? If so, what would the cutback size relative to its normal size be? I don't dare post this question on the shrubs forum, as the subject of pruning to change the shape of crepe myrtle at all has ignited some pretty violent arguments on some forums.

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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Crape myrtles grow to a wide range of mature sizes, depending upon the particular hybrid. Some remain quite small, while others can get to be 30 feet tall.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2007 at 2:42PM
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Park Seeds catalog offers Crape Myrtlette seeds which I found easy to sprout and grow in Zone 7. They blossom the first year from seed and the 2'-3' height is perfect for the perennial garden. With winter mulching they should grow well for you. I was at Parks a few weeks ago and noted that they have added a new variety named Little Chief. Comes in three colors which I noted were very attractive in their display gardens. Yes, I did buy a pack of seeds for those hot, dry sandy parts of my perennial garden.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2007 at 7:48PM
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nckvilledudes(7a NC)

Ellen, in my zone 7a garden, I can cut the developing seed pods off my crepe myrtles and get as many as three sets of flushes of flowers in any season. Granted each successive flush has less flowers than the preceding ones but flowers are flowers. You could do something similar with your crepe myrtle depending on the variety but just cut them back more severely. Then in the dead of winter, you could cut them back to ground level and let them start over fresh each year. Then you wouldn't have to deal with that "crepe murder" issue that is what I am assuming you are referring to on the shrub forum.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2007 at 3:33AM
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donnabaskets(Zone 8a, Central MS)

If the reason you are asking this question is that Crape Myrtles get too large for your garden, you should investigate some of the dwarf varieties. They were introduced at the New Orleans World's Fair in the eighties, and I would think they would be fairly readily available. They are the perfect size for hanging pots, planters, or borders.

As to your question, the answer is yes, you can cut crapes to the ground and they'll come on out and bloom each year (although at a hundred different angles). My best guess, based on what I see in our area is they would make 3 to 4 feet tall in one growing season. This, of course, depends on how long your season is and how hot it gets. I would think mid to back of the border would be the place for them grown this way. For this idea of yours to be at its best, I would encourage you to look for the smaller sized cultivars, if not the dwarfs. It really is a good idea. Grown this way, crape myrtles could serve the same purpose as butterfly bushes, I would think. But do know that when crape myrtles bloom heavily, they need to have the seed pods cut off in order to continue to bloom, so they would be nearly as much work as buddleias.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2007 at 2:53PM
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I would not cut back crepe myrtles in winter at the upper end of their hardiness range, as even dead wood can be protective. I prune after growth starts showing in spring.

Depending on how severe the winter was, most or very little wood will survive, affecting when flowering begins (most varieties should flower as shrubby perennials or just plain shrubs in many parts of lower zone 5 to upper zone 7).

I second the recommendation for the Parks crepe myrtle seed varieties. Very hardy, compact and floriferous (I have a pink one just starting to come into full flower, this year at about 3 1/2 feet tall by 4 feet wide). Start the seeds early indoors and give them a full growing season in the garden, mulched the first winter or two.

'Little Chief' hybrid dwarf crepe in foreground:

Other crepes are hardy but so far haven't flowered as well here. The big pest is Japanese beetles, which can be controlled with a pyrethrin/resmethrin-type spray.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2007 at 8:54AM
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calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

Crepe myrtles are the most used street tree in this area of northern California. Two years ago one local home owner cut their trees off at 3 feet from the ground. The trees were mature with trunks 6 inches in diameter. I have been watching them since to see the results. All trees suckered heavily within a foot of the ground and the new growth is now about 8 feet high. The growth is so dense it is just possible to see the old trunk through the new growth. These trees are on the east of the house so I am not sure of the reason they objected to the tree size. Al

    Bookmark   August 9, 2007 at 10:07AM
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ellen_z7ny(Long Island)

Thanks, everyone for all the good (and nonjudgmental!) advice.

Nandina and Eric (nice planting, by the way!): The 'little chief' cultivars look nice . . . can you say whether they are mildew-resistant? I heard mildew can be a big problem, and I try to stay away from anything that needs spraying of any kind.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2007 at 10:52AM
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I've mever seen mildew on these dwarf crepes. Actually, I don't ever recall it being a problem on any of my crepes, including standard-sized ones.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2007 at 11:44AM
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nckvilledudes(7a NC)

The varieties of crepe myrtles named after various Indian tribes are the mildew resistant ones. If you garden in hot humid areas, mildew can be a serious problem on the varieties that are not resistant to it!

    Bookmark   August 9, 2007 at 3:09PM
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webkat5(Z6a MO)

The seeds are very easy to winter sow....
These three are from this past winter's sowing....I still haven't gotten them in the ground, but they would be much larger if I had earlier...

    Bookmark   August 10, 2007 at 9:44AM
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nckvilledudes(7a NC)

Here in NC you don't have to worry about winter sowing crepe myrtle seeds webkat. Seedlings tend to pop up everywhere, especially where you don't want/need them! LOL

    Bookmark   August 10, 2007 at 11:19AM
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I was also interested in the parkseed dwarf crapes.Just wondering if they had good germination Nandina? Then I may go ahead and buy some. Their shiping charge is too much for just one pack of seeds though.Thanks.


    Bookmark   September 1, 2007 at 2:41PM
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