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Crape Myrtles Enhance Our Southern Summers

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HopiPhoto by Robert E. Lyons

Photo by Robert E. Lyons

Our Carolina summers wouldn’t be the same without the blooms of the crape myrtle. Long known by many as the flower of the South, crape myrtles perform beautifully throughout most of the state.

Crape myrtle, or Lagerstroemia, is a favorite small tree or large shrub for many Southern gardeners. It is a versatile flowering plant with many attractive characteristics such as excellent bark color, texture, form and shape, fall foliage color and seed pods which persist in the winter.

This specimen tree, ranging from less than 3 feet to more than 12 feet, is well-suited to urban gardens and street planters. The ultimate small tree height is usually below 30 feet and the roots can exist in restricted areas, making it ideal for use under utility lines. To accent its beauty, many homeowners often plant in a garden setting with an underplanting of a favorite groundcover. The cooler, zone 6 regions of the state are better off planting hybrids with the more cold-hardy L. fauriei in their background. Look for cultivar names like ‘Hopi’, ‘Acoma’ and ‘Natchez’. The more commonly planted L. indica varieties found in lower elevations of the state will not reliably survive in the mountains.

Hybrid Crape Myrtle Photo by J.C. Raulston

Hybrid Crape Myrtle
Photo by J.C. Raulston

Plant the tree at least 10 feet from walls in well-drained soil and full sun. They do not flower well in partial shade and not at all in heavy shade. Powdery mildew can be a problem on the old cultivars but many new cultivars are disease resistant.

Visit the JC Raulston Arboretum (JCRA) at NC State University to see two unique cultivars of the species Lagerstroemia fauriei: ‘Townhouse’ and ‘Fantasy’. ‘Townhouse’ has dark mahogany-red bark and profuse flowering during the summer. It is also noted for its striking winter appearance. ‘Fantasy’ is named for its elegant stature, beautiful rusty-red exfoliating bark and profuse display of white flowers in the summer. Visit the JCRA in person or at to explore their impressive collection of crape myrtles.

Willie Earl WIlson