This is a collaborative post
Although strongly associated with the southern states of America, the Crape Myrtle can, with the right care, thrive in cooler more northerly areas as well.
In fact there are several types of Crape Myrtle trees from thetreecenter.com that are able to cope with the colder winters that USDA zones 7 and even 6 have to offer, just so long as the grower is flexible in their approach and is prepared to keep an open mind.
The Crape Myrtle tree is popular because it blooms spectacularly for three months in the summer and boasts very attractive bark that comes in many shades – cinnamon, white, cream, brown and grey. In southern states they pop up all over the place, even in car parks, and everyone loves them. In fact, the only thing gardeners in USDA zones 7 to 10 need to concern themselves about is which colour looks best in their garden and how they can get the longest possible blooming season out of them.
Northern gardeners meanwhile – USDA zone 6 – often fall in love with the Crape Myrtle after a trip down south and want to try and grow one of their when they get home.
This isn’t beyond the realms of possibility because they can select a hardier variety such as Sarah’s Favourite, which is white, or Velma’s Royal Delight, which is magenta. However, they will need to manage their expectations a little and satisfy themselves with fewer blooms – a small price to pay for what is still a most attractive addition to anyone’s garden.
Even in USDA zone 5, Crape Myrtle fans can have a go at cultivating these hardier varieties, or perhaps could try the shrubbier ones that grow more as perennials. Each winter it will appear that the tops have been killed by the cold and frost, but rest assured they always leap back to life in the spring. However, be aware that growing a perennial Crape Myrtle means it won’t offer the peeling bark, but if it’s warm enough there may still be some blooms at least on the smaller shrubs – the ones around four feet tall – that will add a splash of mid-summer colour to your garden.
Tips for increasing cold hardiness
• Avoid pruning or fertilizing your Crape Myrtle in the autumn – you also need to avoid too much water at this time of year because the plant needs to harden off for the winter.
• Don’t place it against a south-facing wall because a sunny day in January, or a brief thaw, might fool the crape myrtle into thinking spring has arrived early.
• After the leaves have fallen in autumn, mulch the tree well with leaves and straw to provide insulation around the roots.
• Think about growing miniature Crape Myrtle – they’re small enough to “wrap up” in winter to protect them from the cold. In late autumn, cover them with screening or mesh-wire cages that can be packed with leaves and straw.
• Not all gardeners have to worry about hardiness, so they can consider cultivars such as Osage or Seminole, which are resistant to the dreaded black sooty mildew. There are also cultivars like Catawba and Tonto, amongst others, that offer resistance against leaf-spot.
• …and remember, regardless of where you live, all Crape Myrtle need full sun and an acidic soil as an absolute minimum.