“What happened to my Crape Myrtle?” is a question we’ve heard a lot lately, so here’s a few quick and easy answers to help you make informed gardening decisions where your shrub is concerned.
Simply put, Winter did! Crape Myrtles are a Heat & Sun loving plant, and often do their best blooming in spaces other plants wilt at the mere thought of. These flowering shrubs are typically happiest in Zones 6-9, and are a bit out of their comfort zone when planted here in 5a & 5b – you could say we’re toeing the line. In the last decade or so, the winters have been relatively mild, allowing Crape Myrtles to grow and preform pretty consistently. Winter of 2013-2014 was colder, longer, and over all, more stressful, and Crape Myrtles throughout the region died back to their roots in response.
Are my Crape Myrtles dead?
The honest answer is: maybe. Some Crape Myrtles, particularly those in less protected or colder spots in the yard, didn’t make it through the winter. However, most of the Crape Myrtles we’ve looked at are actually alive and well. They’ve simply remained dormant longer than most of our plants – waiting for temperatures to warm up to a range they’re happy in.
Crape Myrtles are only considered cold hard to -5 degrees Fahrenheit. When winters are warm and mild, they behave just as every other flowering shrub in your garden with bare branches in the winter that leaf out early in Spring. However, when temperatures drop below -5 F, Crape Myrtles behave more like perennials; dying back to the root system and leaving dead branches above. When this happens, the plants typically remain dormant until sometime in May (like now!). Keep an eye on the base of the plant – if you start to see tiny leaves along the base of old branches, your plant is alive and doing well! Simply cut off the dead wood and let it get busy growing! If you haven’t seen growth by mid – late June, odds are the shrub didn’t make it and needs to be removed.
Will my Crape Myrtle still produce flowers even though it died back to the roots?
Yes! Crape Myrtles flower on new growth, so even if it died back to the ground, you’ll still be seeing foliage and flowers this year – just don’t expect it to be quite as big as it would be had it not died back. The exception is if the shrub is alive but severely damaged, it may need a year to recover before setting blooms again.
Basic Care to Protect and Promote your Crape Myrtle in Zone 5:
- Choose Crape myrtles with Lagerstroemia fauriei (L. fauriei for short) listed as a parent on the label – they’re more cold hardy and will survive better than plants listing L. indica by itself.
- Plant in protected, full sun areas. Remember, these shrubs LOVE sun and heat. Just make sure it has plenty of water during the hot dry spells. (If the shrub starts to put on lots of new leaves and branches, cut back on watering – you’re loving it just a little too much!)
- Provide a protective layer of mulch before the first frost date in Fall – 2-3 inches should be adequate. This helps to insulate and protect the root system from above ground temperature extremes and increases the likelihood of survival.
- Remove mulch in Spring after the last frost date – bare soil will heat faster than covered, bringing the shrub out of dormancy that much sooner!
- Fertilize moderately in the spring, but not at all in fall.