Do you know what Lagerstroemia (pronounced lay-ger-stro-mia) is? If so you’re one of the exulted few! The rest of us know it as Crape Myrtle – or sometimes Crepe Myrtle. It’s not hard to figure out why this common name has stuck. It’s because the petals are crinkled and have frilly edges that resemble crepe paper. Lagerstroemia isn’t used a great deal in UK gardens, but we want to change that because it’s a cheerful, bright shrub or tree with masses of long flowering blooms that look stunning. So here’s why everyone should grow Lagerstroemia…
A Little Bit Of History
Crape Myrtles are native to the Indian subcontinent, south east Asia, and northern Australia but they’ve been grown in Europe for centuries. The genus was named after Swedish merchant Magnus von Lagerstrom who supplied botanist Carl Linnaeus with new and exotic plants in the 1700s. Linnaeus formalised the modern system of naming organisms and is known as the father of modern taxonomy.
Where Have I Seen It Before?
You’ve probably seen Crape Myrtle on holiday. If you’ve ever walked from a resort to the local restaurants in France, Spain, Sardinia or Italy you’ll have seen pink, white, and purple crape myrtles lining the walkways and gardens.
Aren’t Crape Myrtle’s Hard To Grow?
There’s a misconception that crape myrtle is hard to grow and that’s because it needs lots of sun to flower. It’s actually hardy down to sub-zero temperatures and generally pest resistant.
The most effort you’ll put into crape myrtle is choosing the sunniest spot available. Popping it in a south or west-facing border against a sheltered sunny wall or fence is ideal. After that, water until it’s established and cover young plants with fleece if a harsh frost is predicted.
If your back garden is shady what about the front garden? You can grow crape myrtle in a large well-watered pot as a shrub on your doorstep for maximum impact colour.
If you’re further north or the garden is exposed there’s a new series of crape myrtles just out. It’s called ‘Indiya Charms’ and they’ve been bred to cope better with a northern European climate. The series comes in white, violet, pale pink and intense pink.
Over the course of 20-50 years a crape myrtle can reach eight metres tall, but they generally grow a bit shorter in the UK because it’s cooler here.
You don’t need to prune a crape myrtle unless you want to keep the size down. Old advice told us to cut down all the branches of a crape myrtle because flowering occurred on new growth, but this isn’t strictly true.
Whilst you do get more flowers on new growth, the heaviness of huge conical panicles on insubstantial whippy branches means the plant flops. You’ll get plenty of flowers on the old wood so go steady with the secateurs.
Cutting it down each year also makes the plant less cold hardy and destroys the attractive peeling bark of an older trunk. This harsh pruning is called Crape Murder and it’s added to the difficulty of growing them here. Judicious pruning where necessary is better – just let your crape myrtle do its own thing.
Why Should I Buy One?
Every garden needs a Lagerstroemia. Here’s why on a seasonal rota.
Spring. Lots of strong healthy foliage of opposite leaves ranging from light green to dark. It can be glossy depending on your chosen variety and the new growth often emerges red.
Summer. If you’re a lover of bright colour you’ve just struck gold. Crape Myrtle is a big, bold splash of panicled colour ranging from white to violets and pinks. You can’t miss it, and neither will the neighbours or pollinators. In China, they call crape myrtle ‘100 days red’ because they flower for so long.
Autumn. It’s not only acers that have amazing autumn foliage – crape myrtle does too. Its leaves fall with frost in a shower of yellows, golds and oranges.
Winter. If you haven’t committed crape murder Lagerstroemia develops beautiful peeling bark. It’s a grey-orange shade and flakes away to reveal a smoother underside. It’s also strong enough to weave Halloween or Christmas light through the branches.
Have We Persuaded You To Try?
So that’s Lagerstroemia for you. It’s a year-round winner that’s a huge hit of bright summer colour. So that’s why everyone should grow Lagerstroemia! They cheer us up, look fabulous, and the pollinators love them. Just bag your crape myrtle the sunniest spot, fleece it when conditions are harsh, and get ready for the fireworks.
You can buy from Paramount Plants online. We have many colours & varieties of Crepe Myrtle including many varieties from the hardy Indiya Charms collection – including pink flowering, purple flowering and white flowering.