Why do people murder crepe myrtles? No, it's not too much Neanderthal DNA. It's that the variety of crepe myrtle they planted got way too big. Here's a guide to which crepe myrtles won't outgrow your house or yard, so you won't have to chop them grotesquely each year.
What Went Wrong
Crepe murder -- the grisly rite of chopping crepe myrtles into ugly stumps -- really got a shot in the arm about 20 to 30 years ago, when the first mildew-resistant hybrids with native American names ('Natchez,' 'Muskogee,' 'Tuscarora,' etc.) were introduced by the U.S. National Arboretum. Growers didn't know how big these crepes would get, because they hadn't been out long enough. So they guessed -- and almost always guessed wrong. Crepe myrtles they said would grow 10 to 15 feet tall ended up growing 20 to 30 feet tall. Which meant that many crepe myrtles grew too big for the spots they were in and homeowners started chopping off their heads every spring.
(To see how to correctly prune a large crepe myrtle, click right here.)
What Went Right
Gardeners and growers both saw the need for smaller, more compact crepe myrtles that didn't need annual pruning. Growers created new selections of semi-dwarf (12 feet tall or less at maturity) and dwarf (less than 4 feet tall at maturity) types that bloomed well, resisted disease, and were hardy. Let Grumpy introduce some of his favorites, all of which are available at garden centers now.
'Acoma' -- That's it up top. White flowers atop an arching, sculptural small tree. Grows about 10 feet tall. Great in a large container.
''Burgundy Cotton' -- Upright tree to about 12 feet. White flowers appear atop foliage that changes from wine-red in spring to burgundy-green in summer.
'Delta Jazz' -- Combines bright-pink flowers with spectacular burgundy foliage that doesn't "green" in hot weather. Grows 6 to 10 feet tall. Part of our Southern Living Plant Collection.
Early Bird Series -- Comes in three colors -- lavender, purple, and white. Long-blooming plant starts flowering in May. Grows 5 to 8 feet tall. Part of our Southern Living Plant Collection.
'Hopi' -- Medium-pink flowers on a spreading, bushy plant 7 to 10 feet tall and wide.
Magic Series -- Rounded, bushy plants 6 to 10 feet tall and wide. Colors include coral-pink, fuchsia-pink, and purple. Foliage emerges reddish and then changes to deep-green.
'Pink Velour' -- Neon-pink flowers with wine red foliage that doesn't fade. Nearly seedless; blooms for a long time. Grows about 12 feet tall.
'Red Rooster' -- Brilliant red flowers. Foliage emerges maroon and changes to green. Flowers may show white or red flecking. Grows 8 to 10 feet tall.
'Rhapsody in Pink' -- Combines soft-pink flowers with purplish new growth. Nearly seedless; blooms a long time. Upright grower to 12 feet.
'Siren Red' -- Dark-red flowers on a rounded plant 8 to 10 feet tall and wide. New foliage emerges wine-red and then changes to dark-green.
'Tonto' -- Red flowers and maroon foliage. Grows 10 to 12 feet tall and wide. Handsome bark.
'Velma's Royal Delight' -- Intense, purple-magenta flowers and deep green leaves. Cold-hardy to well below zero degrees. Bushy plant grows 4 to 6 feet tall.
'Zuni' -- Medium-lavender flowers on a vase-shaped, spreading plant 6 to 10 feet tall and wide. Long bloomer, cold-hardy, handsome bark.
'Centennial' -- Bright-purple blooms on a rounded, dense mound, 3-5 tell and wide. Quite cold-hardy. The best purple dwarf.
'Pocomoke' -- Bright-pink blooms and deep green foliage on a mounding shrub that grows 2 to 3 feet high and 3 to 4 feet wide. Great in pots.
Razzle Dazzle Series -- Mounding shrubs 3 to 4 feet tall and wide come in a wide range of colors. Do great in containers. Grumpy recommends 'Cherry Dazzle,' (red blooms), 'Berry Dazzle' (fuchsia-purple blooms and burgundy new foliage), and 'Strawberry Dazzle' (neon-rose flowers). 'Raspberry Dazzle' doesn't bloom well.
'Tightwad Red' -- Dark-red flowers on mounding plant to 4 feet tall and wide. Seedless.
'Victor' -- Deep-red flowers. Grows 5-5 feet tall and wide. Cold-hardy.
Take These Little Guys Home
'Early Bird Purple'
'Rhapsody in Pink'
'Velma's Royal Delight'
So the Final Question You Need to Ask Yourself Is....
....do you want your crepe myrtles to look like this?
Or do you want them to look like this?