Let's Be Honest – Crepe Myrtles Are Messy
The truth is right there on my steps.
I remember when one of my "fence neighbors" asked for some gardening advice. "We just took out a tree in the front yard," she said. "What would be a good replacement that wouldn't get too big?"
The answer, I thought, was a slam-dunk. "I'd plant a crepe myrtle," I earnestly responded.
"A crepe myrtle?" she replied incredulously. "Why would I want to plant such a messy tree? I hate crepe myrtles!"
Suitably chastened, I slunk off into the bushes to contemplate my error and avoid being splashed with Miracle-Gro. How could anybody hate crepe myrtles? What's wrong with this lady? Is she a heretic, an insurrectionist, or just plain looney?
We never discussed crepe myrtles again. I think she planted a ginkgo.
Decades later, I find myself in a peculiar conundrum. Having championed crepe myrtle as the top ornamental tree for the South for so long, I am conflicted. Yes, I love crepe myrtles. And yes, they can be very messy. Take a look at my front porch.
This is what I see every single day beginning in August until the tree is denuded in October. I blow off the leaves each morning, because if I don't, they get tracked all over the house. The following morning looks just like the previous one. It's "Groundhog Day" (loved that movie – the reality, not so much).
What's going on here? Two things. First, my crepe myrtle has been attacked by a common fungus called Cercospora leaf spot. Black spots begin appearing on the leaves in midsummer causing the foliage to prematurely turn red and yellow before steadily dropping. At 30 feet tall (twice the mature height written on the tag), the tree is too big to spray with a preventative fungicide. Second, I planted it beside my front porch – a fatal mistake.
Dropping leaves is not the tree's only sin. It showers flowers on the steps for weeks and weeks too. Then there's the issue of the flaking bark that flies all over the place during a storm. I end up using much of it as mulch, so there's that.
The lesson from this is NOT to stop planting crepe myrtles. They are beautiful. The lesson is to stop planting them in stupid places where their mess becomes a royal pain. Do not plant them near a porch or deck. Do not plant them near a walk or driveway. And for the sake of all that is holy, do not plant them anywhere near a pool.
Despite its flaws, I'm keeping my crepe myrtle because its perfectly pruned trunks are simply gorgeous. I just wish that 25 years ago, I'd planted it in the middle of the yard.