Why Crepe Myrtles Look So Bad This Year

Sparse, late blooms have folks upset.

What is wrong with the world? Even in gardening, our security blankets are being yanked away. Take, for example, the South's crepe myrtles. We love them for months of glorious blooms even in the most blistering summers, which is why nearly every yard is home to at least one. Yet the flowers this summer have been far from glorious in numerous places, including my home. If this paucity continues, we'll remember 2021 as "The Summer Without Crepes."

Why is this happening? Is it something we've done? Something we haven't? Is the culprit a bug, a fungus, a virus? Is it all those masks we've hung on the branches? No. You will be relieved to learn that the culprit has nothing to do with human negligence or malfeasance. Blame the blooming fiasco on the weather.

Pink Crepe Myrtle
Van Chaplin

Crepe myrtles love long, hot summers. The hotter it gets, the better they perform. In places with tepid temperatures, they sulk. No one plants them in Britain because even though they'll grow there, they won't bloom. A few years back, I encountered a "rare" crepe myrtle at the botanical gardens in Paris, France. I know it was rare there because they had surrounded it with this fancy, wrought iron fence with its name on a plague. It was the sorriest crepe myrtle I've ever seen. I'm sure its fondest wish is to be someday transplanted to Paris, Texas.

My two big crepe myrtles usually bloom lustily by mid-July, but today I have to crane my neck to see the first few petals peeking from buds at the top. To what do I attribute their reluctance to show their faces?

Our weather has been all wrong.

It seems that since spring, the Southeast has switched climates with the Pacific Northwest. Every day we hear of record-breaking heat out there, sometimes 30 degrees above normal. 108 degrees in Seattle? C'mon! Meanwhile, in north-central Alabama we've been enjoying one of the coolest summers I can remember. We've enjoyed an abundance of mild, crisp days that remind Judy and I of past visits to Oregon and Washington. Glad we didn't pick this year to go!

The upshot is that where summer heat has been late, blooming has been late. Never fear, however. The South will bake in August and crepe myrtles will earn their keep. Suckiness shall not continue!

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