The colours of the Crepe Myrtle are incredibly vibrant and rich. If you want a bonsai with tones of cream to ruby or rose through to hot pink, lilac or mauve, then try your hand at a Crepe Myrtle. The flowers are stunning but the roots and bark are also pretty special.
All about Crepe Myrtles
Confusingly, and as can sometimes happen in the plant world, the Crepe Myrtle (Lagerstroemia) is quite different from the Common Myrtle (Myrtus communis). You might also see them labeled as Crape Myrtles. These dynamic plants are native to parts of Asia, India and Australia. They are becoming very popular in many countries because they are so beautiful and the flowers look so delicate- just like crepe paper.
Types of Crepe Myrtles
Crepe Myrtles are increasingly becoming hybridized. The most common and traditional form is the Lagerstroemia indica but there are also Lagerstroemia fauriei available and these are typically white. The two have been blended to create hyrbids. One which has been increasingly popular in bonsai circles is simply known as Lagerstroemia “’Midnight Magic”. There are dwarf varieties called “Chickasaw” and “Pokomok” which are also good bonsai options.
Crepe Myrtle appearance
The leaves of the Crepe Myrtle are rounded and glossy. The colorful show of flowers occurs in the heat of summer, forming long trusses. The petals appear to be very textured, ruffled or bunched. Although they lose these beautiful blooms as autumn approaches and stay barren over winter, the bark of the Crepe Myrtle is quite attractive too. Even without flowers or foliage, the tree makes a handsome pot plant.
Crepe Myrtle as bonsai
If you want to start a Crepe Myrtle bonsai from seed, you will be surprised to see how quickly the seeds germinate. Pop them into small pots or cups and cover lighting with a quality bonsai soil. Crepe Myrtles are actually pretty easy to bonsai; the challenge is maintaining and caring for overall plant health. It can be difficult to keep Crepe Myrtles indoors and many US zones will be too cool for this tropical plant. They are perhaps happiest when kept in a conservatory or a greenhouse, where very warm and regulated conditions can be provided. A consistent temperature is a key to plant health.
Crepe Myrtle bonsai likes and dislikes
As well as consistent temperature, Crepe Myrtles like a lot of light. A full sun position is preferred. If you cannot provide the plant with enough light and sun, it will not flower and this can be frustrating for growers. If you do have a year without any flowers, prune the branches in autumn to encourage action for the next year. If you are conducting a major prune, consider doing it gradually over the course of a couple of weeks to allow the plant to adjust.
Watering Crepe Myrtle bonsai
Although they are tropical, Crepe Myrtles will struggle to be able to drain excess water. For this reason provide regular water but take care not to overwater. Higher volumes of water will be required during the growth season- outside of this period check the soil and keep it just moist. Infant trees may be prone to drying out more quickly than more mature plants.
Repotting Crepe Myrtle bonsai
Plan to be repotting your Crepe Myrtle every two years. Do so in the early spring. Unlike with some other plants that need almost two-thirds new soil, you can retain more of the plant’s existing soil base. Clean up the roots and add fresh soil which is loamy, but provides drainage to top up what has been retained. Wiring is not really necessary for Crepe Myrtles and can cause damage the tree bark, although some people attempt to guide form with wire. If you do try this approach, watch for damage on the bark and remove if you notice signs of irritation.
Bugs, pests and problems
Like many heat-loving plants, the Crepe Myrtle may suffer from frost damage. If keeping your Crepe Myrtle indoors or in a greenhouse during very cold weather isn’t possible, the next best option would be a garden shed with ample light. Beware of delivering sudden changes in temperatures, such as bringing from a cool outdoor location into a very warm room. The shock of the change can do more damage than good. Rot and leaf root is a risk here. And you may see the occasional bugs and mites which can be treated with standard insecticide.
Crepe Myrtle bonsai timeline
- Spring – provide with a general fertilizer
- Summer – enjoy the delightful show
- Autumn – prune branches once flowers have dropped
- Winter – observe the attractive bark and form
Tips to help your Crepe Myrtle bonsai
The biggest cause of damage and death of many bonsai plants is surely poor drainage. Make sure your soil has a good composition to allow drainage and always use a pot with adequate drainage holes for your Crepe Myrtle. You will know you have a problem with rot if the soil is letting off a foul smell. Selecting a warm sunny spot will help prevent fungus and rot as well as mold and mildew problems. When removing larger branches, you will notice that a rough edge remains, so clean the wound with a grafting knife to encourage quick repair.
Advice for growing Crepe Myrtle bonsai
An annual application of fertilizer should be provided in the spring. You may want to remove the dead flowers once they have died off and before they fall. This will help you keep the plant tidy but may cause the next year’s show to have more abundant smaller flowers than larger ones. Often Crepe Myrtles are housed in oval shaped pots in brown tones such as ochre. Pebbles at the root of the tree are attractive and assist with drainage.
The bottom line: Crepe Myrtles are utterly delicious and delightful when trained as bonsai plants. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a plant with prettier pinks and purples, and although there are some challenges to growing them, these are far outweighed by the benefits.