Crape myrtle trees are the closest thing deep south gardeners have to lilacs. Lagerstroemia indica flower clusters resemble lilac blossoms and they are mildly fragrant as well. Crepe myrtle bonsai.
While Lagerstroemia indica is usually thought of as southern tree, they are hardy into zone 6.
The hardy crape myrtle, 'Hopi' can be grown in zone 5.
This photograph was taken in the picturesque seaside town of Cape May, NJ.
Both of these are crape myrtle trees. Notice how big the one in the foreground is.
Maybe this is why I am so drawn to them.
When I was a child, my great-grandmother Charlotte used to cut flowers from the lilac in her front garden and keep them in a vase in the bathroom.
I loved the way they smelled. As an adult, I long to reproduce that experience in my own home. Sadly, lilacs will not grow here. Not enough chilling hours.
What we can grow here is Lagerstroemia indica, a shrub that often grows as tall as a tree. There are cultivars in every shade of pink, purple, white and red. From 3 foot dwarfs to 25 foot standards.
The crinkled flowers of the crepe myrtle bush appear in pyramid-shaped clusters at the branch tips in the summer months. They are slightly fragrant and sometimes so large and heavy that they cause the branches to bow.
The showy blooms are followed by small, round seed capsules which, until they ripen, closely resemble the tree's flower buds.
Lagerstroemia indica's oval-shaped leaves are about an inch and a half long by an inch wide. They turn various shades of red, yellow, orange or burgundy in the cool fall air before dropping.
The bark of many crepe myrtle varieties sheds prettily to reveal the smooth, cinnamon brown trunk beneath it.
The exfoliating bark of the 'Natchez' crape myrtle.
'Natchez' bears white flowers throughout the summer months.
Picture taken in historic Savannah, Georgia.
If it is too cold for crape myrtle trees to grow outdoors where you live, plant one in a pot.
The crepe myrtle shrub makes an excellent bonsai subject. The flowers and new leaves are quite small. The tree has interesting bark and supple branches which are easy to train into whatever bonsai style you wish to.
The tree is tough enough to live in the shallow soil in a bonsai tray without going into a decline. Even if you occasionally forget to water it, it will survive. Crepe myrtle bushes are hard to kill.
You are not limited to the dwarf or miniature crepe myrtles in making a bonsai tree. Any of the crepe myrtle varieties can be pressed into service so choose based on the flower color and type of bark you like.
The 3 trees in this picture have been planted close enough together so that their crowns touch and pruned so that they look like a single tree top.
An alternative to this would be to plant a larger-growing variety in the first place.
For easy maintenance, let crape myrtles grow into multi-trunked bushes.
Prune only to maintain the shape in the spring. Plants grown in this fashion will display smaller flower clusters on stronger branches.
You can train crape myrtle bush as a single-trunked tree but this will mean constant pruning to keep it from reverting to a bush.
Many people practice a form of pruning crape myrtle known as crape murder.
This involves topping the trees at 5 or 6 feet so that a completely new top will grow each year.
This is done to control the size of the plant and to make the flower clusters larger and showier.
The main drawback with this style of pruning is that the stems that make up the top of the tree will be weak. They often break under the weight of the blooms after a rain.
Pruning them this way also makes them ugly in the fall and winter. Allowed to grow naturally, the leaves will turn yellow, red, orange or purple in the fall before they drop.
Look for seedlings under and around mature shrubs or plant the seed yourself. Another way to propagate crape myrtle is to dig up the suckers that form at the base of the shrub.
The white crape myrtle 'Natchez' is a large, upright variety displaying red-orange fall foliage.
There are many different types of crape myrtle trees.
Some are more mildew resistant and don't require spraying.
Here is a list of dwarf crape myrtle varieties.