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How To Tell If Crepe Myrtle Is Dead: Plus Possible Solutions

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Have you ever had the chance to sit back and enjoy your Crape Myrtle’s handsomeness for your first time, only for the plant to have a gnarly bark that seems lifeless the next season? If yes, you’re not alone. Each year, I get panic emails of allegedly “dead” Crape Myrtles from my readers.

With that in mind, in today’s guide, we’ll detail several tips and tricks on how to tell if crepe myrtle is dead.

How To Tell If Crepe Myrtle Is Dead 1
Why is my Crepe myrtle dying? – via Reddit

How To Tell If Crepe Myrtle Is Dead

First and foremost, do not panic, and exercise patience.

Unlike most of their counterparts, Crepe Myrtles are usually extremely late to show signs of being alive or showing new growth in the spring. This is particularly true is the plants just went through a hard winter.

With that in mind, just because growth from last year is dead, it does not imply that your whole plant is dead too.

Typically, new growth on Crape Myrtles starts at around mid-May, but if spring is experiencing a cool, slow start after a cold winter, it’s okay to expect your Crape Myrtles to be 2 to 3 weeks behind in terms of recovery. If this sounds like your Crape Myrtles’ situation, do not yank anything just yet.

Award your shrubs a couple of more weeks and see if their roots will be able to make a comeback.

Another test you can perform to ascertain whether or not your Crape Myrtles is dead is the scratch test. This test involves using a coin or thumbnail to scratch a bit of bark on your Crape Myrtles. Is it green and moist underneath, or is it brittle and grey-brown?

If it’s the former, your Crape Myrtles is not dead yet, and just needs more time to make a comeback. If it’s the latter, however, chances are the plant is already dead. To ascertain whether or not it’s indeed dead, perform the test again, but this time scrape the bark of the Crape Myrtles’ main stems just below the soil line or even on the roots themselves.

If they’re still not green or moist and instead appear dark in color with signs of rotting soft tips, you can be confident the plant is dead, which implies your only choice is to dig it out and get rid of it.

What’s more? If your current Crape Myrtles are damaged, and you’d like to replace them, ensure you go for a more cold tolerant variety. Alternative varieties you can invest in include the pure white Natchez, the deep red Okmulgee, the Lavender Zuni, watermelon or coral Tuskegee, or the Pink Choctaw.

As you may have noticed, all Crape Myrtle varieties have been named after Native American tribes, so memorizing them shouldn’t be a hassle.

How To Tell If Crepe Myrtle Is Dead 2
Crepe myrtle not looking too good – via Reddit

Proper Care Tips For Crepe Myrtles

While Crape Myrtles qualify as one of the best low maintenance choices for landscaping in appropriate regions, they still require specific care if you want them to remain showy, bloom, or generally flourish.

With that in mind, to help your Crape Myrtles always look its very best, here are tips you can employ.

1.      Deadhead The Plant For Even More Flowers

If you have an early-blooming variety of Crape Myrtles, you can easily encourage it to rebloom later on in the season using some judicious deadheading. Note, though, that the second bloom might not be as lush as the first one.

2.      Expose Your Crepe Myrtles’s Trunk For Even More Beauty

Do not miss out on the soft barks of large Crape Myrtles. If you’d love more beauty and color on your hedge or garden, ensure you prune away branches from the 4 to 5 feet of your Crape Myrtles’ trunk and expose the barks for year-round beauty.

3.      Prune Sparingly in Early Spring or Winter

As you already know, Crape Myrtles bloom on new wood, so early spring or late winter pruning is required if you’d like to promote optimum budding and flowering. While at it, ensure you remove suckers as well as any tangled branches on your Crape Myrtles. Also, feel free to get rid of irregular shapes that may be keeping your Crape Myrtles from looking their best.

4.      Treat Fungus Before it Starts

Like most other shrubs that hibernate over winter, Crape Myrtles is highly susceptible to sooty mold, powdery mildew, and other fungal infections. Ensure you regularly treat your Crape Myrtles using a general fungicide to reduce the risk of either the plant getting infected or infections already on the plants from exacerbating.

5.      Fertilize Lightly

For healthy growth and brighter flowers, experts advise that you should only use slow-release fertilizers high in nitrogen on your Crape Myrtles. That said, ensure you avoid fertilizing your Crape Myrtles too much at all costs, as this could promote excessive leaf growth but dissuade flowering.

6.      Plant On Suitable Soil

Crape Myrtles aren’t demanding when it comes to the PH of the soil they are planted on. But they do have a preference. For best results, ensure that the soil you’ve planted them on is either slightly acidic or neutral.

Also, note that the soil needs to be well-draining because crape myrtle tends to be susceptible to root and stem rots.  

7.      Plant Your Crepe Myrtles in Full Sunlight

Crape Myrtles need full sunlight exposure to thrive. By full sun, I mean at least 6 hours of direct sun exposure every day. If your plants are exposed to less sunlight over winter, do not be surprised when you’re left wondering whether or not your Crape Myrtle is dead after winter subsides.

Final Thoughts

Crape Myrtles can be a stunning addition to any garden, whether your goal is to nurture a burst of floral wonder in your yard, have an eye-catching plant, or simply have a more colorful hedge. As such, I understand it can be highly frustrating when you cannot tell if your Crape Myrtle is dead.

I hope this detailed guide has helped you fill that mystery. Better yet, if you have a dying Crape Myrtles plant on your hands, use the additional tips I’ve shared to bring it back to shape.