Probably the most popular plant in southern gardens, crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia indica and cultivars) are drought tolerant floriferous small trees or large shrubs. They come in a range of brilliant flower colors from white and pale pink to lavender, red, magenta and fuchsia. Some cultivars have lovely exfoliating red flaked bark.
A common pruning strategy is colloquially termed ‘crape murder,’ when plants are chopped back to remove current season’s growth. Crape myrtles bloom on new growth so when chopped in the spring flowering doesn’t decrease. There isn’t any health benefit to the plant and it isn’t necessary to encourage blooming; the practice appears to be a generally accepted cultural practice that if not properly performed can be aesthetically unfortunate.
Current breeding programs are focusing on increasing cold tolerance and developing resistance to the main disease problem, powdery mildew, as well as breeding in dark purple foliage. One of the other limiting factors for growing crape myrtles in northern zones is heat – if there isn’t enough heat they won’t flower. While a very attractive plant without flowers, the flowers are definitely the main attraction.
Arizona State University