Q. My crepe myrtle looks like it didn’t survive last winter very well. Very little flowering this year and some of the branches look dead. I see others in our area look just as bad. I live close to Academy and Tramway. Any info you could provide would help. Thanks. – R.D., Albuquerque
A. I think that your crepe myrtle, and lots of others in town, suffered from that wicked cold snap we dealt with in late October of 2020.
We seem to forget what happened in the area weather-wise fairly rapidly, and have a hard time comprehending that the weather that happened so long ago would be the cause of troubles we’re noticing now.
The early cold snap could be the root cause of the trouble. I have suggested in earlier writings that it was the temperatures that made lots of rosemary plants in our area suffer similarly and received feedback in total agreement.
I would suggest lopping and pruning away the “dead” portions of the plant.
Using a sharp, clean pair of hand pruners, start snipping away at the branches. Cut back every 6 to 8 inches, starting at the tip until you get to what’s called green wood. You’ll be able to feel the difference through the pruners. The “dead” wood will feel snappy-dry, whereas the green wood will feel smoother and more easily sliced through with the pruners.
Now if the branches are thick and too difficult to cut with the hand pruners, use a stout pair of loppers to cut and remove those branches or limbs.
Once you’ve cut out all the dead, the crepe myrtle could look rather funky, but so be it. Your only other choice would be to remove the whole plant and start anew. Eventually, with care and hopefully little brutal weather, the crepe could recoup.
If you haven’t already this year, consider an application of fertilization, using the manufacturer’s suggested rates, to give the plant a boost. Remember to water first and then fertilize. It’s also recommended to offer an application of iron as a sort of added supplement to the fertilizer’s “balanced diet.” I’ll just caution you to remember to not fertilize after the end of August.
I had been taught that crepe myrtles were considered just marginal zone-wise here even though my bible suggests them to be a good choice for this zone. I think that a lot of their survival rates depends on where in the landscaping they are placed.
Planted out in the open in places where they get no protection, they can sometimes suffer from the cold. Planted a bit more “tucked-up” it seems they are more able to handle more weather.
Also, if the plantings are dry (the roots), when we do get wicked cold really quickly, that’s when so much of the damage is done.
It’s up to you to become a weather watcher, and if you see that it’s going to get really cold, really quickly, then the best protection you can offer is a good watering. Ice will insulate the root mass, whereas dry soil offers absolutely no protection at all.
And without a healthy root mass you’ll have an unhealthy above ground growth, period.
I don’t know if your crepe myrtles had to deal with that early cold snap “dry,” but that would go a long way in explaining why they look the way they do now.
For the time being, cut out the dead and see if you can deal with their look, offer a fertilization and water periodically the rest of this growing season, watering slowly and deeply when you do water. Considered “drought-resistant” (I despise that term), water offered on a scheduled time frame will be best for them.
Good luck getting the your crepe back in shape.
Happy Diggin’ In!
Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send garden-related questions to Digging In, Albuquerque Journal, 7777 Jefferson NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109, or to email@example.com.