Crape Myrtles Trees

Credit: eddiesimages/iStockphoto


Q: I found a website selling Crape Myrtle trees. I know they are hardy to Northern Washington/ BC, can flower up to 120 days, come in various sizes and shades. I think I have seen some while driving in the Lower Mainland. However, I have not seen the trees featured in any west coast gardening magazine, nor at the garden centers. Are this trees actually viable in the Vancouver area?
What are the root systems like? Do the roots spread a great distance looking for water? Do they have deep or shallow roots? Should I buy some?

Crape myrtles are lovely indeed. They are often used as street trees in Seattle. The problem is that they don’t bloom unless they get a great deal of heat. The do best in hot spots; you can see a trial bed of them at Seattle’s Center for Urban Horticulture east of the main University of Washington campus . I was there in November and the trees were still in bud. They thrive in hot-summer places such as Oregon and south.

Compared to Seattle and Portland, Vancouver is just that much wetter and colder. My friend Douglas Justice, acting director at the UBC Botanical Garden observes: “Lagerstroemia indica and its hybrids do not survive in Vancouver–or at least not that I’ve seen. I think the problem is lack of heat for ripening plus overly mild early spring temperatures coupled with excess moisture and cold soil at that time. The conditions in the CUH parking lot seem to be ideal, but even there, the plants don’t all flower well or consistently. We finally have flowers on our beautiful L. fauriei, the white-flowered southern Japanese (Yakushima) species, which is hardy here. It’s planted in a warm, protected spot with excellent drainage, but it’s taken 20 years to get organized.”

As you can see, they have great bark. But unless you live in Victoria, where it’s a bit milder and drier than Vancouver, I wouldn’t invest too much in these handsome trees. Or maybe if you have a spot against a hot, south-facing wall with reflected heat and great drainage…