Crape myrtle, often called the lilac of the South, is a shrub or tree suitable for many landscape settings. Crape myrtle produces clusters of red, white, pink or purple flowers in summer, followed by brown fruit pods that remain on the plant through the winter. Crape myrtle comes in a variety of sizes and grows moderately to quickly.
Crape myrtles typically grow at a moderately fast growth rate --12 to 18 inches per year. The shrub may take a year or two to become established but grows quickly once it has developed a strong root system. Mature heights range between 10 and 30 feet. A few compact varieties stand 3 to 6 feet high when mature.
Growing conditions play a role in how quickly crape myrtle grows. For fastest growth, amend the soil with compost and peat moss to improve drainage and texture. Plant crape myrtle in full sun and water to keep the soil moist, especially for the first two years as the plant becomes established. Mature plants are fairly drought tolerant. Crape myrtles planted in shade bloom less and are susceptible to diseases such as powdery mildew. Excessive nitrogen fertilizer encourages fast, vegetative growth but reduces flowering and may leave the plant vulnerable to disease, as well.
Crape myrtles tolerate urban conditions and cramped sites, although they will grow more quickly when given adequate space. Select a crape myrtle variety suited for the site. Hope, Ozark Spring and Victor stand 3 to 6 feet high but are prone to powdery mildew. Seminole, Cherokee and Catawba are resistant to powdery mildew and grow 8 to 12 feet high. Larger varieties, such as Natchez and Tuscarora, grow 20 to 25 feet high and 15 feet wide.
Avoid the temptation to prune crape myrtle severely if it is growing too quickly. Severe pruning or topping the shrub to control its size often ruins its natural, open shape and may leave the tree more prone to disease. Instead, remove a crape myrtle that is too large for its space and replace it with one more appropriately sized.