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Thursday - January 15, 2009

From: Galveston, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Non-Natives, Compost and Mulch, Planting, Trees
Title: Probably non-native crapemyrtle trees damaged by hurricane
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I have 5 crape myrtle trees. I live in Galveston, Tx and when Hurricane Ike came through in September the salt water I think killed them. They have not come back since then and are brown with no leaves or new shoots coming out. What can I do to save them or are they gone?


Let's see, Hurricane Ike struck on September 12, so it has now been 4 months since the damage. Without actually seeing the trees, there is no way of knowing if they are really dead, or have just gone dormant, as they do anyway in the Winter. However, since Galveston is in Zone 9, the crapemyrtles may very well remain green year-round, so if your trees have shown no signs of life, it can probably not be blamed on dormancy. Among the characteristics of the crapemyrtle are that it does not thrive in a very wet location, which your trees are no doubt in now, or have been. Also, they are only moderately salt tolerant, so being drenched by that sea water was surely detrimental. Finally, the bark is very thin and easily damaged by mechanical collision, as with a lawnmower, etc. The collision with hurricane winds and sea water probably stripped the bark from the trees, which would almost certainly kill them. If you are willing to wait and see if they try to put out some new growth in the Spring, you could certainly do that, but if they don't, you will have wasted a year in planting replacements, which should be done in cool weather in the South.

Malpighia glabra (wild crapemyrtle) is the only crapemyrtle native to North America, blooming pink from March to December. It occurs in thickets, brushlands and palm groves in South Texas, so it's possible you had natives, but more likely they were commercial nursery stock. Most of the species of crapemyrtle commercially available are native to Asia. The common crapemyrtle, Lagerstroeemia indica, originating in China and Korea, was introduced into the United States in 1747 and has been planted all over the South. In the 1950's the Japanese crapemyrtle, Lagerstroemia faurei, was brought to the U.S. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center recommends the use of plants native not only to North America but to the area in which they are being grown. Native plants will have more resistance to pests and diseases, and be adapted to the climate (although probably not hurricanes!) and water available. 

If you decide to go ahead and dig up the dead trees now, we will suggest some replacements that are native to South Texas. Hopefully, there will not be such a disastrous storm again in our lifetimes, and new trees can grow and flourish. Replacements should be planted before the end of February, to take advantage of semi-dormancy, and help avoid transplant shock. We would suggest that you get as much of the old crapemyrtle roots out as possible, and then amend the soil where the new trees will go with compost or other organic material. This will aid in drainage, which is probably always important on Galveston Island, and help make soil nutrients available to the roots of the new plant. We found these suggested trees by going to our Recommended Species section, clicking on South Texas on the map, and then used the NARROW YOUR SEARCH function, checking "Trees" under Habit. If you wish to look for other possibilities, you can use this site, adding in the amount of sunlight the area gets and the soil moisture. When you have made all your choices, click on the Narrow Your Search box for names of trees suitable to your specifications. You can then follow the link to the scientific name and learn when and for how long the tree blooms, etc.

Cordia boissieri (anacahuita)

Cornus drummondii (roughleaf dogwood)

Quercus macrocarpa (bur oak)

Sabal mexicana (Rio Grande palmetto)

Cordia boissieri

Cornus drummondii

Quercus macrocarpa

Sabal mexicana






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