Crepe Myrtle Bush vs. Crepe Myrtle Tree: Is There a Difference?

Written by Em Casalena
Updated: October 26, 2023
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Crepe myrtles are very common bushes and trees for landscaping, and it certainly makes sense why. These gorgeous plants add the right pop of color to a home garden, public park, or large property. Crepe myrtle is a general term for the genus Lagerstroemia, which includes 50 different species of trees and bushes.

So what’s the difference between a crepe myrtle bush and a crepe myrtle tree? In this guide, we’ll take a look at two common species of crepe myrtle. Lagerstroemia indica is commonly grown as a bush, while Lagerstroemia speciosa is grown as the largest species of crepe myrtle. We’ll break down the key differences between these two plants, so you can make a more informed choice about which one would suit your landscaping needs.

Comparing Crepe Myrtle Bush vs. Crepe Myrtle Tree

Crepe Myrtle BushCrepe Myrtle Tree
ClassificationLagerstroemia indicaLagerstroemia speciosa
Alternative NamesCrapemyrtle, Crape MyrtleGiant Crape Myrtle, Queen’s Crape Myrtle, Pride-of-India
OriginEastern Asia, Southern China, PhilippinesEastern Asia, China, Korea
DescriptionA species of crepe myrtle that only reaches a maximum height of 40 feet and tends to take on the shape of a bush or shrub.A species of crepe myrtle that can grow as high as 60 feet and has a traditional tree-like shape.
UsesPrimarily used as an ornamental plant and in landscaping.Primarily used as an ornamental plant and in landscaping.
Growth TipsRequires full sun and alkaline soil.Can only grow well in USDA Hardiness Zones 10 – 11.
Interesting FeaturesIs dense and multi-stemmed, and can grow very rapidly if not controlled with pruning.Boasts attractive flowers and can be pruned to show off its trunk to make it appear more tree-like.

The Key Differences Between Crepe Myrtle Bush and Crepe Myrtle Tree

As mentioned earlier, crepe myrtles are an entire genus of plants called Lagerstroemia. The crepe myrtle bush would refer to Lagerstroemia indica in most situations, while the crepe myrtle tree would likely refer to Lagerstroemia speciosa, which is the largest species of crepe myrtle and the most tree-like. Both of these plants are native to eastern Asia, and they look pretty similar to one another.

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There are some notable differences between these two lovely crepe myrtles. To start, the flowers of the crepe myrtle bush are much smaller and have a more vibrant fuchsia color than the crepe myrtle tree. The crepe myrtle tree has fairly large flowers that are more of a light lavender color.

The structures of these plants are also quite different from one another. The crepe myrtle tree has just one single trunk with a superior crown spread, bigger leaves, and a more tree-like appearance. The crepe myrtle tree has a fairly limited color range. The crepe myrtle bush does not have a single trunk but rather a wide range of branches which give it a bush-like appearance and classification. The crepe myrtle bush has smaller leaves and a smaller crown spread but does have a more diverse flower color range than the crepe myrtle tree.

In addition to these differences, the crepe myrtle bush is much hardier compared to the crepe myrtle tree. The crepe myrtle tree can only grow in USDA Hardiness Zones 10 – 11, which makes sense considering it is a deciduous subtropical tree. The crepe myrtle bush, however, can survive in USDA Hardiness Zones 6 – 9. It is much more cold-tolerant than the crepe myrtle tree.

Crepe myrtle bush (Lagerstroemia indica) with fuchsia flowers

The flowers of the crepe myrtle bush are much smaller and have a more vibrant fuchsia color than the crepe myrtle tree.

©iStock.com/Hanna Yohanna

Crepe Myrtle Bush vs. Crepe Myrtle Tree: Classification

The crepe myrtle bush is referred to as Lagerstroemia indica. The crepe myrtle tree, or giant crepe myrtle, is classified as Lagerstroemia speciosa. As part of the Lagerstroemia genus, both of these plants are related to 50 different flowering trees and bushes that are all commonly referred to as crepe myrtles.

Crepe Myrtle Bush vs. Crepe Myrtle Tree: Description

The crepe myrtle bush or crapemyrtle is one of the many crepe myrtle species that resembles a bush or shrub. Many gardeners in the southern United States plant this shrub in their yards, but it can be found around the country. The attraction of this plant is that it blooms when most trees aren’t. If the plant is healthy, the warmest portion of the summer will find it covered in blossoms that persist for months. Crepe myrtle plants are deciduous, grow quickly, and frequently take on their multi-stemmed shape.

The crepe myrtle tree is a deciduous tree with huge, brilliant pink to light violet blossoms. It is a big tree with many stems or trunks that branch off slightly above the ground. This species has a broad spreading crown and can reach heights of up to 60 feet. Despite the fact that their real growth rate might vary according to care, pruning, soil, climate, etc., crepe myrtles are typically thought of as having the largest trunks. The crepe myrtle tree has fairly delicate thin, smooth bark peels that are readily harmed.

Lagerstroemia speciosa, crepe myrtle tree

The crepe myrtle tree boasts attractive flowers and can be pruned to show off its trunk to make it appear more tree-like.

©iStock.com/Eko Budi Utomo

Crepe Myrtle Bush vs. Crepe Myrtle Tree: Uses

Both crepe myrtle bushes and crepe myrtle trees are primarily used as ornamental plants and in landscaping. They don’t serve much of a purpose outside of just looking pretty!

Crepe Myrtle Bush vs. Crepe Myrtle Tree: Origin

East Asia is where crepe myrtles originate. Southern China and the Philippines are where you’ll find more crepe myrtle bushes. In China and Korea, crepe myrtle trees are more prevalent. The Lagerstroemia genus contains no native species in North America, although they are found in abundance throughout the southeastern United States.

Crepe Myrtle Bush vs. Crepe Myrtle Tree: How to Grow

Even though it favors wet, well-drained soil and direct sunlight, the crepe myrtle bush will thrive in practically any type of soil, including sand, loam, and clay. Although this plant may be easily transplanted and is resistant to both drought and alkaline conditions, it does have insect and disease issues. If they receive the necessary watering and fertilization, you may even grow them in containers. Although they will definitely tolerate just a little shade, crepe myrtle bushes that get more than around six hours of direct sunlight will produce the most flowers.

The crepe myrtle bush blooms from June to the end of the season, and it is ideal to remove seed pods to encourage flower bloom. Because the tree is tropical and sheds its leaves early, the fall color is not particularly stunning. This plant can be grown as a specimen, as an espalier, or as a street tree with ground cover underneath. Breeding and cultivation of crepe myrtle bushes have led to the production of flowers in a variety of hues, from white to purple to crimson in all its hues. With plants that can grow to mature heights of three to five feet, 40-foot-tall shade trees, and practically any size in between, they can be bought for small settings.

Planting crepe myrtle trees in wet, fertile soil that receives plenty of sunlight is ideal. This tree needs around an inch of water each week on average. Throughout the growing season, it tolerates a typical amount of water. Avert overwatering to protect the roots from damage and root rot. As the leaves turn chlorotic or anemic, the crepe myrtle tree also benefits from routine fertilization. In somewhat fertile and well-drained soils, this tree thrives. The best option is to use soils that are rich in fertilizer and are loam-like, with adequate drainage and moisture absorption. Although they may grow in alkaline soil, they prefer a pH between 5.5 and 7.5.

New crepe myrtle tree shoots can be easily transplanted while they are still forming roots. Moving the plant about is not advised, though. Although pruning is not required, it is done to shape the foliage, promote growth, and give the plant a more treelike look.

Raspberry colored crepe myrtle tree in full bloom

The crepe myrtle tree is a deciduous tree with huge, brilliant pink to light violet blossoms.

©Noel V. Baebler/Shutterstock.com

Crepe Myrtle Bush vs. Crepe Myrtle Tree: Special Features

The crepe myrtle bush is known for its very vibrant, small, and plentiful blooms that tend to bloom earlier than other tree flowers. It’s well-loved for its versatility, as it can be pruned and shaped to stay small or left to grow up to 40 feet tall. There are a number of varieties of this crepe myrtle species, including the centennial spirit, Carolina beauty, black diamond red hot, and Muskogee varieties.

The crepe myrtle tree is unique in that it is the largest of the crepe myrtles. Beloved by many, this tree can reach up to 60 feet and does well with aesthetic pruning. The only real downside of this tree is that it is not very hardy and can only be grown in two different plant hardiness zones.

The main differences between the crepe myrtle bush and the crepe myrtle tree boil down to size and shape. If you live outside of USDA Hardiness Zones 10 and 11, opt for the crepe myrtle bush. If you live in those hardiness zones and want a much larger tree, opt for the crepe myrtle tree. Either way, you’ll be able to enjoy the colorful and aesthetically pleasing look of the crepe myrtle!

Bonus: When and How to Prune a Crape Myrtle

Crape Myrtle

Multi-trunk crape myrtles are stronger and can endure more stress.

©meteorite/Shutterstock.com

Crape myrtle owners often stress over when and how to prune these lovely trees. When using them to enhance landscaping around your house or in a planned garden – you must determine how large you want them to be before you take out your pruning shears. Crape myrtles in the growing stage are touchy – and the wrong cut could destroy the look of the tree. Here are some tips:

  • Prune in late winter. The best time to prune is before they start growing in the spring.
  • Avoid pruning in the fall. If you prune in the fall it could stimulate growth that could be killed by cold weather.
  • Pay attention to growth patterns. Many people just chop off the tops in a straight line – mindful pruning will result in a more natural-looking shape.

If planting a new tree – decide how you want it to look as part of your landscaping plan. There are generally three styles of crape myrtle trees:

  • Single trunk. This streamlined style requires more pruning and must be started when the tree is young.
  • Multi-trunk. Because it allows for a fuller bloom that takes up the most space – this approach is the most popular. Trees shaped in this manner are stronger and can handle more stress.
  • Natural look. This is a beautiful option and requires the least amount of work – but a natural crape myrtle tends to suck away nutrients from neighboring plants. If you make sure all of your plants receive all of the water and fertilizer they need – this style works well.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © F Delventhal / Flickr – License / Original


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About the Author

Em Casalena is a writer at A-Z Animals where their primary focus is on plants, gardening, and sustainability. Em has been writing and researching about plants for nearly a decade and is a proud Southwest Institute of Healing Arts graduate and certified Urban Farming instructor. Em is a resident of Arizona and enjoys learning about eco-conscious living, thrifting at local shops, and caring for their Siamese cat Vladimir.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Is there a difference between crepe myrtle bushes and crepe myrtle trees?

Crepe myrtle trees are notably taller than crepe myrtle bushes. Crepe myrtle bushes also have more stems than crepe myrtle trees.

Are crepe myrtle trees and crepe myrtle bushes different species?

Yes. There are at least 50 different species of the genus Lagerstroemia, commonly known as crepe myrtle. Generally, Lagerstroemia speciosa is grown as a tree, while Lagerstroemia indica is grown as a bush.

Are crepe myrtle bushes and trees worth growing?

Absolutely. All of the crepe myrtle species are visually stunning and work well for landscaping and gardening.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. The University of Arizona Cochise County Master Gardeners, Available here: https://cals.arizona.edu/cochise/mg/crape-myrtle-lagerstroemia-indica
  2. Leafy Place, Available here: https://leafyplace.com/crape-myrtle-bushes/