Plain Gardening: Crepe Myrtle Bark Scale Disease

Look around. Chances are, if you’re outdoors on the Gulf Coast, you’ll see a crepe myrtle tree. Gardening Expert Bill Finch says he read an article written 100 years ago in which the authors complained that southerners refused to plant crepe myrtles. They called it a fine tree with beautiful bark and wonderful summer flowers. Even the shape of the tree is lovely. Well, Bill says the message must have eventually gotten through, because we started planting them in droves.

Now, crepe myrtles are everywhere you look…Bill says it may be the most common tree in Mobile, and it is certainly the most commonly planted tree. But popularity comes with problems. When you get at tree that is this common, it’s an invitation for disease. Bill says there are now several crepe myrtle diseases of concern to Gulf Coast gardeners and homeowners. We addressed sooty mildew and aphids in a previous episode of Plain Gardening. But a new disease that’s affecting crepe myrtles in Texas and Arkansas is now being found in a few spots in Baldwin County. It’s called crepe myrtle bark scale, and Bill says you’ll be hearing a lot more about it soon.

Crepe myrtle bark scale is a disfiguring disease that doesn’t kill the tree…but folks dealing with it often wish the tree were dead. Scale insects in pictures from Texas cover the branches until you can’t see the tree underneath. When that happens, you get no blooms, the tree thins out, and-more importantly, from the average homeowner’s perspective-infested trees are covered with black, sooty mold that grows on the poop released by the bark scale insects. It’s really disgusting!

So what do you look for and what can you do? First off, buy crepe myrtles from reputable sources like local nurseries. Even then, check the plant for any sign of sooty mold…if you see anything suspicious, steer clear or we could end up spreading the disease faster than it will spread on its own. Once it gets here, it’s tough to deal with. Right now, it takes a lot of time, effort, and money to control crepe myrtle bark scale. Scientists are looking for best-or at least better-methods, but right now it’s not cheap or easy. And buying crepe myrtles won’t be easy any more either.

With that in mind, there are alternatives to planting crepe myrtles. Bill says there are a lot of other great trees out there that can make us happy. We’ll look into that in a future episode of Plain Gardening.

Learn more about crepe myrtle bark scale and crepe myrtle alternatives by calling Bill’s radio show Sunday mornings from 9-11 on 106.5 FM or email plaingardening@yahoo.com.

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