Today in "Gardening Texoma" we are talking about the south's favorite summer plant., Crape Myrtles. The Master Gardeners are joining us with a few tips that will bring color to your landscape.
Crape Myrles by Barb Grisham
HOW DO I KNOW WHICH CRAPE MYRTLE TO CHOOSE?
Carefully study the area you have in mind to decide proper height and width that is best. Large varieties need to be at least 8-10 ft. from the house. Some tall varieties are capable of reaching 28 feet in height. A majestic Natchez is spectacular when it has the proper space to show off this height and its cinnamon colored trunk.
Avoid unnamed varieties that are only tagged by color as you will never know whether you've chosen one that will be six feet or sixteen. In the past that is how many were sold but with the effort that is being made to educate the public to choose the right size rather than prune to the right size most are available by name. Waiting until seeing the bloom color also is wise as occasionally there can be a labeling error.
The Crape Myrtle Trails of McKinney prepared one of the very best lists to consult. The chart divides the plants by size categories and then lists Flower Color, Growth Form, USDA Zone, Trunk Character, Fall Leaf Color, Year Introduced, and Mildew Resistance. With that much information to help in your selection, why would anyone ever so grossly disfigure these plants. Unfortunately, you see examples everywhere of Crape Myrtle Murder. (www.crapemyrtletrails.org) The MG office has the chart in poster form for anyone that would like to study it.
WHEN AND HOW DO I PLANT A CRAPE MYRTLE?
Full sun location is best, but a minimum of eight hours should produce reasonably good blooms. It is best to plant container grown plants and spring or fall is best time.
Dig a hole twice the circumference of the container but no deeper. They grow well in native well-drained soils without added amendments.
Although classified as drought tolerant plants that means once well-established. Newly planted it is important to water the soil ball well on three day intervals if no rain. The first year is the most important time. Mulching will help, but not piled up high against the trunks. In severe winter temperature drops it is equally important to make sure the young plants' roots are not dry.
WHAT ARE THE CARE REQUIREMENTS THAT I NEED TO KNOW?
Generally, they are easy management plants. For best growth and bloom apply high nitrogen lawn type fertilizer without weed killer in drip line area in early April and in June after first big show of blooms. Old spent blooms may be deadheaded if reachable, but prune nothing larger than a pencil in diameter. A young plant should be trained to have an odd number of trunks, with five being the most usually and should have some inside branches removed to remain open and airy in appearance.
Older varieties are more prone to powdery mildew. Occasionally, crape myrtle aphids will attack the leaves and the resulting honeydew drips and collects to form black sooty mold. It is not harmful just unsightly. In the last few years a crape myrtle scale has made its way northward. Ladybugs are attracted to this particular scale and may take care of the problem. If not, labeled treatment may be needed.
WHAT PRUNING IS RECOMMENDED?
As previously stressed and encouraged, choose properly and then only prune to guide shape for best esthetics not to recreate a new size every year. If you buy property and inherit knarley looking disfigured plants it would be best to cut back to just above ground and retrain. If too large in height and still able to move it please do so.
There is no good preventative yet for the little sucker shoots at base of trunks; they just have to snapped off. As plant reaches maturity it is less of a problem.
HOW DO I PROPAGATE CRAPE MYRTLES?
As these plants do not "come true" from seeds, it is not recommended. Nurserymen propagate by softwood cuttings in May or hardwood cuttings in winter. The sucker root plants that often occur out a few feet from parent plant will be true and can be dug with a sharpshooter shovel with enough new roots separated from a main root. These can successfully be transplanted. Just care for it more carefully, as it is not as established as container grown ones would be.
WHERE MAY I SEE MANY VARIETIES OF CRAPE MYRTLES GROWING?
In addition to viewing at a good local nursery, there is a new EARTH KIND Texas A&M Crape Myrtle Test Garden at Myers Park in McKinney. In Craig Ranch area of McKinney you will find the Crape Myrtle Trails of McKinney World Collection Park.
Historically, the old Sherman Nursery was a major propagator of crape myrtles such as Twilight and Watermelon Red. The land in Pottsboro these were grown on still has some existing plants. If interested the Sherman Museum could help you research this local horticultural history.
In Oklahoma, the past few years Dr. Whitcomb has developed many new successful and striking varieties such as the beautiful bright red Dynamite, Red Rocket and Siren Red. Pink Velour is one his most popular with its burgundy leaves.
WITH WELL OVER A HUNDRED CRAPE MYRTLE VARIETIES RANGING FROM TWO FEET TO OVER TWENTY FEET IN HEIGHT AND BEING ONE OF THE EASIEST PLANTS TO GROW WHY NOT PLANT SOME OF THE SOUTH'S BEST PLANTS. ENJOY ITS COLORFUL BLOOMS IN THE SUMMER, SPECTACULAR FALL LEAF COLOR, AND BEAUTIFUL SMOOTH BARK YEAR ROUND.