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Crape Myrtle – Variety and Versatility

crapemyrtle-3Crape myrtles provide an unequalled contribution to the early-summer and fall garden. The wide range of sizes and flower color make crape myrtles one of the essential shrubs or small trees of the southern garden. Not only does the foliage put on a nice fall display, in shades of yellow, orange or red, but the attractive peeling bark is also welcome in the winter landscape, as well.

Flower colors run the range from red to purple to pink to white, with some bicolors, while heights range from two feet to over twenty feet tall. Plants may be trained as a multi-trunk clump, or as a single trunk “tree form”.

Planting and Initial Care
Crape myrtles need a sunny location in well-drained soil. Water to ensure adequate moisture, especially when the plants are setting flower buds in the summer. When planting, follow our general planting guidelines contained in our guarantee slip. In addition, fertilize with a  Starter Solution. Follow-up in about two weeks with a good general purpose food, such as Espoma Garden Tone®.

There are many wonderful cultivars of crape myrtle. Of particular note are the National Arboretum hybrids, which were bred for winter hardiness and powdery mildew resistance. This series honors the tribal names of native Americans, such as `Chickasaw’ and `Natchez’.

Plant Groups
Larger Trees grow to 20′ and higher. This group is the best choice for single-or multi-stemmed trees. They make attractive street or driveway trees if pruned into an upright form. They are also nice in groupings or as background plants.

IMG_1410_editedSmall Trees/Large Shrubs grow 10′ to 20′ tall. This group is the most versatile for an accent in the landscape. They may be trained to a single stem or multi-stem form.

Shrubs grow 5′ to 10′ tall and range from dwarf types to large shrubs. Trimming in mid-to-late spring will keep these crape myrtles nice and bushy. They’re a good choice for grouping or flowering shrub borders. If carefully selected and sited, they also may be used in foundation plantings.

Dwarf Crape Myrtles reach a height of about 2-3 feet. Our most popular group, these diminutive gems are just the thing for shrub borders in smaller yards or townhouses or for foundation plantings grouped with evergreens. If pruned heavily in the spring, they work well in the sunny perennial border.

crape myrtleLong-Term Care
Once established, feed in the late spring with Espoma Garden Tone®. If a soil test indicates that your soil is low in phosphorus, an early-June application of triple-superphosphate will result in a heavier bloom.

Crape myrtles bloom on current season’s growth, so they may be pruned in the spring and will still bloom that same year. Because they leaf out so late in the season, wait until new leaves appear before pruning out “dead” wood or shaping (mid-to-late May is best). Removing spent blooms will result in continued blooming into the fall. Heavy pruning of branches after blooming ends, however, reduces winter-hardiness.

Crape myrtle cultivars show varying degrees of susceptibility to powdery mildew fungus, and it is the problem that the homeowner is most likely to spot. This disease is particularly evident in the late summer and fall, during periods of cool, dry weather. It appears as a white, cottony growth on the leaves and flowers and can be very unsightly, although it does not greatly harm the plant. Control by selecting resistant varieties, such as the National Arboretum hybrids, or spraying with the currently recommended fungicides. A number of organic products will do a good job of controlling powdery mildew.

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

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