Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Plant Profile: Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia)

Crape Myrtles are native to Asia and were introduced to the United States in 1790. Crape Myrtles are known for their colorful, long-lasting flowers that bloom in the summer. The flowers are born on long branches in panicles of crinkled blossoms with crape-like texture. Flower colors vary from deep-purple to red and white, with almost every shade in between.

After flowering, it produces seed capsules that start off green then turn dark brown. It is not necessary to cut these seeds off, unless you find them unattractive.

In the wild, most crape myrtle are multi-stemmed large shrubs, but today it is possible to find a crape myrtle filling every landscaping need from small trees to dense barrier hedges to container-sized varieties that grow only 2 foot tall.

The practice of topping-off crape myrtles to keep their growth in check is not advisable. Instead, pick a variety that is bred to reach full maturity at a smaller size.

One of the joys of crape myrtle tree is its brilliant fall color and in the winter is its beautiful, exfoliating bark. It takes a few years to develop that bark texture, so give it time.
Many of the newer crape myrtle varieties were developed at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, DC. These were bred to be disease-resistant and hardier for northern climates. They are generally hardy to Zone 7. If planted in colder zones, they die back to the ground each winter, but with care and lots of mulching will regenerate new growth from their roots.

‘Natchez’ (white flowers), ‘Sioux’ (dark pink), and ‘Muskogee’ (light lavender) are three of the most popular National Arboretum introductions with many more being developed by other people. Some of the newer varieties have burgundy leaves with blooms from purple to brilliant pink and others are dwarf in form.

Crape myrtles bloom on new growth, so you can prune them in the early spring, if you so desire, and they will still flower that summer.

Crape myrtle flowers most heavily in full sun. Other things that may cause Crape Myrtles to bloom less are too much water, lack of heat, and over-fertilization. Note also that crape myrtles are one of the last plants to leaf out in the spring, so if you think yours might be dead in April give it until the end of May to prove its case.

Crape Myrtle - You Can Grow That!

The video was produced by Washington Gardener Magazine.
Visuals by Taylor Calavetinos
Audio by Kathy Jentz

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