Queen of the South – The Crape Myrtle

Queen of the South – The Crape Myrtle

Queen of the South

With its delicate thin petals that form large blooms in white, pink, red or purple, lush green leaves that form a thick canopy of foliage and smooth, exfoliating bark, it is easy to see why the Crape Myrtle is one of the favorite landscape plants in the South.

Crape Myrtles prefer full sun, thrive in the heat and are drought tolerant once established, making those perfect plants for Waco and most of Texas.  Native to China and Korea, the Crape Myrtle was introduced to the United States more than 200 years ago.  Many specimens 100 years and older can be found in historic landscapes from the Atlantic Coast to Texas.

There are over 50 species of Crape Myrtle but two species make up most of our cultivated types; L. indica and L. fauriel.  Varieties in the L. fauriel species tend to be resistant to powdery mildew and most bear the names of Native American Indian tribes.

When choosing a Crape Myrtle for your landscape it is very important to choose your location first and determine what size specimen you have room for.  If it will be in a flower bed near the house consider a weeping or dwarf variety.  Further away from the house choose a small tree form (10-20 ft) or a large tree form (20-40 ft).   There is a wealth of information on the internet to help you with varieties and you can ask your Nursery professional for advice.  If there is a certain variety you want and can’t find, they can order it for you

Crape Myrtles usually begin blooming in June and July, depending on variety, and continue blooming into the fall.  Most of them develop beautiful fall color before losing their leaves for the winter.  Summer is a good time to purchase and plant Crape Myrtles so you can see the blooms and pick the color you want.   Just remember a newly planted shrub or tree will need regular watering the first year, especially during the summer.

Now we come to pruning Crape Myrtles.  All Crape Myrtles are shrubs by nature.  If you buy a tree form it will have 3 or more trunks and other shoots will be trimmed off at the bottom.  Each spring new shoots will try to grow from the bottom, but just prune them away.  In winter you should trim any broken limbs or crossing limbs.  Very minimal pruning is needed.  DO NOT TOP any Crape Myrtle.  I know you see this all over town but it is totally unnecessary and ruins the shape of your tree.  The topped tree will grow many weak little branches from the stubs.  These branches cannot support the flowers that grow on them.  The trees will never really recover from this, so just don’t do it!

For more detailed information on varieties, planting directions and maintenance of Crape Myrtles go to www.aggie-horticulture.edu and search Crape Myrtles.

The Crape Myrtle has few pests or other problems.  Treat it right and it will be beautiful in your landscape for years to come.

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