by Judy Kautz, OSU Extension Master Gardener
Oklahomans definitely have a love affair with our crape myrtles; in many areas you can see them on practically every street. And why not? Few plants can match the crape myrtle’s spectacular summer flowers, colorful autumn foliage and attractive sculptured wood. Known as the “lilac of the South” they are truly versatile plants; here are some tips if you are thinking about adding a crape myrtle to your landscape.
Crape myrtles, Lagerstroemia indica, have many landscape uses: planted together, they make a great hedge or screen for your yard, while a single plant can create a distinctive focal point in a garden bed. Crape myrtles also make wonderful foundation plants around your house.
Summer is a great time to buy crape myrtles because it is easy to see bloom color. However, pay careful attention to the tag on the plant to make sure it is the right size for your garden. These plants range from less than 3 feet tall to cultivars that may reach 30 feet!
Choose the right size plant for your needs, avoiding buildings and power lines if you plant larger types. Medium selections from 12 to 14 feet are perfect for a small courtyard, and dwarf selections look lovely in containers or perennial beds. When you plant, remember that crape myrtles love sun and will not bloom without plentiful sunshine.
For planting, early spring through September are optimum times, because these plants love heat. In our hot summer soils, they will respond by growing vigorous roots. However, as the soil cools in the fall, root development dramatically slows. If you plant crape myrtles after early October, they may dehydrate and die during the winter. When planting, water your crape myrtle well before you place it in the ground, and keep it watered during hot periods. Mulch to conserve moisture and reduce weeds, and apply a general fertilizer; make sure you follow the recommended directions for use that are marked on the container.
If you already have established crape myrtles in your landscape, you may be wondering about how to prune them. Some gardeners don’t prune them at all, but many do prune after the plants have bloomed. After crape myrtles bloom, they set seed and the small round seed pods may look unsightly or weigh the limbs down. You certainly can trim these pods just below the clusters using sharp clippers. You may even get new shoots of growth and a second bloom before frost after pruning! You may also want to remove the shoots from the base of the plant, especially if you want a tree-like appearance.
Crape myrtle seed pods may be pruned to improve appearance, byt they may also be left on the plant.
Powdery mildew is the main disease concern of crape myrtles, but there are many disease-resistant cultivars available, thanks to the efforts of the National Arboretum breeding program and the research of Dr. Carl Whitcomb. Dr Whitcomb has also created hybrids with new and enhanced colors, drought tolerance and cold hardiness, including the ever-popular, bright red Dynamite. If you do develop powdery mildew on your plants, you can spray the foliage with a fungicide like Fertilome for this purpose. There are several fungicides available at your local garden center.
The Dynamite crape myrtle, developed by Dr Carl Whitcomb, is one of the most popular because of its deep red color and disease resistance.
Crape myrtles are lovely in our gardens and they are relatively low maintenance and disease-resistant. For that deep red beauty in summer, try Dynamite or Red Rocket, and for a burgundy red, try Siren Red! All these varieties are medium-sized cultivars that grow from 10 to 15 feet. For beautiful pinks, try Rhapsody in Pink or Pink Velour, also medium sized plants. There are many, many other varieties and colors available, so plan to add one of these lovelies to your garden this year! You will be so glad you did!
The Pink Velour variety sports brilliant pink blooms that develop all summer.
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