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All About Crape Myrtles  

When was the last time you saw a dead crape myrtle? It's amazing, isn't it? As long as we've been involved in the field of horticulture we've yet to see a dead crape myrtle. When we consider the durability and outstanding beauty of the crape myrtle we will have discovered the reason why some gardeners and horticulturists consider it to be the flowering tree of the South.

The crape myrtle is of course, no stranger to Southern gardens. Most people who are the least bit familiar with landscape plants will recognize and accurately identify a crape myrtle. That's because they are so attractive and so very widely used in residential, urban and rural landscapes. Very few trees compare with the flower color and longevity of bloom period, and all at a time of year when it's blazing hot in the South. But the blooms aren't all. Many crape myrtle stems are also attractively adorned with a unique exfoliating (shedding) bark displaying patches of gray, white, and rust to cinnamon brown underbark.

Crape myrtle grows in a wide range of soil types but prefers a well- drained site. They grow in heavy clay soil so long as thay aren't planted in soils that don't drain well. It's best to plant them in full sun for best performance. Some shade will be tolerated, but flowering will likely be reduced.

The list of crape myrtle cultivars to choose from is a long one and ever-growing. Flower colors include white and various shades , pink, lavender, red and purple. Days in flower range from 75 to 110 depending on the type selected.

When choosing a crape myrtle, consider selecting one with a flower color that will be complimentary to the surrounding landscape and with a mature size that won't outgrow its location. For example, the ever popular white flowering, 'Natchez', really looks good against a dark background and has a mature height of twenty feet or more. On the other hand, the dark pink blooms of 'Sioux' are featured on plants that will reach 10 to 20 feet tall. 'Tonto' is more compact at a mature size of 10 feet tall with purple-red flowers. These last two would really stand out against a light colored wall or fence.

There are the dwarfs too. These cute little crape myrtles grow about 2-4' in height. We call them "summer azaleas". Pokomoke, Chickasaw, and Victor Red are dwarfs that we like.

Crape myrtle is very versatile and easy to grow. It can be used in formal or informal gardens, as a specimen, accent or foundation plant. Maintenance requirements are few and include moderate fertilization and annual pruning. That's just about all that is necessary to keep crape myrtle looking good. For more details about crape myrtle cultivars and other helpful information see our Crape Myrtle Listing. In the listing you will find all of the best varieties for our area (zone 8).

The 'Fariei Hybrids' (with the native American Indian tribal names) are the best. They are all powdery mildew resistant, unlike most of the older varieties, and also sport some very attractive shedding bark.

Some of our favorites from the standpoint of bark are Biloxi, Miami, Natchez, Osage.

Biloxi is a pale pink, flowered selection prized by many home landscapers. It is a tall variety reaching 20 feet in height. The exfoliating bark reveals a dark brown color underneath.

Miami is a taller variety reaching 16 feet by year 12. It produces dark pink blossoms and dark chestnut-brown inner bark.

Natchez is a 21-foot-tall white blooming selection and a Georgia Gold Medal award winner. The deep cinnamon brown bark develops around the fifth year. We use natchez more in landscape design than any other variety.

Osage is a light pink selection than can be grown as a large shrub or small tree reaching 12 feet in height. As the bark sheds, it reveals a mottled chestnut-brown look.

There is another attribute many overlook. The Faurieii Hybrids are also known to have some of the best leaf coloration in the fall as the green gives way to burgundy, orange, red and yellow! You just can't go wrong with crape myrtles!

Pruning Crape Myrtles

Every year we see crape myrtles that are pruned too early and hacked all the way back to the bottom knuckles. There is a better way to prune them. We've been pruning crape myrtles now for over 20 years. For detailed pruning instructions go to Pruning Crape Myrtles.


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