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CRAPE MYRTLES

CRAPE MYRTLES

With prudent fertilization, disease control and pruning, this most popular Southern ornamental tree will reward gardeners. Beautiful blooms, colorful autumn foliage, mottled exfoliating bark and picturesque branching forms can be cited.

That's a lot of mileage from one small tree.

Crape myrtles are acid soil tolerant, therefore very suitable for East Texas. Full sun will produce optimum blooms. If planted in poor soil they benefit from light application of 5-10-5 fertilizer. Fish meal fertilizer will help bloom production. However, over fertilization can result in luxuriant foliage with little flowering.

This native of southern Asia responds best to surface watering. Keeping the foliage dry will help prevent powdery mildew to which crape myrtle is susceptible. If mildew becomes a problem, a fungicide applied according to label directions is recommended. Planting newly-developed resistant varieties can help avoid this problem.

When the plant is dormant, prune out the small, twiggy growth to promote more attractive trunk shapes and to allow good circulation. The more drastic "stump pruning" we often see promotes a vigorous shoot production but, distorts the shape of the tree and prevents development of dramatic trunk configuration.

Frieda Parker, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas AgriLife Extension Service


LET YOUR CRAPE MYRTLES KEEP THEIR HEADS!

Beheadings are a familiar sight at this time of the year. The good news is they're taking place in the garden. The bad news, the act is performed by nice people who are hacking crape myrtles down to tiny skeletons. Before you get out your shears and commit murder, please read on:

Crape myrtles don't need to be pruned to flower. Many grow and bloom excessively in the wild, far from the reach of garden clippers. Wait until early spring to prune. Research shows that crape myrtle cut back in December, January and February suffers greater winter damage.

There are crape myrtle varieties in any size, from 4 to 35 feet.

Excessive trimming gives the plant an unbalanced appearance that's heavy at the bottom and thin at the top. For best results and a prettier form, don't cut wood that is bigger than the size of a pencil. Some excellent examples in Tyler, Texas of properly pruned and unpruned crape myrtle can be found at the Tyler Rose Garden, the Holiday Inn, the corner of Donnybrook & Houston, and the corner of Houston and Vine St.

Fran Cooper, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas AgriLife Extension Service


PICKING CRAPE MYRTLES

Whether you prefer to spell it "crape myrtle" or "crepe myrtle," there is no doubt that this handsome shrub is one of the most popular ornamentals in northeast Texas. The popularity of crape myrtles is well deserved, as they provide interest in the landscape throughout the year. Though the older varieties often suffer from mildew, many newer varieties are disease resistant and come in a shade and size to suit virtually every need.

Look for the following examples of mildew-resistant varieties for your garden, or ask your nursery expert for other recommendations as there are many to chose from. When making your selection, remember to consider the color of the bark and the fall color of the leaves.

  • Acoma , white flowers, 9' tall.

  • Biloxi , light pink flowers, 20' tall.

  • Caddo , bright pink, 7' tall.

  • Hopi , medium pink, 8' tall.

  • Lipan , lavender, 13' tall.

  • Tonto , fuchsia, 7' tall.

Geneva Thomas, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas AgriLife Extension Service


CRAPE MYRTLES: DON'T CHOP THE TOPS

The Tyler area is blessed by a rich abundance of Crepe Myrtles. However, these majestic beauties are needlessly pruned to ugly stumps or "fence posts" by those with the mistaken notion that such extreme cutting back needs to be done every winter. This is absolutely the wrong thing to do! When this is done, the Crepe Myrtles are ruined.

Some gardeners and landscape companies believe that pruning Crepe Myrtles will force more blooms. But a trained master gardener or horticulturist will NEVER do this. Topping off a Crepe Myrtle tree is butchery and will only result in the growth of a lot of small and weaker branches that will not support the blossoms. It also spoils the natural shape and beauty of the tree's trunk, which will be especially noticeable in winter when the leaves have fallen. One remedy for a Crepe Myrtle that has been butchered in such a way is to cut it back to the ground and allow it to grow back as nature intended.

Pruning should be done only to accentuate the natural character growth of the tree. It is fine to remove any suckers that grow up from the base of the tree. It is also okay to remove any branches that cross or rub against the structure. Additionally, any branches growing toward the center of the tree may be removed. However, those branches that are removed should ideally be pruned before they get larger than an inch in diameter.

It is unnecessary to remove the old seed heads, but doing so will not harm the tree. Removing the deadwood and light pruning to keep the tree open and the structure clean will allow good air circulation as well as reduce problems with powdery mildew.

Remember, just because the neighbors butcher their Crepe Myrtles doesn't mean you have to do so. Help keep Tyler landscapes beautiful by leaving the Crepe Myrtles alone.

David Gary, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas AgriLife Extension Service


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