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 of pink, lavender, red and purple. Days in flower range from 75 to 110 depending on the variety.
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' or the lavender flowering 'Muskogee' , really look good against a dark background. These two varieties are among the tallest with mature height of twenty feet or more with an equal spread, making them suitable for use as a mid-size tree for framing in a two-story homes and other taller structures. Others, such as 'Tonto', are among the more compact semi-dwarfs and can be used to frame in single-level homes or structures. When planting crape myrtles around the home think about color. For instance, if you have a dark red brick home, pink or white flowering crape myrtle may be the best choice as a dark red may blend in too much. If you have a light orange to pink brick home ,white, lavender or red flowers usually work well. A neutral color home, such as tan or grey will contrast nicely with about any color of crape myrtle flowers.
When looking for crape myrtles, keep in mind that the 'Fauriei 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.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!
Caring for Crape Myrtles
Crape myrtle is very versatile and easy to grow. Maintenance requirements are few and include moderate fertilization and annual pruning. Fertilize after new growth comes out in spring with a well-balanced, slow-release tree and shrub fertilizer.