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Crape myrtle: heat tolerant, long-lasting blooms

July 11, 2014
By H.I. JEAN SHIELDS ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

There really is a great tree that produces beautiful long-lasting blooms from now until fall. The common crape myrtle tree, which you will be seeing all over the Cape, starting now, with its bountiful canopy of many colors.

Each tree has but one color of blooms but there are multiple reds, white, pinks, and purple trees to choose from.

These trees are great for the single homeowner or commercial sites and really lovely in city medians and along public sidewalks.

They are just beginning to show their colors and soon the tree canopy will be full of color that will last till summer's end.

The trees have a gray and tan bark and are a perfect clean upright trunk for the canopies. The bark peels off here and there making even the trunk itself attractive.

The crape myrtle, Lagerstroemia, family lythraceae, has about 50 species. The common crape myrtle Indiea is what this article is all about.

The tree was introduced to the United States in the 1700s, down around Charleston, S.C. A Swedish merchant, Matrus Von Lagerstrom, was collecting them from China and Korea, and found a good market for them in that climate.

The trees like it hot; they do not do well in a zone of 6 or higher.

Of course, I am sure someone up North is successfully growing a lovely crape myrtle. It happens.

They do not need a lot of fertilizer or special soil but do like moist feet. Not wet. A sprinkler system should be fine.

The trees come in many sizes and do not have a lot of disease problems. The worst thing you can do is over-prune it and that

will destroy the handsome look of the tree itself and cause weak

limbs if pruned to early at the end of winter.

The blossoms will bloom on new growth. Proper pruning in early spring is OK. The blooms are heavy and limbs should be pruned so that there is a good solid limb for flowering. Do not cut limbs back to the trunk. Please read how to prune - too many people who should know better, just hack everything back.

The trees can handle a harsh pruning and live, but you are sacrificing the beauty of the wood.

The crinkled blossoms are very shear, hanging in a 6 or 8-inch bundle, much like a lilac bush. A small 3-foot is like a bush.

A bush can easily be grown instead of a tree. It is a matter of pruning as a new tree grows. Do you want several single limbs or one or two major limbs to become the tree? A lot of trees 20 feet tall have several slender trunks. A 3-footer may be better as a bush.

The space where the tree is going to be planted must be roomy enough for the large canopy that will appear. They need the heat but do not need to be crowded.

A big thing to consider with these trees is the fact that in the winter all the leaves will eventually fall. This is a deciduous tree and you cannot change that. A lot of people do not want a 20-foot tree in the yard that is completely bare for the winter. Some may not even want a 3-foot tree or bush bare all winter.

I happen to think bare is good. For trees. It makes for an artistic landscape statement. I do not have a crape myrtle tree, just no room, however I do have a frangipani tree and that is bare all winter. It is great and when I want to trim it in the spring I can see right where I need to trim.

Also, I should add that some people refer to the crape myrtle as a crepe myrtle, alluding to the fact that the blossoms have actually a delicate crepe feel and look.

A Japanese crape myrtle is available, at times, and will grow in colder climates. They are not available in a lot of different colors, but attractive all the same.

A tree that shows some powdery mildew, has an aphid infestation. That will result in a population of some shiny green beetles. They are eating the flowers, along with the aphids. Instead of spraying harsh pesticides, just tap the branches and let the beetles fall to ground in a bucket of water, or dispatch them in any type of physical matter you wish. A hot, too dry summer is the main cause.

Leaves of the tree that show a somewhat irregular chewing of leaf margins probably have a little beetle problem, with a much bigger name that anything, and will not cause much damage at all.

Yes you will have to clean up all the falling leaves as winter approaches but isn't it worth the effort to have beautiful blossoms all summer long? Plus leaves can go in the mulch you are always remaking.

Within the next two weeks, take a ride on south Chiquita towards Cape Harbor. You will see about 40 crape myrtle trees all with pink blossoms and glossy green leaves.

I am sure that everyone notices the rows in some of the Cape medians. Anything that can grow there deserves a medal!

I am still getting a couple of tomatoes, even though it is really hot. There are better things to grow right now but I am pretty lazy nowadays so they will do.

Remember to keep emptying all containers abound the lanai and yard. Do not grow any mosquitoes.

I always remember that my evening walk is not more important than staying in when storms are only 5 miles away. Stay cool.

Happy gardening till we meet again.

H.I. Jean Shields is Past President of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.



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