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Crape myrtle hardy, colorful blooming accent tree

POSTED: July 11, 2014 1:00 a.m.

With different shades of lavender, pink, purple and red, the crape myrtle is a popular flowering tree.

Blooming between June and September in the Southern landscapes, crape myrtles can brighten up a garden. Even the white ones put on a beautiful show when placed against darker contrasting plants.

Crape myrtles are planted in the South for their fast growth, drought tolerance, cold hardiness and brilliant flowering qualities. Many varieties of this beautiful ornamental may grow to a maximum of 3 feet, while others can grow 20 feet in height.

Crape myrtles can be used as a single specimen tree or grouped together as accent trees or shrubs. Large varieties such as Carolina beauty, dynamite and Natchez can grow up to 20-plus feet.

The more compact dwarf varieties such as centennial and Seminole will grow between 3 and 5 feet. These dwarf varieties will fit into a smaller landscape area such as a small flowerbed or along a driveway or beside a mailbox.

But how do you keep your crape myrtles in tiptop shape during the summer and fall?

Crape myrtles will grow well in different soils. However, they grow best in well-drained amended soil and in full or part sun.

Mulching with a 3- to 4-foot ring around the base of the tree will help retain moisture and protect the tree from possible lawn equipment damage.

After planting, make sure it is watered every two to three days for the first six weeks. After flowering occurs, remove old bloom pods to encourage increased flowering.

Frequent, light applications of a balanced fertilizer such as 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 will get a newly planted tree or shrub off to a good start. Established trees should receive a half cup of fertilizer per plant every six to eight weeks during the growing season. Larger trees should be fertilized in spring and late summer.

Prune the crape myrtle to shape in the winter. I prefer a more natural type shape, while others like to prune from the bottom up, creating a full shape at the top.

Some common crape myrtle problems include powdery mildew disease. This is a fungus that produces a white powder on buds and leaves, causing leaf distortion and flower malformation. This malady usually occurs in humid weather and areas with poor air circulation. Spray the trees with a broad spectrum fungicide as directed on the label.

Root rot is another disease that attacks the root and is caused by excessive moisture. Make sure the plants are placed in an area that drains well.

Aphids (sucking insects) and Japanese beetles can attack new growth and flower buds, distorting leaves and flowers. Spray the trees with insecticidal soap or use a systemic bug killer that can be watered into the ground. Carbaryl (Sevin) is another option.

So, if you are looking for an attractive fast-growing, flowering tree, the crape myrtle is the way to go. Most certainly one will be in your favorite color.

Wanda Cannon serves as Master Gardener coordinator and horticulture assistant for the UGA Cooperative Extension office in Hall County. Contact her at 770-535-8293 or wcannon@hallcounty.org. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.


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