Crape Myrtle – July Plant of the Month
PLANT OF THE MONTH
“Crape Myrtles are well suited to our Kansas summers.”
While I like all of the plants we grow here at Stutzmans, a personal favorite of mine is Crape Myrtle. When most people think of Crape Myrtle, they envision the large shrubs and small to medium sized trees found in the Deep South. Unfortunately, with our sometimes erratic and extreme winters they don’t grow like that here. However, they do make an exceptional medium to large shrub in Kansas. Crape Myrtle blooms generally in shades of pink, red and purple. There are also some excellent white varieties. I really enjoy the fact that they start blooming as the weather heats up. A lot of my other spring blooming shrubs are all done when the Crape Myrtles begin to bloom. Usually they bloom from early July through the fall. The blooms are large clusters of flowers on all the branch tips. They pack a big punch of color and make a strong visual statement through the summer. As an added bonus the leaves will develop great fall color in oranges, reds and yellows.
Crape Myrtles are well suited to our Kansas summers. Once established they are drought tolerant and susceptible to few pests. They do require full sun (more than six hours) to bloom their best. Light shade will reduce the amount of bloom and heavier shade will prevent blooming. I fertilize mine just like my other shrubs and perennials with a tree and shrub fertilizer in the fall and spring. The granular types of fertilizer work best as they feed slowly for and extended time.
Crape Myrtle generally come in three size categories. The smallest grow up to three feet. Some examples are the Petite series and the Dazzle series. The medium sized ones grow three to five feet and would be varieties such as Peppermint Lace, Velmas Royal Delight, Near East and the enduring series. The largest grow five feet or more. These would be ones like Hopi, Tonto, Zuni, Dynamite, etc.
The tags on many of these list taller sizes, but that is more for areas with warmer winters such as zone 7 or higher. In Kansas most Crape Myrtles experience some winter dieback. Some years only a little, some years a lot. A few years ago we had cold at the wrong times and my Crape Myrtles had to come back from soil level. Since they like warm weather they are one of the last plants to leaf out in the spring. Be patient! Some of my newer ones took until May to leaf out the first spring after planting. Because they leaf out so late I recommend pruning in the late spring. That way any winter damage is on the part you trim off. My dwarf varieties I trim back to about four inches tall. Don’t worry they grow fast and will reach their full size every year. The medium ones I cut to 12” – 18”. The largest ones I cut back to where I notice buds or leaves starting on the stems. Obviously, the taller you trim them the taller they will grow out to. However much you choose to prune them is kind of up to you. I do recommend at least some pruning every year. This will make them fuller, bloom heavier with more new growth and generally give you a neater looking plant without any dead tips showing.
I hope this article has helped show you what great plants Crape Myrtles are. Beautiful summer color when other things are looking tired, heat and drought tolerant, low maintenance and good fall colors. If you have any more questions about Crape Myrtle or any other gardening topic please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.