The crape myrtle is a landscaper’s favorite and a home gardener's dream, a fast growing plant that blooms all summer long.
We talk a lot about plants that are undemanding, but crape myrtle takes the cake! Not only does it take off like a rocket once you add it to your garden, it requires very little attention from you, and it even lets you decide what you want it to be (a shrub or a small tree) simply by the amount and the frequency of the pruning you do.
And what does it take to get it to perform its showy, low-maintenance routine for you? Not much, really; just a stage and a spotlight—the stage being the moist, well-drained soil of your garden and the spotlight being the glow of the full sun.
And talk about a show; let’s see what you get for your money. How about blossoms that have more stamina than the Energizer bunny—they begin in the late spring and they just keep on going and going and going, into the early fall; a whole summer of blossoms.
“Sure,” you say, “but how many years after you set the plant does it take for those blooms to first get started?”
How about if it starts blooming the first year you plant it? How about if sometimes you can buy planting stock that is already in bloom when you set it into your garden!?
“And what about colors?” you ask. “Can I get those quick-starting, long-lasting, blooming-blossoms in anything besides white?”
Yes, indeedy, Mrs. McWeedy, we have the little darlin’s in pink, purple, rose, and even a soft bluish color that looks a little bit like a blushing Concord grape!
“What about that part where you said we can grow either a shrub or a tree, depending on the pruning that we do to the crape myrtle, once its been planted?”
Well, at the end of the first season of growth, in the late fall or early winter as we enter the dormant period for most plants, you can decide if you want to maintain your plant as a shrub by cutting all the branches back to about 3 to 4 feet in height (you’ll need to do this every fall), or if you want to allow the crape myrtle to become a small multi-trunked tree by simply shaping the plant and taking out just a few of the branches, while allowing the tops to grow unchecked. If this form is chosen, your crape myrtle tree will reach heights in excess of 25 feet. This allows a good view of the attractive exfoliating bark with its coloring of cinnamon-red and tan.
And remember that the dormant season of winter is indeed the best time to prune your crape myrtle, the reason for this being that it’s one of those summer blooming plants, and they usually form buds in the spring that will become flowers on the current season of growth. If you wait until spring to prune, you will most likely cut off some of the flower buds and thus rob yourself of much of the summer profusion of blooms.
“Well, Sonny, I’m sold; how about loadin’ up one of those white ones and one of those pink ones into the back of my truck while I go inside here and settle up at the check-out?”
Yes ma’am, and will there be anything else?
“Oh, yes, would you please phone my husband at home and see if you can convince him to have the holes dug by the time I get there?”
Sorry ma’am, we just sell plants; we don’t work miracles!