Summer's beauty found in crepe myrtles
Published: Saturday, June 21, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, June 18, 2014 at 5:12 p.m.
Our yard, when I was growing up in Antigua, was filled with trees of various sizes and forms.
In our culture, the primary purpose for trees in the landscape is food, shade being secondary.
We grew mangoes, soursop, sugar apples, guava, guinep, plums, tamarind, and the list goes on.
We had two kinds of trees (several of each) which did not produce food: gliricidia and crepe myrtles. They maintained their space in the landscape because of the wonderful show of flowers they provide each year.
Crepe myrtles are now in bloom, and every year bring back memories of my younger years. Now, don't even begin to think about my age!
According to Dr. Robert Black of the University of Florida, crepe myrtle is one of the most rewarding small trees or large shrubs for the landscape. Its ease of propagation, long blooming period and ability to grow under nearly every soil condition makes the crepe myrtle a widely used and greatly admired ornamental.
The flowering season for crepe myrtle begins in June or July, depending on the variety, and continues until fall. Crepe myrtles are available in many flower colors. Each long cluster of flowers (panicle) is composed of hundreds of 1 to 2-inch, red, pink, white, lavender or purple flowers. Apart from their beautiful flowers, some crepe myrtle varieties add visual interest to the landscape with a change in color to the foliage in the fall or exfoliating bark in early summer. Crepe myrtles range in height from dwarf to more than 20 feet high.
Crepe myrtles tolerates a wide range of soil conditions, and grow best in slightly acidic soils (pH 5.0 to 6.5). Select a site that receives full sun for most of the day. Otherwise, a weak spindly plant with a few flowers can be expected. Plants growing in shaded areas also will be plagued by plant diseases such as powdery mildew. To plant, dig a hole that is twice the size of the root ball. Water thoroughly, then deeply, once per week until the plant is established — about two months.
Nutrient requirements are minimal; high fertility levels produce excessive vegetative growth and fewer flower panicles. Apply 6-6-6 or 8-8-8 early in the spring at a rate of 1 to 2 pounds per 100 square feet of planting bed for established plants. Crepe myrtles planted in a lawn area do not require added fertilization.
Crepe myrtle flowers on new growth of the season. Prune plants any time during the late winter or early spring, before growth begins, without loss of flower buds. Avoid pruning in early fall before the first frost, because pruning forces new growth and keeps the plant from going dormant. Severe freezes can kill the plant if it is not fully dormant. Pruning results in an abundance of new shoots that form flowers. It also reduces the amount of vegetative growth, and funnels the energy of the plant into new growth and flowers. Pruning, however, is not essential for flowering.
Insect pests common to crepe myrtles are aphids and white flies, and these can easily be controlled with use of an insecticide. Powdery mildew disease can be avoided by planting in sunny areas or using resistant varieties such as Acoma, Hopi and Natchez.
Additional information on crepe myrtle varieties and culture can be found at http://www.clemson.edu/extension/horticulture/landscape_ornamentals/crepemyrtle/.
Norma Samuel is the Urban Horticulture Agent for the UF/IFAS Marion County Extension Service. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.