An Ode to The Crape Myrtle
By LMG Calla Victoria
Crape Myrtle with both pink and red blooms
Scientific name: Lagerstroemia
Higher classification: Lythraceae
Can we all just lift our hats to that ever-performing, wonderful, small flowering tree the crape Myrtle? If you
live in the south you see crape myrtles EVERYWHERE.
They are peppered throughout every neighborhood. They
line up like sentries along the boulevards and thoroughfares adding grace and splashes of color to the scenery, and
are the perfect compliment to the huge majestic live oak
Commonly known as crape myrtle, the botanical name
is Lagerstroemia, a genus of about 50 species of deciduous trees. Crape myrtles come in a variety of bloom colors from red, white, purple, orange, and pink so there is something for every taste.
Crape myrtles grow in a variety of sizes as well. They
range from dwarf varieties up to ones that are 20 feet in
height. As many myrtles are considered small trees, they
are perfect for the devils strip (the area between the curb
and the sidewalk). I attended a tree conference last year
and the speaker mentioned that we should be very selective
and only plant small trees along the devils strip so that they
do not interfere with the electrical and cable wires. I had
never thought of that before.
I have two crape myrtles on my property. As the centerpiece in my backyard is the Red Arapaho crape myrtle tree. It has green foliage and vibrant red flowers. Along the side of my home I have the Acoma Semi-dwarf crape myrtle. The Acoma variety of crape myrtle has a weeping habit so
the branches droop down. It has delicate white ruffled
flowers and waxy green rounded leaves. The Acoma is a hybrid, it blooms PROFUSELY, and when the blooms fall it looks like snow on my lawn. Crape myrtles are not at all
fussy, they can grow in any kind of soil, sand, loam, or clay. This wonderful tree is also drought tolerant.
My new FAVORITE crape myrtles trees are the Black Diamond series with the waxy deep purple/ black foliage as a backdrop that makes the bloom colors look even more intense. Black diamonds are an easy addition to the garden as they have a compact habit and with a maximum height of only
10-12 feet, and a width of 8 feet. I just purchased two of the Black Diamond® Red Crape Myrtles for containers at the
front entrance to my home.
Aside from its magnificent looks, the Black Diamond® Red Crape Myrtle is a hardy plant that needs little in the way of maintenance. Drought tolerant, mildew resistant and highly productive during the flowering season, this stunning variety is as tough and opulent as its name suggests. Hardy in zones 6-9, they can be enjoyed in the colder climates of zones
2-5 as well. Just place your Black Diamond® Reds in planters and bring them indoors during harsh winter months. Pruning just once a year will encourage healthy growth for the coming season.
As if the wonderful foliage and brilliant blooms are not enough, crape myrtle trees add on two more layers of
interest. First of all crape myrtles have exfoliating barks.
The bark exfoliation usually happens in mid-summer on
trees that have reached full maturity, which may be a
several years after being planted. I planted my Acoma in
2010 but the bark did not start to exfoliate until June of 2015. Then after the exfoliation the amazing vascular trunk of the crape myrtle is exposed. So even in the winter when all of their leaves have fallen, naked crape myrtles dot the land-
scape as great garden sculptures. On very old crape myrtle trees the trunks can look almost petrified.
You can see some of the bark lifting away from the middle of the trunk of this
crape myrtle, and where the exfoliated bark has gathered at the base of the tree
We really cannot have a conversation about the crape myrtle tree without discussing the correct way to prune a crape myrtle. Although it is said that you should prune crape myrtles once a year around Super Bowl time, I am not so sure that pruning is necessary at all. As stated previously, there are crape myrtles EVERYWHERE along almost every median in New Orleans, and those masses of myrtles some up to 20 feet tall are not getting pruned trust me. Also, I never prune my crape myrtles and they flower like crazy. I only prune the Acoma when the branches are so heavy with blooms that I cannot walk under it, and that is usually around the middle of May. We humans always like to say what should and should not be done to trees not realizing that crape myrtles were living, and blooming, and germinating long before we came along. However if you do decide to prune your crape myrtle DO NOT scalp and mutilate the tree as so many do. That is called “Crape murder!” You can just look at those poor mingled trees and know that something is not right. Yes it is true that crape myrtles bloom on new wood so that just means only the tips of the branches need to be nipped.
When pruning your crape myrtle, only remove branches
that are crossing or rubbing against each other, remove suckers (the small branches coming from the base of the
tree), take out dead branches as well as any branches that
are jotting out and ruining the shape of your tree. When purchasing your crape myrtle tree pay attention to the
mature height of the tree listed on the care tag. If you buy
a tree within the height range that you want then you will
not have to worry about pruning the top of the tree because
it has grown too tall.
Crape myrtle trees are creating their own new species. Along Wisner Boulevard in New Orleans there are groupings
of crape myrtles in various color blooms lined along the median. I noticed several trees have pink blooms and red blooms at the top of the same tree. No doubt because the trees are planted so close together, seeds from the red- blooming crape myrtles were deposited and germinated near the base of the pink-blooming crape myrtles, or vice-versa.
But either way the result is amazing as you can see in the
top photo of this article.
Remember, never get too busy to stop and enjoy the