Crape Myrtle trees are bringing a dash of color to Franklin Parish’s hot landscapes this month.

These trees are the exemplification of southern outdoor decor bringing showy summer blooms, colorful fall foliage and attractive winter bark. For generations, children have climbed and played on their easily accessible branches while area birds prepare nests among their upper limbs.

The crape myrtle trees are available in several sizes from two-foot shrubby dwarf varieties to towering trees, offer many colors from white to shades of deep red and purple and can be grown as single or multi-trunk specimens.

With all of these options, landscapers are able to find the perfect crape myrtle for their garden.

Standard single and multi-trunk trees can grow 20 to 30 feet tall and 10 to 15 feet wide, quickly growing up to three feet per year. There are also smaller dwarf and semi-dwarf varieties ranging from six to 18 feet tall and shrub varieties two to five feet tall.

Crape myrtle trees prefer full sun with a minimum of six hours per day. They are extremely heat tolerant. Blooming is July to September with some varieties blooming until first frost.

Planting

As a general rule, most deciduous trees and shrubs are planted in the fall or early spring, allowing them time to establish their roots before going dormant in winter or before the heat of summer hits.

While planting, gardeners should remember: more sun = more blooms. They are not picky about soil, but do need good drainage.

While planting, dig a hole twice as wide and just as deep as the container. Center the tree within the hole and backfill in stages, watering as you go. The top of the rootball should be slightly above ground level to allow it

to breathe and take in oxygen. Stake if needed and water thoroughly after planting.

Care & Pruning

Crape myrtles bloom in late spring through summer on new growth, so pruning should be done in winter when they are dormant. Choosing one that will grow into the right size and shape naturally will eliminate a lot of work and frustration in the future, so be sure to check the plant tag information.

For a single-trunk tee, reduce side branches that could compete with the leader, as well as “basal sprouts” that emerge from the base of the plant. For multi-trunk trees, prune to shape, not allowing the individual trunks to become crowded or touch one another and keeping the center slightly open to allow air and light in.

For a more shrub-like natural look, very little pruning is required other than to maintain healthy branches and to thin out as needed. Spent flowers can be trimmed during the growing season to promote a second blooming. In addition to specific pruning for tree or shrub shape, a good cleaning up in the winter is recommended. Remove any crossing or branches crowding the center, as well as any dead or diseased wood.

Do not cape murder!

A common mistake made with crape myrtles is over-pruning and lopping the tops off, frequently referred to as “crape murder.”

This can result in the tree or shrub putting all of its growing energy into producing new branches and leaves, resulting in very little energy for blooms. Proponents of this say that it creates larger blooms the following season.

However, that's not always a good thing, as larger bloom clusters can be too heavy and cause new branches to droop and break.

Additionally, pruning in this manner year after year creates knobby growth at the cut point that is more susceptible to disease, along with distracting from the beauty of the tree.

Design tips

Crape myrtles make versatile additions to the garden. The following are ideas while planning location.

• Use single specimens as a focal point.

• Use dwarf varieties as colorful additions in borders and beds.

• Plant multiple dwarf or medium-size crapes together to form a deciduous hedge.

• Dwarf varieties make excellent choices for large containers.

• Plant among spring-blooming trees to offer a mix of late summer color.

• Their non-invasive roots make them good choices for street trees or near walkways and driveways.

Frequently asked questions

Why is my crape myrtle not blooming?

Newly-planted crapes may not bloom fully until their second season, so be patient if the crape is still establishing itself. Too much shade may also contribute to fewer blooms.

Over-pruning can result in decreased flowering, as the tree’s energy will be spent on producing new branches instead of blooms. Too much water or fertilizer can cause foliage growth at the expense of bloom production.

Are crape myrtle roots invasive?

A crape myrtle’s roots may spread out a considerable distance; however, they are relatively weak and not aggressive. They do not produce heavy side roots that would cause damage to walkways, driveways, or foundations. Shallow crape myrtle roots may prove to be competition for water with surrounding grass.

Are crape myrtles poisonous?

Crape myrtles are listed as a safe plant, according to the University of California, Davis. The ASPCA also lists them as being non-toxic to dogs, cats, and horses.

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