Crape myrtles are one of the most beautiful flowering trees in the south.
They have a wonderful vase shape, attractive pealing bark and bloom all summer long. It is no wonder that they are popular, in fact people sometimes complain that they are over planted.
With all this popularity, it is surprising that such bad pruning habits have developed with the tree! In essence the tree tops are lopped off in a way that is similar to the way we trim ornamental grasses. This is hideous to look and has never been supported by academia but each February and March, landscape crew run amok and ‘prune’ every tree in sight. The multitude of new growth that sprouts up after this beheading is weak and equally unattractive. Additionally the method creates large, ugly ‘knees’ at the point of reduction.
The problem seems to stem from the fact that the tree produces a lot of small side branches each year, and the blooms form on that new growth. The twiggy growth and remnant blossoms leave the trees looking a little ragged each spring so some tidying up is needed. Trimming the dead flower heads off and the very thin twigs is acceptable, but you should not take branches that are thicker than a thumb. If left to grow in a natural form they will be graceful and trouble free for years to come.
Myrtles Plant your crape myrtle in full sun to part shade for the best bloom, and keep the soil slightly moist that first year so that the tree can get established. Staking is not required. Some varieties will produce sucker growth around the base of the main trunk, and these should be removed, along with any low growing growth. The attractive bark is smooth to look at, and is best when lower branches are kept to a minimum. Look for varieties with a rich cinnamon color, such as Nanches , and you will have summer color, plus winter interest.
In humid summers crapes can have a problem with mold and fungal issues, but unless the tree is small, there is nothing really you can do. Smaller trees can be treated with an appropriate spray, but in general, the infestation will not do long term harm. Crapes can be planted in groups, or as a focal point, and they can also be used to line a driveway.
Kate is a gardener, a garden writer and a garden educator living in Atlanta, Georgia. She has written for national magazines and local newspapers, plus hosts a weekly radio show. You can visit here website at www.katecopsey.com, her blog at www.katesgardenjournal.com , or drop her a message at her profile page www.theMulch.com/my-profile/userprofile/katycopsey.