Crape or Crepe Myrtle is a familiar deciduous (loses it's leaves in winter) shrub or tree bearing white, red, pink to purple curly flowers in summer and can be pruned as a shrub or grown as a tree. A member of the "Lagerstoemia" family, it is native to India, Southeast Asia and Australia and named after Swedish merchant "Magnus Von Lagerstrom." There are approximately 50 different species, often used in modern landscapes to line streets and highways due to long lasting color and easy maintenance. If you travel Interstate 85, especially south, in summer months, you understand why the Georgia Department of Transportation has planted "Myrtle" in the median.
The wood is also used in the construction of bridges and railroads, as well as, material to make furniture.
Crape Myrtle is used many ways in landscapes from dense barrier hedges or trees to ornamental shrubs in yards and gardens. As you can see above, I prefer to prune the ones in my yard to add interest and color to my landscape.
Late February is the time to prune "Myrtle" for best results, if you don't opt to keep her as a tree. This plant flowers on new shoots, unlike the Hydrangea that flowers on last's years wood. If you prefer this method, cut last years shoots back to two or three buds or shoots from their base (as seen above). After pruning, fertilize with a cup of complete fertilizer like 10-10-10 around the roots then mulch with a two inch layer of compost, such as rotted manure mixed with leaves or wood chips.
The pruned shrub will now have a sturdy framework of branches, from which new shoots will grow rapidly to produce flowers in summer.
French botanist "Andre Michaux" introduced the Crape Myrtle to Charleston, South Carolina in 1790 and from there, it became a mainstay of most southern plantations, as well as, a favorite today in many southern landscapes. After 200 years of cultivation, new colors and species emerged to include a dwarf variety that can bloom from seed in one season and is enjoyed in colder climates (not winter hardy) for the variety of colors.
So, if you like "Myrtle" and prune this deciduous shrub, now is the time but don't worry pruning can be accomplished any time in spring, even when new shoots have developed leaves.
The United States National Arboretum has a Quick Guide Chart for the best variety and color choices for your landscape. Look at www.usna.usda.gov/Gardens/faqs/crapemyrtlefaq2.hti
Until next time........
Happy Gardening 2013!
Posted by Wilma Smith