By Jennifer Olvera, Garden Guides Contributor
About Crape Myrtle
There are many species of crape myrtle and most are native to Asia. A genus of approximately 50 species of deciduous and evergreen trees or large shrubs, they are favored primarily for their showy flowers, which vary from white to pink, lavender, purple and red and are wrinkled and crepe paper-like in appearance. In fall, the dark green foliage turns to brilliant reds, yellows and oranges. The bark of the crape myrtle sheds each year, lending a patina all its own.
Choices include dwarf crape myrtles that are 3 feet tall as well as full-fledged, 20-foot crape myrtle trees.
Choose a site with full sun and well-drained soil. Crape myrtles can grow under adverse soil conditions, although they do grow and flower better in well-prepared soil. Ideally, the soil should have a pH of 5.0 to 6.5. It is not necessary to incorporate organic matter into the soil.
The crape myrtle is an outstanding ornamental tree and one of the longest blooming trees around (flowers last as long as 120 days).
Certain varieties grow very rapidly.
Choosing a Variety
The best approach to prevent disease of the crape myrtle is to plant disease-resistant crape myrtle cultivars. When selecting a variety of crape myrtle, think about flower color and size. Then, consider the color of its leaves in autumn as well as the color of its exfoliating bark.
Dig a hole twice the width of the root ball and no deeper than the container in which it grew. Back-fill the hole with the soil removed from the hole. Remove rocks, and break up clumps of soil. After planting, water deeply to settle soil around the roots. Place 3 to 5 inches of mulch over the planting hole and surrounding area. Water thoroughly once a week for 2 months after planting. Then, water as needed during times of drought to encourage prolific blooms.
Crape myrtle flowers on the season's new growth, so you can prune trees during late winter or early spring before growth begins. Do not prune the crape myrtle in early fall prior to the first frost, as pruning promotes new growth and keeps the plant from going dormant.
Use a general-purpose garden fertilizer, such as 8-8-8, 10-10-10, 12-4-8 or 16-4-8, for crape myrtle. Newly planted small plants (1-gallon size) benefit from 1 teaspoon of fertilizer monthly from March through August; apply it along the perimeter of the planting hole. Larger, established plants need 1 broadcast application of fertilizer in spring; apply 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 at a rate of 1 pound per 100 square feet or 12-4-8 or 16-4-8 at a rate of 1/2
pound per 100 square feet.