Like watermelon and homemade ice cream, the blooming of the crepe myrtle signals summertime in Montgomery County. Across the South, the crepe myrtle is there to add its colorful beauty and southern charm to the long, hot summer. Few plants can offer so much for so long, and demand so little.
Native to the Far East, crepe myrtles have been a southern tradition since colonial days. Deserted homesteads and overgrown cemeteries on back-country roads are marked for our generation by large specimens of this flowering tree.
The crepe myrtle is possibly the most popular small flowering tree for landscape use in our area. Its ease of propagation, long flowering period, freedom from most insect and disease problems, and ability to grow under nearly every soil condition makes it a near “ideal” plant.
The crepe myrtle has often been called the flowering tree of 100 days, as it bears its colorful blossoms for a period of some three months.
During the hot, dry days of summer when most plants no longer can be expected to add significant color to the landscape the crepe myrtle stands alone with its abundance of colorful blooms.
Early records on the crepe myrtle date back to the mid-1700. The plant first became known to English gardens, and then made its way to our country about 1800. Older varieties are generally red, pink, lavender or white. The watermelon red color is known by most every gardener. Today, however, there are many new varieties that enhance landscape plantings. Plant breeders have developed many new colors – brilliant red, pale pink, vivid purple as well as a number of new purple leaf varieties like Black Diamond™. Resistance to powdery mildew has also been bred into the newer, better introductions.
Gardeners will now find crepe myrtles in sizes suitable to every landscape requirement from small trees to miniature weeping forms with trailing branches that just barely stretch to 12 inches. Some of these new miniature types are ideal for hanging baskets and containers.
The crepe myrtle needs a sunny location to flower well. Because it flowers on new growth, light pruning in late winter prior to new growth will ensure more blooms.
Water it generously and deeply. Fertilize it once or twice a year with a balanced fertilizer. Prune off old flowers if you want to encourage new flowering shoots for late summer. And, finally watch out for the occasional powdery mildew and aphid problems.