Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Summer Color with Crapemyrtles

Most of the flowering trees and large shrubs we admire in the landscape are spring bloomers. Think dogwood, cherry, magnolia….crabapple, pear, serviceberry….redbud, lilac and viburnum.

So, stunning summer flowering trees are a treat for the eyes. One of the most conspicuous small trees/large shrubs that I see at this time of year is Crapemyrtle, Lagerstroemia. Common flower colors are shades of pink and red but white cultivars exist. In addition to the showy flowers, Crapemyrtle bark is very attractive…shades of cinnamon brown and gray that exfoliates with age. One respected plantsman says “If Crapemyrtle never produced flowers or leaves, it would not be a bad thing.” That’s high praise for bark characteristics.

One reason Crapemyrtle is somewhat unusual in Pennsylvania landscapes is its hardiness. Unless you are in zone 6 or 7 it won’t survive. Even in zone 6, expect dieback to the ground in severe winters. What has helped make Crapemyrtle more popular is a breeding program from the National Arboretum which added both winter hardiness and disease tolerance from Lagerstroemia fauriei to Lagerstroemia indica, resulting in about 20 wonderful hybrids. These cultivars, developed by Dr. Donald Egolf, all have Native American tribal names, so they are easy to spot. Tuscarora, Natchez, Hopi, Sioux, etc. A list of National Arboretum selections and a thorough description will guide you to good decisions.

Aside from being marginally hardy for parts of Pennsylvania, the plant is tough as nails. Yea, Japanese beetles like to chew on them and reference books describe other pests… but nothing life threatening. Crapemyrtles thrives in hot spots and tolerate poor soil. Full sun exposure is best.

So, if you have a hot spot in the landscape that can accommodate a multi-stemmed tree/shrub which will mature between 10 and 20 feet, and you would like a splash of bright color in the landscape in mid-summer, think Crapemyrtles. Start with the National Arboretum selections and beware of hardiness requirements. I counted more than 60 cultivars in my reference books, not all of them are appropriate for Southeastern Pennsylvania.


Trish said...

Hi Scott,
I have a nice sized crapemyrtle in my yard, but my dog has chewed some of the branches (being nervous about the snow storms). When can I prune this back in the spring and how hard can I prune it? I used to live in VA Beach and remember them pruning these pretty hard, but I didn't know how appropriate that is in SEPA.

Scott Guiser said...

yes you can cut back hard. Do this in early Spring... say, March, before growth begins.

Michele said...

Scott I am looking to buy a crepe myrtle for our front yard and I would like to purchase a tree, not a bush. I don't want it to be a huge tree. I was wondering if the Sioux variety would be a good choice for my front yard?

Scott Guiser said...

Sioux 15 -18 feet. See the link to National Arboretum for more detail.