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What’s Bloomin’: Plant Subject: Crape Myrtle Tree (Lagerstroemia indica)

By Staff | Sep 16, 2010

First impression: Crinkled, spiraled, delicate blooms that are shooting out from a dense, leafy canopy. The multi-stemmed trunk is very dimensional with light brown bark exfoliating shades of gray — really attractive. The tree stature is medium and very architectural. Dark green pinnate leaves accentuate the draping pendulous blossoms, which draws your eye in for a second “ahhhhh.”

Upon further investigation: Our star has many variations in size, from small shrubs to tall trees. Different varieties bring in a multitude of ranges for mature heights of two to 40 feet tall. Lots of choices make it even more versatile; just remember to check your maximum height for your prospective garden area. Careful planning will avoid transplanting, as they are classified as fast growers. I have found that here in Southwest Florida, Crapes do better if you plant them in an area that has shade at some point of the day. Experience has taught me that full sun on certain plant bio’s, do not necessarily mean full sun in SW Florida! The Flowers come in a range of lovely pastel colors and bloom from summer into fall. Crape Myrtle bonus! If you want extended flowering, cut of the spent blooms. Fertilizer is not recommended before or during the bloom and during our rainy season, as it only ends up in our water resources as unwanted algal blooms. Remember we have a yearly fertilizer restriction from July 1 thru Oct 2. This is a very important mandatory restriction to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus runoff into our precious waterways. Crape Myrtle is one of the few trees in our garden that loose their leaves in the winter. It is known for its lovely silhouette of bark and limbs without any adornment. During this bare time is a great time to shape the limbs. I concentrate on form and removing crossing branches. It’s a great tree to sculpture with pruners. Years ago I would trim 2/3 of my Crapes in the fall. Today I have learned this only stresses our Crapes, so I only prune for beauty and branches. After the flowers the small fruits appear in dark brown and black. The seed pods are an unusual disk shaped equipped with wings. Many of these seed-a-copters will find their way in your garden. A non native species, whose origin is from China.

Pros: Pretty flowers with lots of blossoms, drought tolerant, attractive when blooming or non blooming, insect damage controllable, easy to maintain/prune, can design plant for area by pruning tree or shrub, fast grower, brings out your hidden sculpture desires with pruners.

Cons: Non-native status, suckers need to be controlled if you want a tree appearance, can attract aphids/sooty mold, non-fragrant, low salt tolerance, seed pods are plentiful and messy, will tire of telling neighbors your tree is not dead in the winter.

Conclusion: Gorgeous Crape Myrtles, our Southwest Florida version of the lilac tree. Great for all us cottage-garden-wannabes. You got to see this floral display of crinkled pastels in a tropical, eye-catching garden.

Don’t wanna miss this bloomer!