Garden Guru: Fireworks in August

By From page A5 | August 23, 2017

A crape myrtle in bloom in El Dorado Hills. Photo by Terry Halvorson

As we enter the dog days of summer, most plants and trees have finished their yearly blooming cycle and we don’t see a lot of color in our landscapes. A drive around El Dorado Hills in August might reveal some fading roses and perhaps some blooming oleander. There is one plant that you can’t miss because of its explosion of blooms that start in July and don’t end until late September, when we get our first cooler weather. I’m talking about the Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia). Just look around on your next trip to the store and you will see these unmistakable trees in all their glory.

There are many varieties available from local nurseries. Crape Myrtle can be grown and pruned as shrubs or trees up to 30 feet tall. Their most distinct feature is their flowers, which range in color from white, purple, pink and reds, depending on what variety you choose.

What I love about these trees is they are superbly suited for our hot summers. The only thing you can do to make a Crape Myrtle happier is to give it even more heat. This makes it a great choice for a hot southern exposure where you can’t get anything else to thrive. The plants are equally at home in a lawn or in that tiny strip of soil next to your patio. Their roots are not overly invasive and they are very disease and pest resistant. Supposedly they can suffer from powdery mildew, but I have yet to see a tree in our area having that ailment due to our hot weather and low humidity. They can handle our clay soils well and, once established, are very drought tolerant.

When introducing a Crape Myrtle into your landscape some pruning is required to get the desired size and shape. They are very tolerant of pruning but it is better to under prune than over prune. I see a lot of trees in our area get severely butchered after years of neglect. They usually recover but it is better to do it yearly to avoid large pruning cuts. They only bloom on the current year’s growth so it’s important to do all pruning in late winter or very early spring. It is best to choose three to five leaders in the early years of growth and then slowly prune off the lower branches to expose the beautiful smooth bark. They are such prolific bloomers the multiple leaders are beneficial in supporting the weight of their flowers. Their bark resembles that of a madrone tree, which makes them attractive in the winter months after they have lost their leaves. Once established, they require little care and pruning should be limited to removing crossing branches.

Now is the time to shop for a Crape Myrtle so you can see it in bloom at the nursery. A container plant can be planted in summer but it is best to wait until the hottest days are behind us. Better yet, wait until they go dormant in the winter for the best planting conditions. Remember they love sun and heat so choose a sunny location. They can tolerate slight shade but it will result in reduced blooming. Your Crape Myrtle will make it seem like the 4th of July all summer long.

Terry Halvorson is a certified arborist and nature enthusiast.

Terry Halvorson


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