By Tom Hoff Lead landscape designer of Modern Landscape
The crape Myrtle tree has always been one of my personal favorite trees. Whether I'm designing a lush tropical landscape, a southwest style yard or even an old fashioned country garden, the Crape Myrtle is always a perfect fit.
Hardy to zero degrees
Summer flowers purple red, pink, lavender and white
Crape Myrtle trees are native to Southeast Asia and are used in most warm climate areas around the world. They are known for their long lasting, beautifully colored blooms and multi colored marbled looking trunk. They come in a wide range of sizes and colors, so it's easy to see why it is seen in so many different styles of landscapes.
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Year round interest is another benefit of the Crape Myrtle. In summer it is one of the most colorful trees with its blooms in many shades of red, pink, purple and white lasting the entire season. In fall, just when the blooms are starting to fade out, the leaves start turning all the great colors of autumn. Even when the tree is bare in the winter months, the barks unique marbling of grays and pinks are in full display. By mid spring the new leaves starts to appear ready to provide a beautifully layered green canopy.
Crape myrtle trees are also available in many different forms ranging from the petite dwarf varieties to multi trunk vase shaped and standard single trunk specimens. Try using a "Petite Embers" variety in smaller yards or courtyards, it will stay under 5 feet tall and has bright red flowers.
Our climate here in Las Vegas suits these trees perfectly. They prefer long, hot summers and infrequent deep watering. The lack of fall color in most Vegas landscapes is another reason to have one in our landscapes, Crape Myrtles practically shows off every fall color throughout its canopy.
How To Plant Your Crape Myrtle Tree
First let's start with the location to determine the type/size of tree needed.
All Crape myrtles prefer sun. Planting in a location that can be seen from inside your home is a great idea. For smaller yards try using a multi trunk or petite size variety. Once you have figured out location and size you are ready to take a trip to the nursery.
What to look for when buying a Crape Myrtle
What you want to look for is one that is not overgrown in its container or box, it could be root bound and future growth could be hindered. Also try and look for one that is sturdy in its pot (don't want one that is wobbling all around) and there should be no exposed roots.
Examine the trunk for scaring or open wounds and examine the canopy to make sure there are no damaged limbs. Once you have selected the perfect tree, it's time to get the amendments. You are going to need a couple bags of mulch, bone meal, soil sulfur, all purpose tree fertilizer and some vitamin b1. If you have chosen a single trunk tree make sure to by a couple stakes and cloth straps for support.
Also, make sure you have the following tools for installing the tree:
Stake pounder or setter (they usually rent these at the nursery)
Now that you have your tree and amendments on site and you have the tools you will need to install, start digging the hole. You are going to want to dig the hole about double the width of the container it is in now and about the same depth as the container.
Once the hole is dug, remove the tree from its container. Rough up the sides of the root ball some, to loosen the roots from growing in a circle. Place the tree in the center of the hole.
Incorporate the dirt you took out of the hole and the mulch to create a 50/50 mix of the natural soil and the mulch. Add in a handful or 2 of each of the bone meal, soil sulfur and fertilizer. Start back filling the hole with the mix.
After its about three-fourth's of the way full position the stakes if necessary. Start compacting around the root ball with your foot but never directly on the root ball.
At this point I like fill with water and the let it soak in about 20 minutes or so. Finish backfilling just to the top of the root ball (never higher than this point!!) now with the remaining soil create a basin around the hole. Now you can use the stake pounder to slam the stakes down into the ground till they seem sturdy. Use the straps to secure the tree to the stakes.
That's it! Now just keep it watered.
Crape Myrtle Tree Pruning and Maintenance
Maintaining your Myrtle tree is really more of preference than necessity.
Raking leaves up in the late fall would be the one chore that might need to be addressed each year, but pruning is really just adding your personal touch. There are a few pruning techniques I like to use...
First would be "windowing" (what is windowing) where you prune away a few lateral branches throughout the canopy to provide openings for seeing through. Another is "skirting" (more on skirting) where I remove the lower branches on a multi-trunk variety to expose the base of the trunks.
Watering needs of the Crape Myrtle is pretty typical of most of the other trees here in Las Vegas (remember to follow watering restrictions). Make sure drainage is good (poor drainage is not a good place for any tree!), try to deliver the water very slowly (low volume drip emitters work well) and then let the surface dry out before providing more water.
For fertilizing, use an all-purpose tree fertilizer like a 9-9-9 in early spring just before new leaves appear. I highly recommend installing a Fertilizer system for your landscape, this will keep your entire landscape on the "Juice" all year. We install them on most of our projects.
Pest are not rarely a problem. My Crape Myrtle is occasionally attacked by cut flies, they do not hurt the tree, however, they do cerate little cuts out of the leaves. They take these sections of leaves back to build their homes.
Note that like any blooming tree or shrub, you will attract birds and bees, but that's just a necessary part of nature.
Here is a list of Crape Myrtle trees that you can choose from: