Digger and Gina McLean
Majestic Crape Myrtles!
Crape myrtles blooming is a sure sign that summer has arrived in the South. Their distinctive shape and beautiful flowers make them a yard staple in humid areas. They seem to thrive on neglect and are not bothered by heat and drought. Their graceful trunks stand tall and proud as blossoms fall like snow on the ground around them. And did I mention they are so easy to grow? Super easy?
Crape myrtles come in many different colors and sizes. Before buying, always read the plant tag to determine how much space the variety will require. Many grow 12-15 feet tall, so make sure you don't plant them too close to your house or under power lines.
Plant crape myrtles in fall to early spring to get them off to a good start. Put them in a sunny spot and water them well until they get established. Fertilize as needed.
Pruning crape myrtles has become a real topic of contention in recent years. Mention the words, "crape murder" and people get offended. I mentioned those words on Facebook a couple of years ago and folks said all sorts of ugly things about me, even telling me to mind my own business and stop telling people there's a right way to prune crape myrtles! Ha Ha. I think this is because crape myrtles are so forgiving of over pruning that people tend to cut them back too far every year. We feel sorry for those brutalized trunks until they begin to grow some leaves.
A great time to prune crape myrtles is February before new growth starts. The best advice I ever got about pruning them was to trim the top branches to the diameter of your finger, meaning you just trim the small parts off the top branches. When you prune them properly, they look like you have given them a flat top haircut. Proper pruning gives you the dramatic weeping shape and tall bare trunks that we all love. If your crape myrtle is too big to prune, don't worry! Just prune the branches growing low on the trunk, and they will do fine. I have four Natchez variety crape myrtles in my front yard that are about 15 feet tall now, and you take your life in your hands to get on a ladder and prune them. They really do fine with just pruning the stray limbs off the trunks and any low hanging branches.
Crape myrtles are everything we want in a hardy shrub. Prune too much or not at all? No problem. Forget to fertilize? They'll bloom anyway. Crape myrtles really are about the best all around plant for the Southern garden. I'm sure that's why we love them so much and get offended about pruning tips.
Dig It? It's Grow Time!