Crape Myrtle: Carefree and Colorful

Mark Peterson

Crape myrtle is one of the most versatile ornamental trees we have in South Texas. Not only is it drought-tolerant and low-maintenance, but it’s available in various shades of the rainbow.

Years ago, I considered crape myrtles to be rather boring, much like the crabapple trees in the North. But after hearing a presentation by Mark Fanick of Fanick’s Garden Center, my appreciation for one of the most versatile ornamental trees we have in South Texas was rejuvenated.

About 50 years ago, we had only three or four varieties of crape myrtles, generally red, pink and white, and all with a 25-foot-tall maturity. Now, sizes range from 6 inches to 45 feet, and color options include red, coral, pink, rose, lavender, purple and white. Even bark color from tan to cinnamon is available. In fact, the Aggie Horticulture site lists more than 100 varieties of crape myrtles categorized by height, growth habit, color, mildew resistance, fall color and bark.

In my opinion, one of the most creative uses of miniature crape myrtles would be to create a sea of color in the front sidewalk area. Typically we recommend planting crape myrtles in full sun, but with the advent of new hybrids that are tolerant of mildew, we could slip a specimen or two into partial shade.

Which brings me to crape myrtle pests and their solutions.

Pests

Powdery and downy mildew: these fungi, while not life-threatening, will significantly reduce growth rate and health. The best solution is prevention by planting in areas with sun and good air circulation. Treatments include: ferti-lome, daconil, Bonide copper, garlic solution, sulfur products and potassium bicarbonate.

Aphids and other sucking insects: the scourge of all crape myrtles. Again, the best treatment is prevention, planting in the correct place with lots of sun and air circulation so as to reduce insects in the first place. Treatments include: a thorough hose-washing of the leaves, above and below once a week, insecticidal soaps, insecticides with pyrethrum, or bifenthrin.

Aphid scale: the newest crape myrtle pest, but fortunately not yet a serious problem in South Texas. Treatments include: prudent use of imidacloprid or dinotefuran (no horticultural oils have proven successful).

Care

Water: weekly the first 3-9 months, then twice a month after establishment.

Fertilizer: minimal, use an organic fertilizer in a 3-1-2 ratio and with a first number less than 12 annually; also use a chelated iron and manganese product (but never Ironite) in early May. Fertilizer does not necessarily increase the amount of flowers.

Pruning: very minimal, never top a crape myrtle.

Crape myrtles can offer an important contribution to our landscapes with their vibrant colors so attractive to birds and butterflies. And they requi

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