While many plants and trees are dying because of the summer heat, crape myrtles are thriving. And for good reason.
The crape myrtle, which can be grown in all 50 states and many foreign countries, is one of the more versatile perennials. With more than two dozen new varieties introduced in the past five years, crape myrtles range from 8-inch miniatures to 40-foot trees.
The University System of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service cites the crape myrtle as one of the most useful flowering shrubs/trees grown in Georgia.
"It provides abundant summer color with a minimum of maintenance," writes extension horticulturist Gary Wade in an online publication. "Because of these features, crape myrtle should be used more often in the home landscape and as street trees in community developments."
In recent years, Wade writes, considerable breeding work has resulted in "a number of new crape myrtle cultivars. Some cultivars can be used as small foundation shrubs while others as specimen trees. Many of the newer cultivars also have improved flower color, better fall leaf color, handsome bark and better cold and disease resistance than the old seedling types."
Established plants will tolerate drought, but flowering is enhanced if the plants are watered during dry periods that occur during the flowering season.
"On some cultivars, pruning to remove spent flower blossoms after they fade will stimulate new growth and another blossom flush in late summer," writes Wade. "A second bloom is sometimes difficult to force on cultivars that bloom after mid-July."
To force a second blooming, cut the tip of the branch just below the faded blooms. Before long, new blooms will appear.
Wade also notes that crape myrtle can easily be propagated. He suggests taking cuttings in June, July and August for the best success.
"Take cuttings from new growth of the season, leaving three or four nodes per cutting and several leaves," he said. "Cuttings should root in three to four weeks. Place cuttings in a well-drained rooting medium in a shaded area and keep them moist by enclosing them in a clear plastic bag."
Cuttings can also be placed in a prepared outdoor rooting bed, in soil that is 10 to 12 inches deep. Peat moss, leaf mold or pine bark should be added to the soil. Rooted plants can be transplanted to a permanent location in the fall or winter.
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