Kathy Van Mullekom
4:57 AM PDT, July 15, 2010
You know it's summer in Hampton Roads when the crape myrtles bloom.
From the showy flowers to the artistic bark and rich green foliage, crape myrtles make a splashy southern statement in any sunny spot.
The plants, original to China and grown in this country for more than a century, come in a variety of flower colors, including white, pink, red and purple, and bloom a long time. They satisfy a variety of landscape needs, whether you plant one as a special focal point or several in a group. Smaller types can be grown in large pots.
You can learn all about their uses and pleasing characteristics during the 28th annual Crepe Myrtle Festival Saturday-Monday, July 17-19 at McDonald Garden Centers in Hampton, Virginia Beach and Chesapeake.
The festival features many participating local organizations, including master gardeners, iris and daylily experts, beekeepers and horticultural groups that will answer your questions. Parking and admission to the festival, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. all three days, is free. The Hampton store is located at 1139 W. Pembroke Ave.; visit http://www.mcdonaldgardencenter.com or call 722-7463 for details.
In the meantime, here's a little crape myrtle trivia to help you better understand the plant.
True or false
Crepe myrtle is spelled with an "e." Or, is it crape myrtle with an "a."
True both ways. It depends on what authority you follow. I follow the "a" crowd, which includes the American Horticultural Society and American Crape Myrtle Society. The U.S. National Arboretum and Michael Dirr, a horticulture professor at the University of Georgia and author of several nationally manuals on trees and shrubs, spell it as one word — crapemyrtle.
The McDonald Garden Center dictionary follows the Southern Living magazine style of "crepe myrtle."
"My understanding was always that the use of the word crepe with an 'e' was more of a Southern thing where crepe myrtles are in abundance," says Bill Kidd, horticulturist at McDonald Garden Center.
Crape and crepe refer to the crinkled edges of the flowers
All crape mrytles grow into trees.
False. Crape myrtle breeding yields plants that can be as small as a few feet tall, like the pink-flowering dwarf Pocomoke, to medium-sized, shade-giving trees like the white-flowering Natchez.
All crape myrtles are disease resistant.
False. Many older varieties do not have the improved breeding from Dr. Donald Egolf of the U.S. National Arboretum. Egolf first worked with Lagerstroemia indica, crape myrtle's botanical name, for breeding and selection in hopes of eliminating the problem of powdery mildew, according to McDonald Garden Center. From that initial work six varieties were chosen with improvements and these were given native American Indian names so the plants would be recognized worldwide as having an American heritage. His work further continued with cross-breeding with Lagerstroemia fauriei, which resulted in many of today's newer hybrids such as Natchez, Tuscarora and Tonto. It is important to select newer improved varieties to replace the older disease prone selections.
Crape myrtles bloom for 100 days.
True. Crape myrtles are nicknamed Tree of 100 Days, blooming June into September.
Crape myrtles love the heat.
True. Crape myrtles love the hot summers in Hampton Roads and are the perfect addition for carefree summer color.
Crape myrtles are not picky about the soil they are planted in.
True. Crape myrtles adapt to a wide range of soil conditions and can perform even in poor soils. Once established, they tolerate dryness but extra water benefits their flowering capability.
Crape myrtles flower in the shade.
False. For maximum flowering, crape myrtles need a full sun location, meaning at least six hours of sun daily. Fewer hours of sun means less flowers and poorer performance.
Crape myrtles have to be deadheaded.
False. Newer selections do not have to be deadheaded, or older blooms removed before they go to seed in order to produce new flowers. \\
Crape myrtles should be pruned back to stubs.
False. Virginia Cooperative Extension recommends you annually remove any crossing, rubbing, diseased or dead branches. Young crape myrtles can be pruned for shape as they grow, but it's not recommended that you regularly cut them back to ugly stubs, a bad practice called "crape murder."
You can find a helpful York extension-provided brochure on proper pruning for crape myrtles under "horticultural publications" at http://www.yorkcounty.gov/vce.
Crape myrtles are a multi-season interest plant.
True. They have a long window of interest. They produce flowers all summer, and display great orange-red fall color. Many varieties also show off cinnamon-colored bark in winter.
Get daily gardening tips at http://www.dailypress.com/digginblog and at http://www.HRHomeandGarden.com. Home and garden events appear in the Ticket section of the Friday Daily Press. E-mail Kathy at email@example.com.
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