If you have ever visited South Carolina during the summer, you will see endless rows of color in many neighborhoods. Most likely the plants you are looking at are Crape Myrtle plants. Although they are not as widely used in our area, they can grow equally as well in Florida.
Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) is a very versatile flowering shrub that boasts glowing summer color that is sure to delight the senses. The plants require only minimal maintenance and are extremely draught resistant once the plants are established. They are ideal for community planting for this reason. The only disadvantage is that the plants are deciduous. They will lose all their leaves and flowers during the winter months and become dormant.
Crape Myrtle will grow efficiently in almost any soil type. They will, however, have an advantage if you use good quality topsoil. For proper preparation, dig a hole at least twice the size of the root ball. When setting the plant, be sure it is not any deeper than it was in the original container. Fill the remaining space with the high quality topsoil I mentioned earlier. Be sure to water the plant thoroughly and use the water to fill push soil into any open cavities that might exist under or alongside the plant. It is a good idea to mulch around the plant as this will conserve moisture and also will aid in weed control.
Although the plants will tolerate draught, it is a good idea to water your Crape Myrtle at least once a week until they are well established. Watering once a week during the prime flowering season will help the plants produce a bumper crop of color.
If you wish to prune your plants, the best time is during the winter when they are dormant. This way, you will not risk removing any of the flower buds in the spring. Pruning helps the plant produce an abundant array of color during the summer blooming season.
Crape Myrtle can benefit from a seasonal fertilizing program. You can use an all-purpose 8-8-8 or 16-4-8 as a fertilizer of choice. If you have some 10-10-10 already in your garage, you can use that also. Only apply a light sprinkling around the plant as too much fertilizer can either burn the plant or cause rapid growth with little flower production or possible even both. Try to fertilize just before a good rain is forecast.
If you like to start your own plants, Crape Myrtle can be easily propagated from cuttings. The best candidates for cuttings are stems that are new but are mature enough to be semi-woody in appearance. If you flex the potential stem to be used, it should flex without breaking. Although rooting hormone is not always necessary, it can be used if desired. The cuttings will do best if they are put in a good quality-rooting medium such as Jiffy Mix or equivalent. You will want to retain moisture by covering the plants with plastic to form a sort of "hot house" effect. Be sure to keep them moist during the rooting process. Do not put the new cuttings in the sun.
Although Crape Myrtle are mainly disease free, they can get powdery mildew from time to time. Spray with a fungicide at the very first signs of this disease.
Joe Zelenak has more than 30 years experience in gardening and landscape. Send e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website, www.hometowngarden.com.