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When the heat of summer has dried the life out of gardening and all hope for beauty is gone, suddenly crepe myrtle bushes bloom with abandon. Read on for a welcome into the world of carefree beauty for summer and fall.
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on November 25, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
I hated crepe myrtles. I did not like their name and I did not like their flowers. However, I was young and ignorant. We had moved from New York to Oklahoma and I hated the new plants in Oklahoma because I was homesick for the old favorites.
Once I grew out of this stubborn, selfish attitude, I took a new look at the plants that tolerated the heat of my adopted homeland. I fell in love again. One of the plants I fell for was the crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia spp.) Every year, the 103 degree heat of summer has dried the life out of many plants by the middle of July. Then, suddenly the crepe myrtles sure look sweet as a blaze of color rushes across the plain along with the famous wind. And it's Oklahoma okay again.
A close-up of a flowering Crepe Myrtle.
Glorious pink blooms look like cotton candy growing on a bush.
I love the dark purple color of this small crepe myrtle.
These dark burgundy blooms seem elegant.
Here are the top ten reasons why I love crepe myrtles:
They are low maintenance.
Crepe myrtles offer a large variety of colors.
The plants do not scrimp on either the size or the number of blooms.
In over 30 years, I have never seen an Oklahoma fall without these trustworthy blooms.
Some cultivars grow only 3 or 4 feet tall while others tower over homes like a tree.
The shrubs bloom for about a month.
Neither the heat of Oklahoma's summers nor the cold of Oklahoma's winters frighten them.
These shrubs will tolerate Oklahoma's baked clay soil.
Daily watering is not needed.
Crepe myrtles are beautiful in summer and fall.
Crepe myrtles can be purchased in a large variety of colors, ranging from brightly bold to softly gentle. Thus, you can achieve a variety of attitudes in your garden. For example, the three different colors of shrubs planted close together in the first picture below create a fun, clown-like atmosphere. However, the same plant appears elegant in the second picture below. Multiple shrubs of the same color are planted between a subdivision fence and the street.
A mixture of fun colors creates a happy atmosphere.
This is an elegant planting with repeated bold color.
If you search Dave's Garden PlantFiles, I think you will be as surprised as I was at the abundance of named crepe myrtle cultivars. I have seen crepe myrtles in light pink, dark pink, red, burgundy, light grey purple, medium purple, dark purple, white and off white. I have also seen a few variegated bushes; see the picture below for an example. When I showed this picture to an employee at a local nursery, he identified it as 'Raspberry Swirl'. This crepe myrtle is as beautiful as its name sounds delicious.
The beautiful variegated 'Raspberry Swirl' crepe myrtle.
Crepe myrtles also give a dazzling display of fall color after the blooms are finished and cold weather settles across the land. I am delighted by the multiple colors of leaves on just one bush. Here are pictures of a couple of bushes. The sun is shining through the leaves; although the leaves are small, the color is fabulous.
Crepe myrtle leaves dance in the sunshine.
Look at these red, orange, yellow and green leaves!
In the world of gardeners, there is a great debate: to cut the living daylights out of crepe myrtles early in the winter or not. Personally, I cannot stand to see the whole top part of the shrub cut off. If I trim my crepes at all, it is simply to encourage new growth and blooms. Directly below is a picture of a crepe myrtle that has been cut down. Notice the knobby knee-like growing pattern from years of smack-downs. This method forces abundant blooms since crepe myrtles bloom off new growth, but I believe it stresses the plants.
A close-up of destructive trimming.
My opinion of crepe myrtles changed so drastically that when my dear 16-year-old kitty died, I planted a lovely white shrub in memory of her. This crepe myrtle flourishes in my backyard; every year it is covered with purr-fect flowers as white and soft as my baby's fur.
I love you baby kitty.
I hope you have enjoyed this welcome into the world of beautiful crepe myrtles. Please feel free to comment below. Toni Leland's article Summer blooming shrubs for non-stop color, is also publishing today. She highlights a number of summer blooming shrubs that you might want to grow. The link is below along with links for other useful discussions and articles on Dave's Garden.
The garden in my head is better than the one in my yard. However, I plant at least one tree every year and have left every home with a little more green than it had before. I hope you enjoy reading these articles as much as I enjoy writing them.
Editor's note: Aunt_A passed away on 12-06-2010. We will miss her greatly and are thankful for her legacy of wonderful articles.