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Crape Murder: Whodunnit?

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crapemurderThere are a number of ways to disfigure a crape myrtle shrub, that quintessentially southern belle of USDA Zones 7 and 8 gardens.  The most popular, by far, is murder by pruning.

Mother Nature designed these colorful plants as shrubs.  That means they possess multiple woody stems, and depending on the variety, grow anywhere from 2 to 20 feet tall.  It is possible to force a crape myrtle into tree shape by removing its lower limbs, and reducing it to a single trunk.

For the pruning rule-of-thumb I refer you to page 132 of the 2nd Edition of Neil Sperry’s Complete Guide to Texas Gardening wherein the expert says, “Other than to remove the seed heads, little regular pruning is required for crape myrtles.”

Pollarding is the professional word to describe murdering any shrub or tree’s natural height by cutting its branching canopy back to the main trunk or trunks.  You see the evidence of this practice all over the Metroplex every winter.  Doctor Sperry says to refrain from removing crape myrtle twigs bigger than the diameter of a pencil except in congested areas of branching and to eliminate unwanted sprouts from the ground around the plant’s base.

That said, informed gardeners think about crape myrtles’ natural sizes before buying and planting.  In the old days nurseries sold all the shrubs generically as red, pink, and white varieties, take your pick then see what happens.  Times have changed so with a little homework you should be able to get a plant that will grow to your liking without resorting to horticultural homicide.

Miniature Crape Myrtles

“Miniature” crape myrtles reach a maximum of 2 feet tall, and have a weeping habit, and a Cajun accent.  These do best in USDA hardiness zone 8.  South Denton County sits close to the border of zones 7 and 8.  Look or ask for miniatures by name: Baton Rouge, Bayou Marie, Bourbon Street, Cordon Bleu, Delta Blush, Lafayette, and New Orleans.

Dwarf Crape Myrtles

 Next up are “dwarf” crape myrtles which stop reaching for the sky when they hit 4-6 feet tall.  With the exception of “Mandi” and “Snow Baby” their names begin with words like dwarf and petite.  They come in bright pink, deep purple, a number of stunning reds, an orchid, and white.

Intermediate Crape Myrtles

If you want to see blooms outside a second story windowsill, buy an “intermediate” crape myrtle that matures at 6-12 feet of height.  These cultivars have great names like Catawba, Cherokee, Conestoga, Pecos, Peppermint Lace, Potomac, Seminole, and Zuni.

Tall Crape Myrtles

 Last of all are the big crape myrtles that exceed 12 feet at mature height.  20 feet tall is not unknown.  Their names are romantic: Basham’s Party Pink, Country Red, Dallas Red, Fire Bird, Glendora White, Majestic Orchid, Natchez, Near East, New Snow, Shell Pink, and Watermelon Red.

Contact the author at noellemhood@gmail.com

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