Lagerstroemia, crapemyrtle as it is commonly known, is a favorite small tree or large shrub for many southern gardeners. The common name crapemyrtle was derived from the crinkled petals on the end of a long, narrow stem and the similarity of the leaves to a myrtle. Crapemyrtle, also known as "Flower of the South," performs beautifully in all areas of North Carolina except in the highest elevations of hardiness zone 6. The name indica is actually a misnomer as the plant is native to China and not India. Lagerstroemia indica is the most frequently cultivated in the United States although several other species are quite valuable in other warmer parts of the world.
It is somewhat rare for a flowering plant to have several landscape characteristics which can be as interesting as the flower. Crapemyrtle possesses several such as flowers, bark color and texture, form and shape, fall foliage color, and interesting seed pods which persist in the winter.
Crapemyrtle has many landscape uses. One of the most successful is in urban or street tree planters. Because the ultimate height is that of a small tree (below 30 feet) and the roots can exist in a somewhat restricted area, the crapemyrtle is ideal for use under utility lines and in traffic medians. Many homeowners use the crapemyrtle as a specimen tree in a garden setting, often underplanting with groundcovers. When located in a shrub bed about the house as a "foundation planting," the tree should be set at least 10 feet from the walls. Several new introductions of true dwarfs can be used in planters as a small, flowering, deciduous shrub.
The ideal planting site would be one with well-drained soil, full sunny exposure and good air drainage. Crapemyrtles do not flower well in partial shade and not at all in heavy shade. Powdery mildew is a serious disease problem but this can be minimized by locating in an open area where air movement will not be restricted.
Crapemyrtles grow well in most of our heavy loam and clay soils in North Carolina and tolerates a pH range of 5.0-6.5. Nutrient requirements are generally minimum. Two light applications of a complete fertilizer in spring and summer are adequate. With heavy fertilizer applications the plants flower less, produce lush vegetative growth and are subject to winter injury.
Crapemyrtles have a shallow fibrous root system and should be planted in a slightly raised manner. Nursery grown container crapemyrtles should have organic matter mixed with the backfill. The best planting times are spring, summer and early fall. Some problems have been experienced when planting late in the year in piedmont and mountain areas of the state. The root system does not become established before freezing temperatures. In these areas it is best to plant before fall.
Transplanting small plants can be done anytime. Early spring or summer when the plant is actively growing is acceptable. Be certain to water during the establishment period. Large specimen tree forms are best transplanted, balled-and-burlapped in their dormant period.
Crapemyrtles can be grown as large shrubs or as small deciduous shrubs. Typically developing several main stems, the crapemyrtle as a multi-stem tree is the most valuable in contemporary landscape plantings. The lower, weaker branches can be removed in the early stages and grown as a single-stemmed plant. The flowers are borne terminally on the current season's growth. Basic pruning should be done sometime between late fall and early spring. Stump pruning is the most drastic of the pruning practices and it simply involves cutting the entire plant back to several feet each year. This type of pruning promotes bloom type growth with long shoots and flower trusses which ark awkwardly. The natural, graceful effect is completely ruined and usually can never be realized. Even more severe pruning is done to form lower, rounded, shrub type plants. This plant has an amazing ability to rejuvenate itself each spring.
Flower colors range from dark red, rose pink and lavender to white. The growth habit categories are listed: Dwarf - less than 3 feet; Semi-dwarf - 3-6 feet; Medium - 6-12 feet; Tall - more than 12 feet. The following is a partial list of L. indica cultivars.
|Cultivar||Growth Habit||Flower Color|
|'Carolina Beauty'||Medium||Deep bright red|
|'Dallas Red'||Tall||Dark Red|
|'Ingleside Pink'||Tall Medium||Pink|
|'Maiden Blush'||Dwarf||Purplish Pink|
|'Near East'||Medium||Flesh Pink|
|'Peppermint Lace'||Medium||Deep Rose Pink|
|'Watermelon Red'||Tall||Pink Watermelon|
|'Wm. Toovey'||Tall||Dark Watermelon Red|
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Publication date: Sept. 30, 1994