These hot summer days, punctuated by heavy thunderstorms, make you just want to stay inside.
However, I have been out and about despite the heat and humidity, enjoying the bright colors of the crape myrtle trees flowering all over the Pee Dee region.
Although it might seem romantic to think that Myrtle Beach is named for these flowering beauties, the namesake plant for that Grand Strand locale is actually the wax myrtle or Southern bayberry ( Morella cerifera ). This small native tree is similar in size and shape to a mature crape myrtle, but it has tiny flowers and blue waxy berries that are an important food for songbirds, such as the cedar waxwing.
The crape myrtle ( Lagerstroemia indica ) is a small tree, native to China and Korea, that comes in many varieties and colors. The mature size varies by variety, some being dwarf trees or large shrubs and others reaching upward of 25 feet tall at maturity.
When selecting a variety of crape myrtle to plant, knowing the mature size of the tree is a must. That way you can plant the appropriate size tree in the appropriate place and won’t be compelled to top the thing because it grew too large for the space. Flower color and disease resistance are also important considerations.
The old-timey “watermelon red” variety is very popular and abundant, but unfortunately it is susceptible to a fungal disease called powdery mildew. This disease is made much worse when people top the trees (cut the tops out willy-nilly) in the winter. Aphids (“plant lice”) are much worse on topped crape myrtle trees, and the sooty mold that develops on the honeydew (the insects’ undigested plant sap) is another unfortunate consequence.
Most of the newer, disease-resistant varieties have Native American names, such as “Natchez” (white), “Sioux” (dark pink) or “Tuscarora” (dark coral pink). Some of them are more resistant to attack by aphids as well.
Container grown plants can be planted any time of year (including summer, if you are willing to keep them watered). They are sitting there in the nursery anyway, waiting patiently in their pots for you to take them home.
For burlap and ball or bare root trees, it is best to wait until fall or winter for planting.
For more information on crape myrtle selection, care and pest problems, see our fact sheet at the Clemson Extension Home and Garden Information Center (hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/crape-myrtle/)
For pruning information, visit hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/crape-myrtle-pruning/.