Roger's Tree Pick of the Month: crape myrtle
Last updated 8/31/2007 at Noon
Well, the summer heat finally has arrived, with a fairly cool summer until August hit. And at this season it has brought us some wonderful flowering trees known as Lagerstroemia (pronounced “lah-ger-STRO-mee-uh”). The species indica is native to China and Korea and the genus was named by Carl von Linnaeus (the father of botanical names) for his good friend, a Swedish merchant Magnus von Lagerström of Göteborg, Sweden.
The crape myrtles range in size from small shrubs up to small trees reaching heights of 25 to 30 feet in time and are deciduous and lose their leaves in fall. The range of colors for these plants range from white/pink/lavenders/purple/red and can give your garden a splash of cool color from July through September.
Going to the nursery looking for these end-of-summer flowering trees is like going to an ice cream shop and looking at the assorted colors of sherbets with varied colors. They can bring a highlight to any garden and landscape both with the tree forms and also the shrub forms as well. The trees are available in both standard (with one central main trunk) or as a multi-trunk tree, which can have great character and can act as a specimen focal point in any garden.
Crape myrtles really enjoy the inland valley heat and are susceptible to mildew near the cool coastal climate with high humidity and morning fogs. There are some wonder mildew-resistant strains that have been developed over the years. Some extensive plant breeding has occurred by crossing L. indica and the species L. fauriei and this cross has had the greatest resistance to mildew.
Some of these hybrids to look for are: “Muskogee,” which is lavender; “Natchez,” pure white; and “Tuscarora,” coral pink. There is also a strain of shrub-like crape myrtles called petites and which also come in those assorted colors. These petites only grow to five to seven feet at maturity and are great as a flowering hedge or small screening plant in the garden.
I have used another strain of these fun plants for the garden called “Myrtlettes” and they only obtain heights of three to four feet but are hard to find. In Texas a few years ago, I saw this dwarf strain grown as hanging baskets and they were spectacular when in bloom.
The bark on Lagerstroemia is smooth and exfoliating to create a mottled pattern of gray, brown and pink colors, which is another lovely quality to this family of trees. Recently I took my granddaughter to Disneyland and there was a whole collection of myrtles outside the newly landscaped entrance to the park and they were in full bloom. What a sight to behold… it was like a mini forest of these trees and a real delight to the eye and other senses.
So whenever you go to Disneyland, pay extra attention to the landscape and all the specimen trees that were planted there in the mid-1950s, because if you want to see some mature trees that were planted more than a half-century ago here in the southland it’s definitely at Disneyland. It’s a real botanical garden and the landscape architects and the contractor scoured the countryside to find the best of the best in mature trees for the park.
The original landscape architect was Bill Evans from the famed horticultural nursery in Santa Monica of Evans & Reeves. Bill’s landscape offices lead the garden designs for all of the Disney theme parks in the world.
It was the Evans family who introduced so many of the plants that are in the nursery trade today and we owe a great deal of gratitude for their plant collecting, propagation and bringing new and exciting plants in from around the world to anoint the landscapes of today.
So when you are looking for a splash of color to dot your landscape, consider the crape myrtles and all the attributes that they hold for a garden’s atmosphere. Due to the smallness of some of the gardens today in housing tracts, this small tree and its shrubbery cousins are good candidates for some of the smaller gardens.
Every garden is unique with a multitude of choices. Finding your garden’s theme is as easy as seeing what brings a smile to your face.
Roger Boddaert is a professional Landscape Designer and a Certified International Society Arborist who is available for consultations and fine garden designs. He can be reached at (760) 728-4297.