A special place in the sun for color


If you had a space in your front lawn or garden that was sunny and just perfect for a spectacular specimen small tree or slender six foot shrub, what would you plant there?  I recently had this dilemma (or opportunity) when I removed a seven-year old Kousa  dogwood that was not a very floriferous fellow.

Going down my mental check list for Right Plant, Right Place lilacs dont thrive in our heat and get powdery mildew; too sunny for a hydrangea; already had a native dogwood up front; a camellia can be lost in one brutal winter in our zone seven; a bridal wreath spirea, forsythia or weigela will eventually get as big as a Volkswagen; I wanted a plant that had a long blooming period; and I didnt want an evergreen. 

Like most gardeners, I want a continuous show of non-stop color from April to October.  As the end of June can be a time in the garden when not much is putting on a spectacular show, I researched what plants would bloom then.

My answer was the crepe myrtle, its blooms are borne on big showy trusses from late June to the end of September.  But I wanted this particular crepe myrtle to meet very specific requirements:  six to eight feet tall, vase shaped (not bushy), have an unusual flower color, and be very winter hardy.

Then came the fun part:  looking at all the options on the internet, mail order catalogues and going around to local nurseries and demonstration gardens to see what was out there.  Seems breeding of the crepe myrtle has come a long way from the days when they all grew 20 plus feet tall and one had to cut them back drastically each year to keep them in check.

There are now crepe myrtles that grow no taller than eight inches (Rosey Carpet), others which grow only to 18 inches and then, of course, every height all the way to 40 feet.  Since 1962, our U.S. National Arboretums crepe breeding program has resulted in 25 plus varieties which evince improved winter hardiness and mildew resistance. 

Crepe myrtles come in every color from white to pink, blues and lavenders to dark red, the new bi-colors, and many have great fall foliage.  These new varieties are not your mothers crepe myrtle.

Crepe myrtles appreciate moist soil, good sun, not a lot of fertilizer because it makes the leaves (rather than the flowers) flourish.  Pruning the trunks back destroys the architectural beauty of a free-growing crepe (so choose your plant based on final mature height).  However, prune base suckers keeping five to seven as permanent trunks.

If you want lots of options to choose from, go to www.crapemyrtle.com or call Crape Myrtles, Inc. at (352) 486-6922 early for the best selection.  I found the perfect crepe there:  Prairie Lace which has pinkish-red and white bi-color flowers, an upright and then fanning out to a vase shape, and six to eight  feet tall.  Right now, it is two 18-inch tall twigs but I know in three years it will earn its special place in the sun!

Nancy Burns, owner of Garden Ideas, is a Certified Master Gardener who lives in
Alexandria.  Contact her at