July 15, 2022
Last July I commented on the how the crepe myrtle bushes on either side of the driveway had decided to regrow after we had tried to eradicate them the previous year. After removing the plant and as much of the root as I could, we planted a large agave in each of the two holes. The mole we had been fighting appeared to take out both agaves, and then last year the crepe myrtles decided to regrow. I decided to keep the bushes but wanted to shape them into single stem tree rather than the bushy mass they had previously been. When Zena and I were on our walk I was taken by the myrtle plants that were in full flower on both sides of a mailbox planter. This was exactly how I envisioned our crepe growing.
When I looked online for crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia var.), I found it is a genus of around 50 species of deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs native to the Indian subcontinent, southeast Asia, northern Australia, and other parts of Oceania, that has then been cultivated in warmer climates around the world. It is a member of the family Lythraceae, which is also known as the loosestrife family. The genus is named after Swedish merchant Magnus von Lagerström, a director of the Swedish East India Company, who supplied Carl Linnaeus with plants he collected. These flowering trees are beautifully colored and are often planted both privately and commercially as ornamentals. All varieties grow best in full sun. The Red Rocket (Lagerstroemia indica ‘Whit IV’) variety of crepe myrtle appeared to be what we saw in the neighborhood mailbox planter.
When I looked for tips on caring for my crepe myrtle, I found worst thing that can happen is pruning. Crape “murder” usually occurs when an overly enthusiastic homeowner severely cuts back the top branches on crepe myrtle trees, ruining the natural shape and form of the plant. Care should include limited pruning and little removal of growing branches. Too much pruning from the top send suckers shooting from the bottom of the tree or the roots. This in turn results in additional pruning and needless care. Crepe myrtles are sometimes attacked by powdery mildew that can limit blooms. Insects (aphids) may feed on the succulent new growth and create a substance called honeydew that attracts sooty black mold spores. Getting rid of the aphids and mold is best done with a thorough overall spray of insecticidal soap or Neem oil. It is best to limit pruning to thinning when needed. However, this will not give me the shape I desire. As mentioned last year, we have the crepe myrtle bush and not the tree in the neighbor’s yard. That means I may never get the desired look.
Thoughts: While I am not yet resigned to our crepe never looking as good as our neighbor’s, I am beginning to lean that way. The suckers I had cut away from our bush last year have returned to nearly overtake the bottom of the plant. I am determined to give it one more year of pruning and shaping (can you say, “overly enthusiastic homeowner”?) and if it does not conform to my shape, will let it do as it will. As I said last year, “At times you just need to bend with the will of nature.” Last July we were thwarted by nature as we thought we were at the end of the pandemic. Vaccinations were climbing and cases were falling. Then we were hit with the Omicron variant. Now we are resigned to live with the virus even as it drops from pandemic to endemic levels as BA.5 continues to spread around the US and world. The variant appears to be more contagious but less lethal. There are ways to protect yourself and others, but fewer seem willing to do so. Act for all. Change is coming and it starts with you.