Tall crape myrtles look good in right location

John Young, Gill, Daniel J., Owings, Allen D.  |  6/19/2009 7:17:12 PM

Sustainable Landscape News From LaHouse

By LSU AgCenter Horticulturists Dan Gill, Allen Owings and John Young

Crape myrtles continue to be one of the most widely used landscape trees in the southeastern United States. Many home gardeners, landscape contractors and nursery growers are aware of the great advances in crape myrtle variety availability over the last 20 to 25 years.

Today’s crape myrtles come in a wide array of sizes. These include tall, intermediate, semi-dwarf, dwarf and miniature. In an ideal sustainable landscape setting, the correct crape myrtle variety is planted in the correct location.

In practice, however, the plant size and location might be mismatched. For example, tall-growing crape myrtles might be found next to the house. This arrangement works fine for large houses or buildings, but for smaller, single-story houses, maintenance becomes an issue. The plants need to be pruned regularly to keep growth off the house and the roof.

So, where do tall-growing crape myrtles fit in a residential landscape? Plant tall-growing crape myrtles away from the house – out in the lawn, along fence lines, as driveway accents, to line sidewalks, etc.

How tall do the tallest of the crape myrtles get? They easily reach 30 to 35 feet. It is possible for the taller-growing crape myrtles to grow 3 to 4 feet a year for the first five years, although 2 feet is an average. Try not to reduce the height of taller crape myrtles by pruning. You can thin interior growth, and this will result in a slight height reduction, but do not top these plants to control size. That’s called “crape murder.”

Three of the best of the tall-growing crape myrtles for Louisiana based on LSU AgCenter observations are Natchez, Muskogee and Tuscarora.

Natchez is recognized by the horticulture industry as the top-performing crape myrtle in the southeastern United States. It was introduced by the U.S. National Arboretum in 1978. Large, white flower panicles and exfoliating bark are characteristic of this variety that reaches heights of 30 to 35 feet at maturity. Bloom period in Louisiana averages around 105-110 days, with bloom typically starting May 5-10 in the Baton Rouge area. Natchez has excellent resistance to powdery mildew and Cercospora leaf spot (the main diseases found on crape myrtles in Louisiana) in LSU AgCenter trials.

Muskogee was introduced by the U.S. National Arboretum in 1978 and has medium size, light lavender flowers. Blooming period is excellent, beginning about the same time as or two to five days later than Natchez. Flower period lasts 105 110 days. It has good tolerance for powdery mildew and Cercospora leaf spot. Exfoliating bark is gray-tan to medium brown. It has a nice, upright growth habit – plants can easily reach 30 feet in height in southern Louisiana.

Tuscarora was introduced in 1981 and is characterized by coral pink flowers. It is less susceptible to powdery mildew and leaf spot than most varieties. Flowering begins in late May and continues for 80 to 90 days. The trunk has mottled, light brown bark that exfoliates increasingly as the tree ages. This variety easily can reach heights of 25 feet in the landscape and has performed well in landscape plantings across Louisiana.

Come to LaHouse in Baton Rouge to see our crape myrtles and sustainable landscape practices in action. The home and landscape resource center is located near the intersection of Burbank Drive and Nicholson Drive (Louisiana Highway 30) in Baton Rouge across the street from the new LSU baseball stadium. Go online to Louisiana Yards and Neighborhoods for additional information.

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Editor: Mark Claesgens

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