Crape Myrtle Trees: Proper Care for Apartment Communities
One of the more popular flowering trees typical of apartment landscapes in the southern U.S. are Crape Myrtles. With white, pink, lavender and red bouquets that burst in the spring and usually stay vibrant through the summer, the trees can be maintained in a variety of shapes and sizes to balance and enhance any landscape. Depending on how they are trimmed, Crape Myrtles may appear as a medium-sized bush to accent a bed or a tree line offering shade and protection.
With spring still several weeks away, it’s time to start thinking about readying the trees to ensure a spectacular bloom and presentation for the next several months.
Because they are so hardy, Crape Myrtles can be very forgiving during periods of neglect and overly aggressive pruning. But like any plant, taking the time and effort to nurture one of Mother Nature’s most beautiful plants will provide several months of pleasing appeal.
Crape Myrtles Preferred for Apartment Properties
Crape Myrtles enjoy hot, summer heat, which is why they are a much preferred plant at homes and businesses in southern states. Short periods of shade can compromise growth, and overwatering and lack of heat will reduce blooming.
The origins of the plant, known in horticultural terms as Lagerstroemia Indica, actually trace back to Great Britain, where they first arrived from China in 1759. But because climates were not warm enough for the plant to flourish, the British weren’t impressed. It was not until 1786 when the Crape Myrtle was introduced to the U.S. in the warmer, sunnier climate of Charleston. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Because they are hardy, Crape Myrtles can adapt to various soil conditions. They grow best in any reasonably good soil with a pH of 5.0-6.5 without requiring much fertilization. Older plants that grow in poor soil may benefit from a small application of 5-10-5 fertilizer in the spring.
Prevent “Crape Murder”
The old school of thought on stimulating vigorous growth and beautiful clusters of flowers is significantly cutting Crape Myrtles back before the growing season. Pruners often cut the tree back so much that one might think a heinous crime had occurred.
But new studies from leading horticulture schools at Texas A&M and Clemson University indicate that a more strategic and careful approach to pruning decreases the risk of damage and produces a better looking tree. Usually, only minor pruning and cleanup is all that’s needed, depending on the size of the tree.
In warm climates, late January and early February is the best time to prune and clean up. In climates at the northern edge of the USDA Hardiness Zone where bitter cold can injure Crape Myrtles, late spring or early summer is optimal timing for pruning.
In most cases, the best thing for the plant is to strip off the seed pods and remove lower branches and suckers that grow from the base of the trunk. Remove any branches that appear to be duplicates or nothing bigger than the size of your thumb. This will help manage the plant and keep it from growing out of control.
For larger trees, especially for those that have been neglected, more care is often required. Pruning within five feet off the ground is not always the best practice. When branches are cut back significantly, heavier flower clusters result and usually bend branches to the ground. If a tree is overloaded, trimming should be done to alleviate weight so the tree doesn’t droop, especially after rains. Branches that sag to the ground can impede upon walkways and leave the landscape looking shoddy. To control growth, trim back to within two or three feet of the desired height.
Beautiful Bark Enhances Property Landscape
One of the great things about Crape Myrtles is their whitish-gray bark. When properly pruned, the trees have a nice aesthetic appeal even when there are no flowers or leaves. In certain varieties, the bark will constantly peel, leaving multi-colored branches.
Hard pruning often leaves knotted areas, which aren’t visible during the growing season. Once the flowers are gone, nubs on branches can render the tree unappealing. These need to be trimmed to give the branches a smooth effect and add year-round beauty to the landscape.
Ensuring Crape Myrtles Thrive
Two of the most common issues with Crape Myrtles are fungal diseases and aphids. Neither will kill the trees but each detracts from the overall beauty if not treated.
Powdery Mildew is a fungus that results in discolored blooms and a white residue on leaves. Trees that don’t get enough air flow, like in courtyards or areas blocked by structures, are susceptible to the fungus. Most fungicides will take care of the problem.
Aphids are tiny bugs that live on the underside of leaves and eat the tree. While not limited to feeding on Crape Myrtles, aphids often go unnoticed because they are concealed by the top of the leaf. In a total infestation the tree will drip a sap-like substance excreted from the aphids, leaving the leaves with a shiny effect. Blooming will be affected or even stopped until treated with a general purpose insecticide.
Crape Myrtles in full bloom add significant color and beauty to a landscape. With a little advance preparation and a watchful eye during the growing season, the trees can provide year-round beauty. Consult your local agricultural extension office or landscape professional for more on maximizing the potential of Crape Myrtles.