Monday, August 6, 2012

Snow in August? Guess again!

A line of pink and white crape myrtles defines the boundaries at a local nursery

Simply Living
August 6, 2012

At first glance, it looked like snow. White flurries were flying through the air, falling down and covering the ground.
But it wasn't snow. It wasn't even winter. It was the middle of a hot Florida summer day. The swirling flurries of snow-white lightness were crape-myrtle flowers freed from the branches by an afternoon windstorm.
Crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) might well be the most widely planted ornamental in Florida. It is a fast-growing plant favored for its long-lasting, colorful blooms, attractive peeling bark and ease of maintenance. Bugs or plant diseases rarely bother this drought- and heat-tolerant tree, which is readily available in an array of sizes and colors.
Shortly after we moved to our property, we planted three small crape myrtles in white, raspberry and pastel pink. The trees grew quickly. Our multi-limbed specimens are now more than 15-feet tall and every year they produce numerous offspring with baby crape-myrtle bushes popping up close by the mother plants. The white tree turned out to be our most prolific bloomer, followed by the raspberry and pink-flowered varieties.
Crape myrtles are such ubiquitous plants in both commercial and residential neighborhood you'd think they were Florida natives. They're not. Originally from Southeast Asia, crape myrtle gained popularity in North America shortly after being introduced in the 18th century. Although primarily grown in warm climates, where it thrives year round, it occasionally appears in Northern gardens as an herbaceous perennial, a flowering plant that blooms seasonally then dies back in the winter.
Over the years, plant specialists have taken advantage of the demand for this summer bloomer by developing new cultivars. Choices now include everything from miniature plants under 3 feet tall and weeping varieties of crape myrtles that work well in hanging baskets to towering 40-foot beauties. Color choices include a painter's pallet of purples, reds, pinks and white. For those who find it hard to decide on just one hue, there are even bi-color crape myrtles — two competing colors on plant. The ones in our yard are nothing fancy. They are traditional tree-like crapes with multiple spreading limbs that provide welcome shade on a hot afternoon.
Unlike many flowering trees, crape-myrtle blooms form on each season's new growth, which is why people often whack back everything above a certain height after flowering season ends. While this practice of severe pruning was once favored, it is no longer touted as the best way to maintain healthy, attractive plants. Current thinking is to deadhead spent blooms, remove suckers that form at the base and to fertilize and water regularly during the growing season.
While following such advice undoubtedly will produce larger and more prolific clusters of crepe paper-like blooms, I do none of the above. I don't whack back my crape-myrtle trees because I think they look ridiculously ugly like that. And, because I'm lazy, I don't deadhead, remove suckers or fertilize them either. I simply leave my crape myrtles alone. They do their thing, I do mine and still they reward me with bountiful blossoms that brighten the yard.
It's easy to love such a low-maintenance, lovely-to-look-at landscape plant and it is especially nice in the midst of a heat wave when the white-flowering blooms trigger cooling memories of snowflakes falling to the ground.

No comments:

Post a Comment