Summer is often a time when our spring flowers begin to fade as summer heat increases, while one flowering woody plant, Crape Myrtle, begins to shine with two to three months of colorful flowers. Most people use this time of year to judge Crape Myrtle by their flower color, but don’t just use flower color as your only selection criteria for this widely variable tree, large, or miniature shrub.

Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia species) selections used today are hybrids of several species and sources of materials from Japan, China and Korea which are vegetative produced by the millions for planting throughout the warmer areas of the United States. Flower color varies from many shades of pink to red, lavender to purple and variations on white blossoms.

Choosing the right plant can be difficult because of the large number of choices within each flower color. The selections vary widely in mature size and adaptability traits. Many trees are available for purchase when they are in flower, but select Crape Myrtles by using this sequence in the process:

  •  Obtain cultivar information on Crape Myrtle before purchase and take it with you.
  •  Know the potential mature size (small shrub, medium shrub or small tree) you are looking for.
  •  Select only cultivars that are zone 7 or lower numbers in cold hardiness or tolerance.
  •  Choice cultivars that are resistance to powdery mildew disease and aphid insects because treating these problems is often difficult on larger plants.
  •  Select named cultivars and keep these records so you can match additional plants at anytime in the future. Good and poor cultivars are further identified for future use this way.
  •  There are enough choices of flower color to choose well adapted plants of the appropriate size if you do your homework first.

The great news about Crape Myrtle is that much of the material available has been developed through National Arboretum research and breeding programs which tested materials before releasing them for public use. The University of Georgia has released additional tested cultivars in recent years for use in our area too. Clemson University’s HGIC website, clemson.edu/extension/hgic/, has several good bulletins on Crape Myrtle. Bulletins from the University of Georgia and Alabama offer additional online sources of cultivar information.

“Crape murder” is often practiced by those who wanted a pink or white small shrub Crape Myrtle, but unknowingly purchased a cultivar that can easily reach more than 20 feet in mature height. Planted in front of their picture window, six feet from the house or at the end of the driveway exiting into a busy street the unsuited plant now must be hacked back each season.

There are hundreds of Crape Myrtles planted throughout the Lakelands. Here are a few general management tips:

  •  Full sun sites are best for plant growth and flower production. Shade is not good.
  •  Crape Myrtles can tolerate poor growing conditions, but they do best on good soils and growing conditions.
  •  The right sized plant needs only light pruning each year to shape the plant. Heavy pruning is not required and stimulates dense clumps of foliage, basal sprouts, and can increase powdery mildew disease problems, particularly on susceptible cultivars.
  •  Insects, such as aphids can create conditions for the black “sooty mold” disease. Avoid susceptible cultivars such as the red flowering (Carolina Beauty) and heavy pruning practices.
  •  Crape myrtles can be a great low management addition to the landscape if the right cultivars are selected.

Kids in the Kitchen will be from June 27-29 for ages 5-12 at the Greenwood Extension Office, with morning session from 10 a.m.-noon and afternoon session from 2-4 p.m.

Class teaches kids to cook different menus each day and finishes with the meal.

Cost is $20 for 4H members and $30 for non-members. Register at the Greenwood County Ext. Office. Deadline to register is June 16.

Greenwood County Farmers Market is now open from 7 a.m.-noon Wednesdays and Saturdays through mid-October.

James Hodges is a Clemson Extension agent in Greenwood County. He can be reached at 864-223-3264.