I have written about crape myrtles several times before, but since the trees are used prominently in landscapes in this area, I think the information is worth repeating.
Driveways are lined with rows of crape myrtles; the trees are used as specimen plants in landscapes, or they are used in planting beds among other shrubs and trees. In our yard, we have a large selection of crape myrtles, some with red blossoms, some with white blossoms and a few with blossoms in multiple shades of pink.
Before planting, a gardener should know the growth habit of each specific plant. Dwarf crape myrtle trees reach about 3 feet in height and resemble shrubs. Medium crape myrtles reach 12 to 15 feet in height, and larger crape myrtles may reach 30 feet.
Medium- and large-sized crape myrtles need room to grow without intruding on utility lines, buildings, driveways or walkways. Dwarf crape myrtles work well in large containers, in foundation plantings and mixed with shrubs and perennials.
I prefer to plant shrubs and trees in late fall. Regardless of the size, all crepe myrtle trees love sun. Flower production depends on receiving a great deal of sun. A tree planted in shade will flower sparingly, if at all. Choose the correct site for an individual tree before planting.
Dig the planting hole to the depth of the root ball and at least twice the width. After placing the tree in the planting hole, return the excavated soil to the hole and tamp down to remove air pockets. Apply mulch, covering the entire canopy area under the tree. Water until the liquid overflows the planting hole. Continue applying water on a regular basis until the tree is well established.
In this area, the pruning of crape myrtle trees seems to be greatly misunderstood by homeowners. Because commercial landscapers plant crape myrtles in planting islands in parking lots and other area where the trees must remain small, these landscapers maintain the size of the trees by lopping off the tops of the trees each year. But for homeowners, when a crape myrtle has been planted in the proper site, there is no need for annual pruning. The trees are most beautiful when left to grow freely. The unpruned limbs of a flowering crape myrtle grow beautifully, flowing from the tree in a manner that resembles water spewing from a fountain.
When an immature crape myrtle is first planted, the tree must be shaped. Generally, a small crape myrtle has multiple small, spindly trunks. A gardener might decide to allow the tree to have one trunk only, or they may choose to allow the tree to have three, five or even seven trunks. (An uneven number of trunks creates the most attractive tree.)
Begin pruning by removing all the small trunks except those you desire to keep. Remove each trunk completely, making the cut at the base of each trunk. Next, in circumstances where two limbs cross or rub against each other, remove the less viable of the two limbs. That is all that needs to be done that first year.
For the next few years, you will need to remove any more trunks that sprout from the base, and again, you may need to remove one of the limbs where two limbs cross or rub together. Other than that, allow the tree to grow uninhibited.
Carol (Bonnie) Link is an Etowah County Master Gardener and an experienced garden writer. Her weekly column is designed to help and encourage others in their gardening endeavors. Send questions or comments to email@example.com.