August’s Plant of the Month is Crape Myrtle!
This deciduous tree grows quickly to heights of fifteen to twenty feet and six to fifteen feet wide, with single or multiple trunks and a rounded crown. The leaves are small, rounded and deep green, and turn beautiful colors of orange and red in the fall. The tree drops its foliage in winter, exposing an exfoliating bark that is whitish-tan with a smooth, attractive trunk. It produces prolific blooms in colors of watermelon red, pink, lavender, and white. In the Southwest desert, crape myrtle blooms June through September with extremely showy flowers borne in clusters that add a dramatic accent to the landscape.
After blooming, brown or black fruit appears, and then dries out to release small, rounded seeds. The small, capsule-like seedpod with upright spikes hangs on the tree throughout the winter. Plant it in full sun or reflected heat and provide plenty of supplemental irrigation. It is hardy to ten degrees Fahrenheit, prefers well-draining soils with added amendments. Fertilize it in the spring with ammonium phosphate and iron chelate as needed. While long-lived, it is susceptible to powdery mildew in cooler, summer climates and may suffer from iron chlorosis. In late winter, prune off old seedpods, dried blooms, and any suckers growing from the base of the tree.
Crape myrtle is an excellent color plant for the summer but needs the heat to bloom. Use it as a patio tree, in groupings, or as a smaller specimen tree at the entry of a house. Dwarf varieties are available that grow from five to seven feet tall. It originated in China and has been naturalized in the United States, where it was first introduced in the eighteenth century.