Summertime care for crape myrtles—and extending the bloom season
I was once asked, “can you extend the blooming season of the crape myrtle?” This was several years ago, and I had never thought about such a thing. So, I got to looking at a crape myrtle some time around the middle of July (the time of this writing) and I asked my favorite question…”I wonder what would happen if…..
I read a little about the history of the introduction of the crape myrtle to the American colonies during the time of the development of the British Empire when botanists were finding multitudes of new plants and spreading them all over the world. The crape myrtle was found in the east Indies where the weather was rather hot. Then they were introduced to England where they wouldn’t perform well due to the climate. The plants were then sent to the early plantations around Charleston where they thrived. Crape myrtles have added to the beauty of what is now the southeastern United States since the early 18th century. I concluded that heat must be a factor in the performance of the plant.
I love the accents provided by the multi colored trunks of the crape myrtle in the winter time and I love the fact that one may use bonsai techniques to shape the plants. Then, in the summer, I can’t wait to see the flourishes of colors that range from stark whites through a series of pastels to a dark red. But then the blooms begin to fade as they develop seed pods.
I studied these seed pods and wondered what would happen if I cut them off—dead heading them, so to speak, just as I would dead head a marigold or a rose. I tried it. I cut the stems just above the cluster of seed pods, right above a growth node which contained lateral buds. I knew from bonsai experience that this would free up the lateral buds to grow from the stem.
After only a few days, I noticed that the lateral buds were, indeed, turning into stems. After a short few weeks in the hot Georgia weather, these new stems began to bloom again.
Since I was working on an estate that summer, trying to get it as nice as possible for an October wedding, I kept on trimming the seed pods as they developed. They kept on coming out and blooming. I learned that the blooms form on new growth, and the more new growth I got from proper pruning, the more blooms I got. They just kept coming and coming. In September, I still had a good bloom on the plants and wondered if I would be able to extend the bloom into October, but then a cool spell came along and the plants stopped forming new buds.
Even if the experiment was not completely successful, I did find out that with good pruning techniques and lots of heat, the bloom can, indeed be extended. Try it.
Cut off the seed pods just above (if the tree is “weeping” you may see it as just below) a leaf node—the place where two leaves come out. If you look really hard, you will see the growth bud for the new stems. I got carried away and worked off of a tall ladder but you may not wish to do that. Just be sure that the stems you cut get good light and are not shaded out by the upper growth of the tree.
It’s a fun game to play, at any rate.
Another good summertime project for crape myrtles is to check the tree for any unwanted “sucker” stems on the trunk. These should be cut off as close to the trunk as possible. If any new suckers appear at this cut, break them off—breaking them off seems to be more effective than cutting them.
Also, look at the bottom of the crape myrtle trunk to see if there is new growth coming up that will eventually mess up the shape of the tree.
The most effective way to get rid if these is by stomping them, breaking them off next to the ground and then removing them by hand. I didn’t even have to put boots on for this one.
Remember, the blooms come on new growth, and the blooms seem to be triggered by heat. It will work differently in different climates
But it is a good game to play. As a disclaimer, I learned all of the information above through trial, error, and observation and not from books. If you find a book that contradicts me, they are probably wrong.
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