Allen Owings is a horticulture professor and research coordinator at the LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Station where he coordinates extension programming for green industry professionals and manages ornamental plant variety trials.

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Myrtle Mania
by Allen Owings       #Flowers   #Trees

New varieties of crapemyrtles (Lagerstroemia spp.) are currently available in abundance. We could almost say, “Enough is enough.” Yes, it is overwhelming with the numbers of new crapemyrtle varieties. Developers are introducing plants with the goals of smaller growth habits, dark foliage (such as burgundy and black), earlier blooms, and darker flowers (better red, purples, etc.). In one recent evaluation, new crapemyrtles went from fewer than 20 varieties to over 50 varieties in a very short period of time.

Nationally and regionally, we have a perceived “over-abundance of new plants” because all the major wholesale nurseries that sell plants over large sections of the country desire their own line of crapemyrtles, their own line of azaleas, their own line of hydrangeas. This leads to a large number of new variety introductions at the same time and also leads to confusion in the minds of consumers.

Crapemyrtles are the most widely planted summer flowering tree in the southern United States. There are crapemyrtle festivals, crapemyrtle trails, and crapemyrtles are official shrubs and trees of cities and states around the country. There is no doubt as to their current and continued popularity.

With so many new varieties how do you know which to choose? How do you know which are the best? Trials are ongoing at several land grant universities (LSU, Stephen F. Austin State University, University of Florida, Mississippi State University, and others) around the southeastern United States. Before buying, a decision should be made on the desired at mature size and the foliage color (new varieties include many with burgundy and black foliage) that would best enhance your landscape.

For smaller landscapes, consider the Early Bird series. These crapemyrtles grow to only around 6 feet. Early Bird Lavender (‘JD818’) is promoted as a very heavy earlier bloomer and is the earliest-flowering crapemyrtle at LSU trials. Other colors in the group include Early Bird Purple (‘JD827’) and Early Bird White (‘JD900’).

The Princess series are also dwarf varieties. These were developed in Missouri but are being marketed as part of the Garden Debut program by Greenleaf Nursery. This series includes cherry red Holly Ann (‘GA 0701’), magenta pink Kylie (‘GA 0803’), cherry red with cotton candy pink Zoey (‘GA 0702’), lavender Jaden (‘GA 0810’), and rose pink Lyla (‘GA 0804’).

 

Princess Lyla has nice rose pink blooms and is performing very well in these landscape trial gardens.

Larger flowers and earlier blooms on dwarf plants are characteristic of the Early Bird series.

Darker red flowers are being achieved in crapemyrtles. Miss Frances is a new release that is not yet available at retail garden centers. 

 (click on photo to enlarge)

Another series of dwarfs is the 4-foot, nicely mounded Razzle Dazzle collection. This includes the fuchsia Berry Dazzle (‘GAMAD VI’), cherry red Cherry Dazzle (‘Gamad I’), Dazzle Me Pink (‘Gamad V’), pure white Diamond Dazzle (‘PIILAG-I’), neon rose Strawberry Dazzle (‘PIILAG-II’), and pink Sweetheart Dazzle (‘GAMAD VII’). These are being used in some states as replacements for mass plantings of Knock Out roses.

The first crapemyrtle with dark foliage to debut was Delta Jazz (‘Chocolate Mocha’). This variety is part of the Southern Living Plant Collection’s Delta series. These are classified as semi-dwarf, which generally indicates heights of 8-12 feet. Four additional varieties have been released: Delta Breeze (‘Deled’), a light lavender; Delta Eclipse, brilliant purple (‘Deleb’); Delta Moonlight, white (‘Delea’); and Delta Flame, dark red (‘Delec’). Delta Fusion (‘Delee’) and Delta Fuchsia (‘Delef’) are new to the group for 2016. Burgundy foliage on these plants stays burgundy from spring through fall.

 

Delta Jazz was one of the first crapemyrtle varieties with burgundy foliage.

Black foliage of ‘Ebony Embers’ crapemyrtles contrasts nicely in the landscape with red blooms.

Midnight Magic from Bailey Nurseries keeps the dark burgundy foliage color spring through fall.

Delta Fusion has hot pink flowers and is a new release from the Southern Living Plant Collection.

(click on photo to enlarge)

The darker burgundy (usually called black by horticulturists) foliage of the Ebony crapemyrtles was developed by breeder Cecil Pounders at the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service. These are being sold under the Ebony name and also the trademarked Black Diamond name by J. Berry Nursery in Texas. These plants mature at 8-10 feet and, like the Delta crapemyrtles, retain leaf color spring through fall. Flower colors include three shades of red, white, and blush. New releases in the Black Diamond group have pink, magenta, and purple flowers.

For “down on the farm” landscapes, consider planting the Barnyard Favorites from the Gardener’s Confidence Collection. Red Rooster (‘PIILAG III’) is “something to crow about,” Pink Pig (‘GAMAD VIII’) is “something to squeal with delight” about and Purple Cow (‘GAMAD IX’) can be used to create an “udderly majestic garden!” These are medium sized but leaf spot is a problem on these plants in the more coastal south. A plant similar to Red Rooster is Enduring Summer Red (‘PIILAG-V’) from Ball Ornamentals.

The Magic series from Plant Introductions, now part of the First Editions program by Bailey Nurseries, includes ‘Coral Magic’ (salmon pink), ‘Purple Magic’ (dark purple), ‘Plum Magic’ (fuchsia pink), ‘Moonlight Magic’ (white), and ‘Midnight Magic’ (dark pink). Most of these have reddish, plum, or burgundy spring leaves, and some of these varieties retain this color through summer and into fall. Mature height is 8-12 feet.

As you can see, it is easy to be overwhelmed with new crapemyrtles. The mid to late spring months are the time when most new crapemyrtles are added to the landscape. Educate yourself on new varieties and try the ones that are most appealing to you.

 

Some of My Favorite Traditional Crapemyrtles

‘Natchez’ – upright grower, 30-35 feet, white flowers

‘Muskogee’ – tight upright grower, 25-30 feet, lavender flowers

‘Acoma’umbrella-shaped canopy, 12-14 feet, white flowers

‘Tonto’ – upright growing canopy, 16 feet, red flowers

‘Sioux’ – tight upright growing habit, 16 feet, hot pink flowers

 

Keys to Crapemyrtle Success in the Landscape

•           Full-sun location
•           Well-drained soil
•           Soil pH of 6.0-6.5
•           Fertilize late winter/early spring at start of new growth
•           Prune crapemyrtles by thinning branches in the winter months – do not top
•           Mulch by “going out” not “going up” – avoid piling mulch around the trunk
•           Monitor for insects (aphids, crapemyrtle bark scale)

 

 

 

 

A version of this article appeared in a State-by-State Gardening March 2016 print edition. Photography by Allen Owings.

 

 

Posted: 02/09/16   RSS | Print

 

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COMMENTS

Dana Dobias - 02/19/2016

I was on a team of Master Gardeners that volunteered to landscape new beds at our church. We selected 4 dwarf Crape Myrtle varieties: Tightwad Red (WhitV), Cherry Dazzle (GAMADI), Rosey Carpet and Orchid Cascade. We were a bit surprised at the root suckers coming from the Rosey Carpet and Orchid Cascade, but they are true to type and have filled in the bed creating a summer and fall easy care colorful bed.

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