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The crepe myrtle, sometimes also spelled "crape myrtle," is a tree that produces an abundance of flowers throughout the summer and into the fall, and is used quite heavily in landscaping in some areas. Its bark features unique colors and textures, providing visual appeal even when there are no leaves or flowers. Also termed the Lagerstroemia indica, this deciduous tree comes in a number of varieties that differ widely in shape, size, and color.
Due to the high popularity of this tree, some dwarf crepe myrtle varieties have been developed that offer the stunning, long-lasting flowers without the large size. To be categorized as a dwarf tree, it must grow no higher than 4 feet (1.2 m) tall after growing for five years. Any of these small crepe myrtle varieties is suitable for container growing and can be used to add color to decks and patios. Some examples are the Bourbon Street, which is a rose pink tree and the Chisom Fire, a bold red crepe myrtle.
Slightly bigger than the dwarf crepe myrtle varieties are the semi-dwarf, which get no larger than 12 feet (3.66 m) tall after 10 years of growth. Like the dwarf trees, these can be grown in containers. Doing so may stunt the growth of the tree since the volume of the container can limit its final size. Semi-dwarf varieties offer a wide range of colors including the white Acoma, the purple Centennial and the bi-colored Prairie Lace.
Mid- or intermediate-sized trees include crepe myrtle varieties that grow much larger, up to 20 feet (6 m) tall after 10 years. These trees are best used in landscapes that have plenty of room for the trees to spread out, as the crown of these trees can sometimes spread to be 20 feet (6 m) across. As with the smaller types, intermediate crepe myrtle varieties come in many different colors. These include the pink and white Candycane, the soft lavender Apalachee and the bright red of the Regal Red.
At the top end of the size scale are the crepe myrtle varieties that grow very large. These are often too big for neighborhood homes, but they can make a stunning, colorful display for landscapes with a lot of room. Crepe myrtle trees are considered large if they grow over 20 feet tall in 10 years. Some of these, like the white-flowered Fantasy, can grow up to 60 feet (18 m) in height. Most tend to be smaller, growing to about 20 to 30 feet, such as the dark pink Miami variety.
I love all the colors for crepe myrtles. They range from white, to pale pink, deep carnation pink, hot fuchsia, lavender, purple and a dark crimson. You can choose your palette.
These are hardy trees, too. My area was hit during the April 27, 2011 tornadoes. An EF4 tornado hit a trailer court. There was a row of crepe myrtles in front of a wooden fence. It took a direct hit. The fence was demolished, but only two of the probably 20 crepe myrtles was damaged. Every one of them bloomed later in the summer. Anything that can withstand a direct hit from a tornado with a 1.5 mile-wide funnel and packing winds over 160 mph is something to consider planting! I was amazed that no more of the plants were uprooted, but even more, that they all bloomed the same year!
There are a lot of advantages to crepe myrtles. They are highly drought and heat tolerant and they seem to thrive on neglect. Even I can grow a crepe myrtle and I kill everything.
I prefer the dwarf to semi-dwarf sizes. I also want a plant that has really full blooms. Nothing looks more pitiful than a scraggly crepe myrtle with a few straggly blooms on it.
About the only thing you have to do to a crepe myrtle is cut it back once in a while. If you do this in the late fall, after it's gone dormant, it will come right back in the spring.
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