Thursday, May 21, 2009

Dwarf crape myrtles offer new uses for old plant

Crape myrtles have long graced Southern landscapes as trees. Now gardeners can enjoy their hardy qualities in their smaller cousins. Miniature myrtles can be grown as shrubs, groundcovers or even hanging basket plants.

Following are a few of the most well-known dwarf crape myrtles. Some you may find locally, while others you may have to shop for at specialty nurseries or on the Internet.

The Razzle Dazzle crape myrtle series are some of the most popular of the new dwarf plants. These varieties were introduced by the Center for Applied Nursery Research in Dearing, Ga. Cherry Dazzle bears deep pink flowers and grows as a compact mound 3 feet to 4 feet in height. Other selections include Dazzle Me Pink with bright pink flowers and mature height of 3 feet to 4 feet, Ruby Dazzle with lavender flowers and mature height of 2 feet to 3 feet and Snow Dazzle with white flowers topping out at 2 feet to 3 feet.

Crape Myrtlettes originate from breeding programs in Louisiana. Most grow 3 feet to 4 feet in height and can be used along foundations, in perennial borders or in large containers. They are available in a wide range of colors including dark red, rose red, pink, rose pink, white, lilac lavender and lavender.

Rosey Carpet is a groundcover cultivar introduced by Hambuchen Nursery in Conway, Ark., in 1997. It grows just a foot high and trails 4 feet in all directions. Other selections for use as groundcovers, in containers, or in large hanging baskets include Delta Blush with pink blooms (1 feet to 3 feet), Bourbon Street with watermelon red flowers (2 feet to 3 feet), Mardi Gras with purple flowers (2 feet to 3 feet), and Sacramento with deep red flowers (1 feet to 3 feet).

There are many other great dwarf selections of crape myrtles on the market.

When selecting dwarf crape myrtles, there are two important things to remember. First, like all crape myrtles, they require full sun for best flowering. Second, they are deciduous, so it’s best to plant them adjacent to evergreens so they can fade into the background in winter.

Gardeners have long appreciated the tough-as-nails qualities of crape myrtle. There is hardly a Southern landscape without at least one of these summer flowering beauties. Some cities and towns use them as street trees, while others hold summer festivals in their honor.

In the 1960s, crape myrtle breeding work by Donald Egolf at the U.S. National Arboretum gave us many superior selections with beautiful bark characteristics and improved disease resistance. His selections were given Indian names, like Natchez, Seminole, Catawba, Cherokee, Potomac, Yuma and Hopi. Most of these selections grow 15 feet to 30 feet tall.

For more information on growing crape myrtles, visit pubs.caes.uga.edu/caespubs/pubcd/C944/C944.htm.

By Gary Wade
University of Georgia

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