The crape myrtles blooming in Shawnee remind us of how resilient they are. Some years an early freeze will cause the plants severe damage, but the next year they come up from the roots and in no time, it seems, they are as healthy as ever. When Kickapoo Street was being widened, the crape myrtles in front of University Baptist Church courtyard were cut to the ground. Today they are at least 10 ft. tall.
One of the virtues of crape myrtles is that they take minimal care once they are established. They do require regular watering the year that they are planted. After that they generally thrive on the normal rainfall we receive. The ideal time to plant is now through early September. This gives the roots time to get established. Plants should receive at least 6 hours of sun daily.
If you are in the market for a plant now is a good time because you will be able to determine the color of the bloom. The plant tag can give you only an idea of the color. Also be sure to check the estimated growth size. Generally mature plants grow much larger than the tag suggests. You can manage the size with some pruning but it is better to have the plant in an area that isn’t affected by a larger plant.
Once the first round of blooms begin to wither, you have the choice of leaving the remaining seed pots in tack or pruning them. Removing the seed pods is easy to do on plants shorter than 5 feet but rather difficult it the plant is 12 feet tall. Pruning the spent blooms will speed up a new round of flowers but the blooms will come a little later if you don’t prune.
Dr. Carl Whitcomb has developed several plants in the Whit series. They are almost sterile so that their bloom time is longer. A smaller plant is named Tightwad Red. Larger plants are named Dynamite and Red Rocket. Both have bright red blooms and will grow 12 to 15 ft. tall. Two pink varieties are Rhapsody in Pink and Pink Velour. Both of these have purple foliage.
The better time to prune Crape Myrtles for size is late spring before new growth appears. Most horticulturists advise against cutting limbs back to the central trunk so that only stubs are left. That practice causes new growth to be so thick that air circulation is poor and the plant is more likely to get mildew. A preferred way is to cut individual limbs back about one third of their length. If that is done each spring, the plant will usually stay the size you wish. This practice tends to promote more blooms.
When you are driving around town feast your eyes on the plants at the Shawnee Public Library, at the City Hall and the Planning Office. I counted over 25 crape myrtle bushes visible on Broadway between Highland and Midland. Perhaps one day Shawnee might be called the Redbud/Crape Myrtle City of Oklahoma.