Texas AgriLife Extension,
Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas

September, 2008

Crape Myrtles Re-bloom

by Dr. William C. Welch, Extension Horticulturist,
Texas A&M University, College Station, TX

Much of Texas has been subject to moderate to severe drought conditions this summer. It is interesting to observe how landscape plants have dealt with deficits. Most areas of College Station had no rainfall from May 15-August 12th. The area received 4-6” of rainfall over the next week or 10 days. It was interesting to observe how the dryness and the rainfall affected various plantings of Lagerstroemia indica and the newer hybrids with L. fauriei.

Old L. indica on A&M campus
Old L. indica on A&M campus
Prior to the rains many crape myrtle plantings were stressed to the point of defoliation. There are a fairly large number of very old specimens of unknown cultivars of L. indica on the Texas A & M University campus. These appeared to have weathered the drought period better than hybrids such as ‘Natchez’ and ‘Basham’s Party Pink’. An observation concerning the hybrids is that most set large quantities of fruit and seed. Much of the plant’s energy tends to be diverted into fruit production which limits quality and quantity of repeat flowering. About 12 days following the first rains on August 12th the old indica specimens on the campus were in full bloom. They tend to set few, if any seeds.

There was also significant re-bloom on most of the hybrids but it came about two weeks later. Many of these are located in mass plantings along the West Bypass in College Station and Bryan. Some were completely defoliated by the drought and have since recovered nicely with new foliage and flowers.

Crape cultivar 'Purple Majesty'
Crape cultivar 'Purple Majesty'
Having been in on the first work with L. fauriei and its hybridization with L. indica it has been most interesting to observe how they have fared over the years. I worked closely with Lynn Lowrey, a well known horticulturist, nurseryman and native plant expert in Houston. Lynn worked directly with Dr. Donald Egolf of the National Arboretum in Washington, DC during the 1960s. We were all excited over the introduction of the L. fauriei because of its beautiful peeling bark that exposed cinnamon colored trunks and its natural resistance to powdery mildew. It also seemed to thrive in the Gulf Coast environment. Several hard freezes like the one of 1980-81 killed many L. fauriei to the ground while sparing most of the L. indica. This was interesting since Dr. Egolf’s collection at the National Arboretum was largely unaffected by these cold spells. Evidently, the more abrupt changes we experience made the difference. The first natural hybrid (Basham’s Party Pink) appears to have been in the garden of Bill Basham, then horticulturist for the City of Houston. Some consider it to still be the best and many thousands have been sold.

The powdery mildew resistance of L. fauriei and its hybrids is welcome but the heavy fruit production is a definite negative. This can be overcome by pruning the old seed heads but as plants become larger this is not always practical. The attractive bark of the hybrids, especially ‘Natchez’ is important but so are the beautiful gnarly trunks of well cared for old specimens of L. indica.

Old Crape Myrtle cultivar in Houston Heights
Old Crape Myrtle cultivar in Houston Heights
It has been fun to “rescue” heirloom plants from southern gardens. Roses have received the most attention but heirloom bulbs are running a close second. The formation of businesses like the Antique Rose Emporium and The Southern Bulb Company have facilitated the gardening public in obtaining some of the difficult to find species. I believe that crape myrtles should also be collected and marketed in this manner.

Greg Grant and I have a favorite purple indica that is common over much of Texas and the South. It is fairly distinctive with an especially nice trunk character as it gets older. I watch one on Wellborn Rd. just south of the campus. Greg has planted an allee of these at his home near Arcadia, TX. The pure white cultivar planted on the Texas A & M University campus in the 1980s is ‘Glendora White’. It has the brightest white flowers of any crape myrtle I know. About 10 years ago I noticed a particularly nice darker purple crape myrtle at an antique shop near Brenham. Cynthia Mueller rooted cuttings for me and I now have three nice 8-10 foot specimens growing at my place in Washington County.

Crape myrtles are easily rooted from cuttings. The easiest time is while the plants are dormant from late November through February. Six to eight inch cuttings may be dipped in rooting hormone and stuck in pots or planting beds in bright but indirect light. They usually are well rooted by the next spring.

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