Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Crepe myrtle varieties create works of art


Gardeners in the desert have so much to be thankful for. Despite the heat and dry air that we deal with, we have more things to appreciate than to gripe about.

Areas with humidity have lots of fungi and bacterial conditions to worry about and treat. The cold parts of the country have to limit their palette to the hardiest of plants that won’t perish in the winter.

One of our greatest gifts is the ability of our climate to allow plants from many regions of the world to adapt to our conditions. Now that we have our first few thunderstorms of the summer and are confident there will be more, gardeners heave a sigh of relief and resume the projects they halted with the triple-digit days of June.

No matter which style of planting you choose for your landscape, the summer monsoon seem to bring new life to them all.

Desert landscapes put on a new flush of leaves and prepare to treat us to the fleeting shows put on by the many and varied Texas rangers. The red birds (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) and the golden bells of several varieties of Tecomas beef up their flower production. And for those who like to have a well- balanced array of flowering shrubs with equally as many flowers blooming in late summer as in the spring, the crepe myrtles (Lagerstromia) begin their show.

These shrubs are so well known in the South, from Texas through Florida, that you can’t pass through a city without a multitude of these trees and shrubs in the landscape.

They are a fantastic plant for Tucson as well and they are beginning to be seen more frequently as folks realize the benefits of these plants that are hardy, tough, drought tolerant and beautiful all in one plant.

Crepe myrtles abound in varieties, sizes and colors. They can be used as clipped shrubs or trees of small, medium or large stature, single trunked or gorgeously trained to sinuous multitrunks.

Small varieties make beautiful container plants. For many years the “Petite” series were the main offerings for crepe myrtles under four feet. Recently developed hybrids including the “Dazzle” series, with the smoking hot bright red Cherry Dazzle have given us a new standard for long blooming.

Perhaps the most magnificent way to show off a crepe myrtle is use a multitrunked tree as an accent plant. There are so many phases of interest and beauty that they are an ever-changing work of art for your landscape.

They begin the spring with flushes of beautiful new leaves ranging from the brightest green to magenta-flushed rosy hues. Their bloom period starts when many of the plants are slowing down, setting seed and starting to look ratty. The blooms on the larger varieties can be two to three foot long cones of frilly flowers in intense, saturated colors.

As the weather turns cold, crepe myrtle is one of the small array of plants that have beautiful autumn colors in our desert environment. Even after finally dropping their leaves, the slender twisting trunks are clothed in silvery mother-of-pearl bark, gorgeous in its own right.

If there is room for a large shrub or small tree in a place of honor in your landscape, now is the time to choose while they show off their extravagant flowering displays.

Some of our favorites are Red Rocket (huge cones of deep red), Pink Velour (bright pink on burgundy foliage), Tuscarora (coral), Catawba (deep velvet purple) and Dynamite (hottest scarlet). It’s hard to choose just one favorite with so many spectacular choices, but now there’s a problem we can be thankful for.

Cathy Bishop, co-owner of Mesquite Valley Growers Nursery, has more than 30 years of gardening experience. E-mail her at weekendplus@tucsoncitizen.com.


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