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As an Agriculture Extension Agent for Texas AgriLife Extension Service I have had an opportunity to be involved in just about every aspect of agriculture. From the 5,000 cow dairy to the types of trees to use in a home landscape I have had a chance to learn how the different parts of an agriculture systems work together. Seedless watermelons, drip irrigation, pecan orchard management, fruit crop development, dairy nutrient management, environmental issues confronting agriculture, producer tours, field days, research projects and more have been a part of my life for over 30 years as I lived and breathed agriculture. Since 2004 I have been actively involved in consulting internationally working in Honduras, Guatemala, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, India, and China. I have worked with missionaries and other groups dedicated to alleviating poverty among third world farmers. I lived in the Middle East in 2007-2008 working on a project for the Borlaug Institute of International Agriculture at Texas A&M University. In this project I was the Chief of Party and Team Leader for a $5.7 Million dollar effort to train Iraqi Extension agents and specialists in all aspects of agriculture.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Crape Myrtle Cultivars

Crape Myrtles continue to be one of the most popular and widely used landscape trees in Texas. Over the last several years Louisiana State University has evaluated numerous cultivars or varieties for quality, growth habit and susceptibility to diseases. The following list will help you as you select a variety for your landscape.

Natchez is recognized as the top performing crape myrtle in the test. It’s white flowers and exfoliating (peeling) bark are characteristics of this cultivar, which reaches a height of 30 feet. It blooms for 110 days starting in June and has very large flowers.
Muskogee was introduced in 1978 and has medium-size, light-lavender flowers. Blooming period is excellent, beginning in mid-June and lasting 110-120 days. It has good tolerance to powdery mildew and leaf spot. Exfoliating bark is grayish tan, tan or medium brown. The bark of this variety exfoliates but not as much so as Natchez and Tuscarora. It reaches a mature height of more than 20 feet.
Tuscarora has coral pink flowers and is less susceptible to powdery mildew disease than many other varieties. It flowers for 70-80 days and reaches 25 feet in height. As this tree matures the bark will exfoliate more and more and is quite pretty.

Tonto is a semi-dwarf to medium height crape myrtle reaching 12 to 14 feet. The flowers are deep red and it flowers well into the fall months. As you can see you should buy crape myrtles by their mature height and not try to keep them pruned back.

Acoma was introduced by the U.S. National Arboretum and reaches a height of 10-14 feet. It is similar in size to Tonto. It has a weeping or cascading growth habit. White flowers appear in mid- to late June and last around 90 days. Its powdery mildew resistance is good. In some years, leaf spot can be found. Defoliation is not a problem. Its light-gray bark exfoliates as the plant nears maturity. It has good cold hardiness.

Sioux was recognized as a Georgia Gold Medal winner in 1996 and a Mississippi Medallion plant in1999. It was found to have good powdery mildew resistance in LSU AgCenter trials. It has some susceptibility to leaf spot. Its flowers are vivid pink and last from June through September. Mature height ranges from 10-15 feet but can vary widely.

Basham’s Party Pink is tall growing crape myrtle similar to the Natchez. It has lavender-pink blooms as large as the Natchez. It has good disease tolerance like Muskogee.

Tuskegee has dark pink flowers has an average height of 15 to 20 feet. It has excellent disease resistance.

There is not much you have to do to a crape myrtle to keep it in fine form. If you’re growing them like a tree you will have to remove the low growing branches as well as the sprouts from the plants base each year. You do not need to prune the top at all to promote flowering but pruning the old flowers and pods cleans it up. As far as insects go the only problem is aphids, usually in late August and September of some years. Aphids suck the plant juices and cause the honeydew we see when the leaves are real shiny. A rainy period or even a good soaking with the water hose helps to reduce aphid numbers. We really don’t have many problems with disease until we put the crape myrtle in a closed in spot with no air drainage. This keeps the leaves wet and so diseases increase.