This heat and drought tolerant tree is perfectly situated for the valley’s temperatures
■ By Joe Cagliero / Contributed
Living in Hemet all of my life, I’ve realized there are good and bad things about summer-time life in our valley. Of course, the most obvious bad thing is the searing summer temperatures that we must endure. But one of the things to be happy about in summer here is that the crape myrtles are blooming.
Crape myrtles come in a variety of dramatic colors that can have a big impact on your yard. They can range in size from about 5 feet tall for the dwarf varieties, to about 25 feet tall for the larger growing varieties, with many types in between. These trees are known for their drought and heat tolerance, which is part of the reason that they are so popular here in our valley. Besides their captivating blooms, one of the other reasons for their popularity is that they are the City of Hemet’s official tree! Many varieties exhibit vibrant colors before their leaves drop, making them ignite the landscape in the fall, and are known for their light-colored attractive bark that can be a ray of light on a gloomy winter day.
Single or multi trunk?
Crape myrtles are usually trained in one of two ways, either with multiple trunks, or as a single-trunked tree. Any variety can be trained either of these ways. The petite varieties only grow to about 5 feet and are easily kept as a bush, but will grow a little taller if trained as a multi or single trunk tree. Taller varieties are usually trained into a multi or single trunked tree.
Color varieties abound
Each crape myrtle variety has a unique color and growing characteristic. One of the most popular is the Dynamite variety, introduced within the last 20 years, which has fiery red blooms, orange-red fall colors, and grows about 15 feet tall. The Dynamite is a great choice to add pizzazz to your yard!
Another popular variety is the Muskogee, with light lavender pink blooms on a tree that can reach about 20 feet tall. The Muskogee has especially attractive bark, red fall coloring, and a nice rounded shape, making it an excellent flowering shade tree. Some good examples of mature Muskogees are along Stetson Avenue near Lyon Avenue, where several line the street.
The Tuscarora and Watermelon Red varieties are similar, with vibrant, bright pinkish-red flowers and bright fall colors on a tree that grows about 20 feet tall. These are what a lot of people would refer to as a standard crape myrtle color, with some of these also planted along Stetson Avenue near the Muskogees.
A couple of popular purple varieties are Catawba and Zuni. The Catawba has dark purple blooms, and grows to about 15 feet. The Zuni has reddish purple flowers, orange-red fall coloring, and is more compact, staying under 10 feet.
There are also varieties of white, and several other shades of pink and red blooms to choose from. Also very popular are the petite varieties, because of their compact size, and they come in red, white, pink and purple. Other dwarf varieties are available in several colors.
Crape myrtles can be planted year round in our valley. Many people like to choose their plant in the summer-time, since they will be in bloom, and as there are many color choices, one can be assured of the preferred color.
Summer planting tips
When planting in the summer, there are some precautions to remember:
1. While in its original container, remember to water it well daily. Keep the roots moist while planting, and once the plant is in the ground, there should be an adequate catch basin around the plant a bit further out than the root ball, so that the roots can be soaked thoroughly. This should be done two to three times a week, depending on your soil type, and continued through the first summer. An established crape myrtle will be fine with a weekly soaking, and less frequently in the cooler season.
2. Remember to work in a good composted soil amendment while planting, and also apply a mulch layer of the amendment to help hold moisture, and ensure that the soil has adequate organic matter for the plant to grow well. Heavy clay soils should be amended with gypsum to improve drainage. Applying a rooting hormone can prevent shock and ensure a healthy plant. Don’t be too concerned if your plant goes into shock and drops its leaves, as it usually will recover and get new leaves quickly.
Crape myrtles have always been one of my favorite summer flowering plants. We have a sitting area at our house surrounded by Dynamite red and Natchez white varieties, along with some Iceberg white roses. It’s one of my favorite places to sit in the summer, especially with a cold drink!
Joe Cagliero, a California certified nursery professional, owns Cagliero Ranch Nursery, a full service plant and tree nursery, located at 2700 W. Devonshire Ave. in Hemet. Cagliero Ranch Nursery has been serving the Hemet/San Jacinto area since 2003. Call 951-766-7755 or visit www.caglieroranchnursery.com for more information.