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Getting a Handle on New Crapemyrtles

by Mandy Miller

If you feel like every time you go to the garden center there are plants you’ve never seen, you’re not alone. Today, more than ever, new plants are flooding the market. Annuals, perennials, woodys, and even new trees. How are we supposed to keep up or even know how to care for these new treasures? Some are new exotics. Some are improvements on old standbys, but we need more information if we are going to start placing these plants in our gardens. For this reason, I will be discussing new plants every month here on Gardening123. Let’s start with a southern favorite: crapemyrtles.

Have you noticed the number of crapemyrtles that are available these days? You can have dwarf, medium, or tall, and they come in a huge range of colors. But they are not all equal, and to get the lowdown, we’ve gone straight to the source: Carl Whitcomb, Ph.D. Whitcomb is a well-known plant breeder from Oklahoma who has been working with crapemyrtles for almost 20 years. First things first - lets get the name straight. It’s crapemyrtle, not crape myrtle. This is true because this plant is in the genus Lagerstroemia, not Mytrus. It is simply a plant that looks somewhat remotely like a myrtle. A true myrtle would be in the Myrtus family.

When Whitcomb began working with crapemyrtles he addressed several problems that he saw with what was available at the time. There wasn’t a cultivar with good qualities and true red flowers. For years he collected seed and selected seedlings that showed good resistance to powdery mildew. After selecting seedlings for a few years, he achieved a disease resistance rate of 60 percent and most showed resistance even in early fall. After these trials, he began to realize that a high degree of resistance could be obtained with pure Lagerstroemia indica seedlings. Another benefit of using these seedlings, was that they displayed a much more vivid color than those of Lagerstroemia fauriei.

Whitcomb continued his research, and after 26,000 seedlings, he began to see a gene exposed that would give him wine-colored foliage. He also began noticing good flower fragrance and some with bronzy new foliage. It took six generations to produce a seedling with true red flowers.

However, Whitcomb wasn’t finished here. He continued to breed, cultivate, and evaluate generation after generation of seedlings. Some of these plants would take as many as six years to flower, so evaluation time was a lengthy process. In these studies Whitcomb also evaluated for rooting effectiveness, drought tolerance, and growth under stressful conditions. He continues his research today, and even though work is still being done on achieving cultivars with orange or blue flowers, he has some winners on the market today.

Lagerstroemia indica ‘Whit I’, Raspberry Sundae®.

Lagerstroemia indica ‘Whit I’
Raspberry Sundae ®
U.S. Plant Patent #10297

Raspberry Sundae® has unique flowers, raspberry red with a touch of white, which are distinctly fragrant. The flower buds are a wonderful crimson color, and the flowering season lasts from mid-summer until frost.

The plant is sterile, producing only a very few seedpods. Growth habit of Raspberry Sundae® is distinctly upright and columnar. Mature height will reach 15-20 feet or more. This new cultivar is very drought tolerant, and can be transplanted easily. It is also a great cold hardy cultivar, surviving in –5 to –8 degrees F. Because viable seeds are not produced, pruning is not required. Raspberry Sundae® grows and flowers best when NOT pruned back in the winter. Remember, pruning is always stunting. Flowering is best in full sun.

Lagerstroemia indica ‘Whit II’, Dynamite®.

Lagerstroemia indica ‘Whit II’
Dynamite®
U.S. Plant Patent #10296

Dynamite® is the first true red crapemyrtle tree form. Flowers that open on a hot, sunny day are darker red and have almost no white. Flowers that open on a cooler, cloudy day will be lighter red and may

have white on some petals. Flower buds are crimson. The cherry red flowers generally appear by early July and continue until frost. Seed production is modest, and seeds do not need to be removed in order to have prolonged flowering. The foliage starts out as a great crimson color, changing to a dark green when mature. In fall, it shows off by changing to bring orange for great fall color. It can reach heights of about 20 feet or more and is very drought tolerant. It also has the drought and cold tolerance displayed by Raspberry Sundae® and will also establish easily when transplanted. Dynamite® grows and flowers best when NOT pruned back in the winter. Remember pruning is always stunting. Flowering is best in full sun.

Lagerstroemia indica ‘Whit III’, Pink Velour®.

Lagerstroemia indica ‘Whit III’
Pink Velour® (originally marked as Royal Velvet)
U.S. Plant Patent #10319

Pink Velour® is the first crapemyrtle to have deep wine-colored foliage. As the leaves age they become purplish green and very dark. The leaves have a thick leathery texture

and turn orange and brown in the fall. The unique foliage provides a striking contrast to the bright pink flowers, which last from mid-summer through frost. Pink Velour® does produce seed, but the seeds do not need to be removed in order to have season-long flowering. A smaller tree than some, it reaches heights of 10 feet or more. It is very resistant to powerdy mildew, and show great cold tolerance and drought tolerance. Prune only for general shaping. Do not indiscriminately prune back this plant, as pruning is always stunting. Flowering and foliage color is best in full sun.

Lagerstroemia indica ‘Whit IV’, Red Rocket®.

Lagerstroemia indica ‘Whit IV’
Red Rocket ®
U.S. Plant Patent #11342.

Red Rocket® produces huge flower clusters. They can reach 20 inches or more and grow best and flower most profusely in full sun. The flower buds are bright crimson, and the cherry red flowers are

heavily ruffled. The flowering season is long, beginning in mid-summer and continuing until frost. The leaves will remind you of a Red Tip photinia with their red and red-purple coloring. They will turn dark green and have a thick leathery texture. Red Rocket® is highly resistant to powdery mildew and is also very drought tolerant and cold tolerant. It can reach heights of 20 feet or more at maturity. They will grow in most soils; however, the better the plant growth, the more flowers. Water during droughts for better flowering. Fertilize moderately only in spring. Do not fertilize in the fall.

Lagerstroemia indica ‘Whit V’, Tightwad ® Red.

Lagerstroemia indica ‘Whit V’
Tightwad ® Red (originally marked as Firecracker)
U.S. Plant Patent #11312

Tightwad Red® is the first true dwarf crapemyrtle with light red flowers. Flower buds are a nice crimson color, and the flowers are sterile and produce no distracting seed

pods. The foliage is a dark wine/red when it is new, and then changes to purplish green, and then to a dark green when it’s mature. Leaves are about 1/4 to 1/2 the size of normal crapemyrtle. The plants grow as a dense half-circle mound with little or no pruning required. The low mound form continues with age. The shape is reminiscent of a dwarf yaupon holly. Tightwad® is drought tolerant, cold tolerant, and highly resistant to powerdy mildew. Prune only for general shaping. Do not indiscriminately prune back this plant, as pruning is always stunting.

Any of these new cultivars would be a great addition to your garden, so ask your local garden center to order them for you if they don’t have them in stock. Look for new cultivars from Whitcomb soon!

Many thanks to Carl Whitcomb for the use of his research, papers, and photographs.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

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Related Plants
Clear Pink Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia x ‘Osage’ )
Common Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica )
Coral Pink Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia x ‘Comanche’ )
Dark Pink Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia x ‘Miami’ )
Dark Pink Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia x ‘Tuskegee’ )
Medium Pink Semi-dwarf Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia x ‘Hopi’ )
Pink Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia x ‘Tuscarora’ )
Red Semi-dwarf Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia x ‘Tonto’ )
White Weeping Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia x ‘Acoma’ )
Yuma Lavender Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia x ‘Yuma’ )


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