Crape Myrtle: Colorful Blooms for your Late Summer Garden!

After many years of hybridizing and the production of more cold hardy varieties, Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) can be successfully grown here in the Northeast. These showy trees are a personal favorite of mine due to their beautiful long lasting blooms that start at the end of the summer and last well into Fall, a bloom period of approximately 120 days!   Just as other flowering trees and shrubs are reaching the end of their bloom cycle the stately Crape Myrtle ‘Lagerstroemia indica’ starts its spectacular show. I often use these beautiful trees as an eye catching element in my designs as they serve nicely as an anchor plant in a foundation planting or as a focal point in an island bed or backyard garden.

(Photo: Lagerstromeia indica ‘Sioux’)

There are many varieties of this beautiful tree ranging in size from ‘Pocomoke’ and ’Chickasaw’, which are dwarf varieties, topping off at approximately 5 feet to ‘Natchez’ (White),‘Tuscarora’ (Coral Pink),‘Muskogee’ (Lavender) and ‘Catawba’ (Purple) ranging at a height between 12-20 feet. A personal favorite of mine is Crape Myrtle ’Sioux’, a medium variety that ranges in height to approximately 12-15 feet. The medium-pink flowers of the ‘Sioux’ Crape Myrtle begin late in July and last well into October and are an elegant display not to be missed. Three other varieties of Lagerstroemia worth mentioning are ‘Tonto’ and ‘Dynamite’, both known for their vibrant red flowers and medium height of 12-15 feet and ‘Zuni’ (Purple) at a smaller 8-9 feet in stature.

Lagerstromeia Crape Myrtle Muskogee

(Photo: Lagerstroemia indica ‘Muskogee’)

HARDINESS AND GROWING CONDITIONS: Lagerstroemia are a hardy to zones 7-9 and are “deer resistant”, meaning that deer will most likely avoid them in their diet. They grow best in full sunlight in a well-drained soil with a pH of 5.0-6.5. These trees require little to no pruning but can be pruned to maintain a more compact shape or to remove any dead branches that may result from a harsh winter.  If you are going to prune wait until late winter or early spring after the last frost. The plants are dormant in winter and any flowering occurs on new growth so pruning will encourage new flower producing branches. Remove any dead branches, suckers growing from the base or weak twiggy branches and allow strong leader branches to keep the framework of the tree.

Lagerstroemia indica ‘Natchez’

TRANSPLANTING:  If you are planning on transplanting your Crape Myrtle tree the best time to transplant in the northeast is in mid April or mid September through mid October.  Roots need time to become established before the summer heat or winter cold set in. Dig a hole slightly wider than the root ball and make sure the tree sits at the height of the surface or slightly above.  Apply a layer of mulch around the tree to protect the roots and keep well watered until established.  Crape Myrtle are somewhat sensitive to cold so there may be some branch die back in the first season until the plant becomes well established.

Lagerstroemia indica ‘Tuscarora’

Depending on the preference of the grower Crape Myrtle can be planted as either a multi-trunk or singular-trunk form and can be displayed as either a shrub or tree in the landscape.  An important note worth mentioning is that Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia) are among the last plants to push out their new growth so if they appear to be dead at the end of winter going into spring just give them some time to come into their glory. Since they are later to push out their leaves they do benefit from an early spring feeding of a high phosphorus-lower nitrogen 5-10-5 formula to promote good foliage growth and an abundance of blooms in July-August. Crape Myrtles are not susceptible to insects or disease but as in any landscape planting they should be monitored and properly maintained to keep them in good health.

If you are looking for a long blooming, deer resistant, low maintenance tree to add color to your garden then Crape Myrtle may be the tree for you. I for one would highly recommend this beautiful plant as a welcome addition to any formal or informal landscape.
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Sweet Flag-Not So Sweet…or Is It?

PicMonkey Collage

Clockwise:  Golden Sweet Flag (Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’), Variegated Liriope (Summer), Carex ‘Evergold’ Sedge, Liriope (Winter)

As winter settles in here in my Zone 7, Long Island garden I look out upon the landscape and access how certain plants have performed over the years as far as hardiness and maintenance are concerned. In winter when structure is extremely important the Sweet Flag tends to stand out. Golden Sweet Flag (Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’) may not be a plant I regularly use in my designs but it does have its merit in the landscape and looks perfect when in the correct spot!  Sweet Flag is hardy in USDA zones 5-11, prefers to be grown in partial to full sun and requires a constantly moist soil.  It clumps to approximately ten inches tall and slowly spreads by underground rhizomes.

In a pond setting or very shady and moist area such as under a tree, Sweet Flag shines.  It’s variegated golden yellow and green upright blades add interest to the landscape all year round. Attributes are that it is evergreen and the only maintenance required is an occasional thinning.  It is also very hardy,  disease resistant and “deer resistant”

Alternatives to Sweet Flag are Carex oshimensis ‘Evergold’,Variegated Japanese Sedge (Carex morrowii ‘Aurea-variegata’) and Liriope.  Evergold and Variegated Japanese Sedge each grow to about the same height of 10 inches to a foot and stay in more of a clumping form and Liriope (Liriope muscari ‘Variegata) grows to approximately 6-12 inches in height, also stays in rounded clumps and bears small purple blooms in fall followed by black berries.  Liriope prefers dry shade but will adapt to just about anywhere. All three are considered “deer resistant” and I frequently use each in my designs.

Next time you are looking for an evergreen, shade tolerant, moisture loving perennial consider Sweet Flag.  This seemingly underused plant could serve nicely in your landscape when given the correct location!

As Always…Happy Gardening and all the Best for the New Year!

 Author:  Lee@Landscape Design By Lee, 2014, All Rights Reserved


Feature Plant: Liriope muscari ‘Variegata’

Liriope muscari ‘Variegata’

Spring is approaching and soon it will be time to get back into the garden.  One of the most versatile perennials I have known over the years is variegated liriope (Liriope muscari ‘Variegata). Also known as Lilyturf, this cultivar has a grass-like appearance and grows in neatly rounded clumps which do not spread aggressively like Liriope spicata.

Liriope ‘Variegata’ is cold hardy in USDA zones 5-10, grows in full sun to shade and will tolerate a range of conditions from moist soil to drought conditions.  It grows to a height of 12-16 inches and is mainly evergreen displaying cream and green variegated foliage.  Showy flower spikes of deep lilac blooms resembling grape hyacinth emerge in late summer and last into fall followed by dark berries which persist into winter. Liriope is adaptable under pine and walnut trees and is excellent when used as a ground cover or border.   It is also widely used for erosion control, considered to be rabbit and deer resistant and is drought tolerant once established.

This versatile plant fits well into just about any type of garden from informal to formal and is very hardy and reliable in performance year after year.  Liriope is completely evergreen in warmer climates and is semi-evergreen here on Long Island. It can be cut back part way in fall or left until spring to be pruned.  If browning occurs over winter simply cut back in early spring to allow for new growth to appear.   Variegated liriope is easy to grow, fairly disease resistant and will provide interest to your garden all year round.  It will prove to be a dependable and versatile addition to any landscape.

As Always…Happy Gardening!

Author:  Lee@Landscape Design By Lee, 2014, All Rights Reserved


A Tree for all Seasons: Coral Bark Maple (Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku’)

Coral Bark Maple Winter

CORAL BARK MAPLE WINTER (Coral Bark Maple in Center)

When designing a garden for all seasons it is important to include cultivars that have both good structure and eye-catching bark or foliage. Coral Bark Maple (Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku’) is one of my all time favorites on all accounts. Coral Bark Maple is a vase-shaped deciduous shrub or small tree that is native to Japan, China and Korea.  Hardy to zones 5-8, this beautiful specimen grows to a mature height and width of approximately 15-20 feet and displays delicate palmate lobed leaves that are approximately 2-5″ in length and almost fern-like in appearance. The Coral Bark Maple is considered to be one of the most prized of the upright palmate maples during the winter months for its stunning coral-red bark that appears after the leaves fall.


  The name of this cultivar,  ‘Sangu Kaku’ means coral tower (sango meaning sea coral and kaku meaning tower) as if to suggest this lovely pink-barked specimen resembles coral rising upward from a reef.  The foliage display starts in spring  when leaves emerge as a beautiful yellow-green with red edging and small reddish-purple flowers are an added surprise when the tree is viewed up close.


As the season progresses a succession of colorful foliage continues to occur.  In the summer months once yellow-green foliage with red tips turns to light green and the insignificant flowers are followed by samaras that ripen in late summer.  In autumn the show continues as the foliage turns to an amazing bright golden-yellow and then to a fiery orange before the leaves drop.  The coral-red bark is visible as the temperatures and leaves fall and the show continues throughout winter and can be striking against a backdrop of snow.


 Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku’ prefer to be grown in full to partial shade and should be sheltered from harsh drying winds.  They prefer a moist, organically rich, well-drained soil but are adaptable to a variety of soil types.  Coral Bark Maple requires little to no maintenance but should be monitored for insects or disease on a routine basis as one would with any prized landscape tree.   Best pink coloration appears on young branches.   In order to stimulate new growth of stems with better pink coloration the tree can be occasionally pruned.  Since Japanese maples are generally grown for their attractive foliage and shape,  ‘Sango Kaku’ is best served as a focal point in a location where the beautiful pink bark in winter and colorful foliage can be appreciated.   It will fit into just about any type of landscape whether a foundation planting, formal or informal garden, grouped in a perennial/shrub border or as a single specimen and will bring years of enjoyment to you outdoor space.

As Always…Happy Gardening!

       Author:  Lee@Landscape Design By Lee, 2013, All Rights Reserved

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