There is no better flower for the summer in Augusta than crape myrtle, a plant that thrives on sun and heat.
Crape myrtle has spectacular blooms, with bold, bright colors. Most have bark of smooth, shiny gray, or white with bold steaks of deep red to brown.
No matter what your garden space, you'll find a crape myrtle to fit. Trees 30 feet tall make excellent patio specimens or small street trees, while 3- to 4-foot-tall shrubs can fill pots. The in-between sizes work as hedges, border shrubs or strong accent plants.
To reduce the amount of cutting and pruning you will do in the future, select plants that will mature to fill the available space.
Large tree forms include Natchez, a 30-foot-tall white bloomer; Muskogee, with light lavender flowers; Tuscarora, with dark, coral pink blooms; and Potomac, with bubble-gum pink flowers.
Trees 10 to 20 feet tall include Apalachee, with light-lavender flowers; Lipan, with purplish lavender; Regal Red, with vivid-red flowers; Sioux, with shocking-pink blooms; and Yuma, a double-lavender bloomer.
Selections 5 to 10 feet tall include Acoma, a broad-growing, white-flowering form, and Tonto, with bright-red flowers. Dwarf varieties include Centennial, with bright-purple flowers; Chickasaw, with late, pink-lavender flowers; and Victor, with deep-red flowers. Most of these are readily available.
Plant crape myrtles in full sun. Otherwise, flowering may be reduced or stop altogether. Heat seems to be required for full flowering.
Once established, the plants are drought-tolerant and resilient. Sites with good air circulation will reduce powdery mildew. The selections with Indian tribal names released from the National Arboretum are resistant to this disease.
Crape myrtles need little care. An application of mulch and a little spring fertilizer will pave the way for summer flowers. Prune them to remove suckers, and lower branches and remove any crossing branches while maintaining the natural growth habit of the tree or shrub. Avoid cutting back large stems to the same location year after year (the practice is now called crape murder). Watch out for aphids and Japanese beetles.
FRUIT ROTS ON VEGETABLES: Many vegetables are beginning to develop fruit rots, which are mostly caused by fungi. Good cultural practices can be helpful in preventing the disease.
Use mulch to prevent soil from splashing on plants and to prevent fruit from touching the ground to prevent rots on mature fruit such as tomatoes and squash.
Keeping gardens weed-free will increase air circulation and limit conditions that lead to disease. Avoid working in the garden when plants and soil are wet as fungal spores and bacterial pathogens can be easily spread and cause new disease.
Sid Mullis is director of the University of Georgia Extension Service office for Richmond County. Call him at 821-2349, or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Richmond and Columbia counties have a Web page at www.griffin.peachnet.edugacolumbia