Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Crepe Myrtle TLC

Once upon a time when this blog began, I invited my readers to my Texan garden where the bougainvilleas graced a stone pathway, where cannas were growing with lillies that beckoned one to enter and sit under the crepe myrtle trees (3 of which are lined up at the end of this pathway. They are the trees you see in the back of the photo.)

May 14, 2006

On the other side of the backyard was another crepe myrtle, seen below and blooming in June! In between was yet another crepe myrtle where the mockingbirds laid eggs and nudged babies to fly out of the nest. In the front yard we had at least 3 more crepe myrtles. All of these we planted. The most unique one was in front of the house, a weeping crepe myrtle where when the blossoms finished the seed pods were so heavy they literally touched the ground. My mom liked it so much she took a cutting which is now a lovely tree in her own garden. These were all little at first. I very carefully nurtured and lightly pruned these crepe myrtles, one limb at a time, to achieve these lovely trees. I started planting them in 2000 when we first moved in (we only had one little baby tree when we arrived in our new home). We moved in Feb 2009 to Virginia excited about new adventures, yet sad to say goodbye to our lovely garden and home. 
June 26, 2008

In April 2009 we moved into our new house in Virginia, which hardly had any trees at all. Of course we had to have some crepe myrtles. You can barely see it here. All of our crepe myrtles have started this little. When they are this small, the only pruning I do is of the spent blossoms. I will show that in detail in a bit. I do this to help the little trees grow faster. That way the energy to grow can go towards the little leaf buds, which I shall share too in a moment.
June 26, 2009

April 16, 2010

Ah, in the photo below the tree is finally tall enough for me to remove a few of the leaves and branches on the bottom portions of the trunk.  Now I'm choosing which trunks I shall keep and which I shall remove, now deeming those to be suckers. The crepe myrtle's beauty comes in part from its multi-trunked feature. I only remove a little bit because the leaves are needed for photosynthesis, which is how the plant gets its food.
October 17, 2011

And now the tree is taller, so I've removed more leaves and branches higher up, but not too high. Also here some of the suckers can be seen. They need to be removed. If those are allowed to grow, they suck all the energy needed for the main branches to grow, so the suckers themselves can grow. That is how they get their name. There are a lot of trees in our neighborhood, which the residents sadly never trim from underneath. As a result there are lots of bushy little trees in our neighborhood.
July 8, 2013

Here is a peak at crepe myrtle progress in our back yard. I forget when we planted this one. It's the tree nearest the deck. It is either freshly planted or one or two years old.
June 12, 2014

I decided to show my pictures sequentially. I hope that's not confusing, but here we are in the front yard again looking at growth progress of the crepe myrtle and how I've trimmed it. You can see a little branch sticking up on the left where it's mostly bare...I got rid of that. It's like a sucker, taking away energy from the top of the tree that wants to grow and bloom.
July 3, 2014

So here we are caught up to the present growing season. In Virginia my crepe myrtles bloom in August, which makes me sad. In Texas I was able to get 4-5 bloom sessions out of them by pruning off each spent flower head. I am going to show how I do that now with this tree, then we will go to the backyard and prune that tree. And by the way, while I was there I pruned back my gladiola blossoms, but not the leaves, because those help the bulbs/corns to prepare for the next growing season.
September 16, 2015

In the photo above, a little branch is growing and blooming in the bare section. A close-up is below. This is acting like a sucker so I cut that off at the base. By the way, all the suckers at the base of the tree have been cut back about 3 times earlier this summer. They keep coming back and we keep cutting them back. Eventually that shouldn't be a problem anymore.
Here is a spent flower head that I am going to nip just below it. Once the branches get too tall for me to reach I don't worry about it anymore. I mainly do this to help it grow and bloom again, but there is little growing season left once these bloom in Virginia. It does tidy up the tree though but I don't worry about this tree too much. Our first freeze can come in mid-October so I don't want to do any of this near the freeze season. New growth can freeze. However all the growing conditions up here in Virginia significantly slow down in September, that I'm not sure that is as huge a problem as in Texas where it can be quite warm through the autumn until the first frost hits. Just remember that frosts and pruning do not go hand in hand.
One pruned branch...as opposed to the massacres by chain saw that is the wrong thing to do. Never do that. Never whack off the entire top of any tree because that always ruins it. It only multiplies what the person was trying to eliminate. When trees are whacked off in this way, every single one of those branches will get several new branches at each of those cut spots, forever altering the appearance of the crepe myrtle. Trees grow from the top. When pruning it's important to prune from the bottom. In this case, I was merely snipping off a flower head, also called dead heading. 
Well, there wasn't much to do with that tree so I went outback. This is a different variety with lighter limbs that get weighed down when the seed pods get heavy.  I don't feel right about it drooping all the time, so once the blossoms are spent, I do nip off the spent blossom.
Nipping off this spent blossom just above new growth.
Done. This tree still looks very lovely when I am done pruning.
Here is a close-up. See the little pointy thing below the clippers? That is a bud full of new growth.
Done. See how raggy the cut is? This shows that I need to either sharpen my clippers (a good winter time project) or buy new ones.
Now here is a very important reason for pruning any tree...when the branches are rubbing against each other as seen here.  This can set up the tree for disease, which can easily enter the bruises on the branch caused by the rubbing. Step back and analyze the two branches. How is each one growing? Which one do you want to keep? Which is the best one to cut at the base? Cut it at the base. If you cut it in the middle, several branches will grow from that spot, multiplying your problem. Always cut as flush as possible against the next branch. 101_1028
Here's a close-up of the rubbing...
 Now step back to analyze again. I see a branch growing straight out from the right side. That will only grow straight out and be in anyone's way who is walking by. Although it is okay now it will be a huge problem in many ways later. Cut it now before it gets too big. This is not only easier to do now but also puts more energy into the tree to grow taller. If you wait until it's a large branch, it's more difficult to cut. Also it might not be possible to cut it in one full swipe, causing it to rip and tear and possibly allowing disease to enter the wound.

Nipping it.
More cross branches...
I'm separating them and choosing which to prune.
See what this one is rubbing against? I had to make a choice of which to prune here.
I also cleaned up some of the lower trunk, removing some of the leaves and branches to expose more lovely trunk, putting more energy into the tree to grow. I'll wait to prune the blossoms when they are finished blooming.
What else do we have in the garden? Up on the deck I am growing hibiscus. Right now they are blooming a rare 5-7 blossoms a day!  
Across from the crepe myrtle is a bougainvillea near the back basement door, which brings this post full circle from my first picture above. Yes, some of  my Texas garden is finding its way into my Virginia garden.

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