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Weekly planter: Summer brings flowering of crape myrtle

Summer is in full swing when the crape myrtles are in full flower. The great cotton-candy-like plumes of flowers are full and heavy enough to sway as if intoxicated by the thick, hot air.

Originally from China, Japan and Korea, crape myrtles used to come down with powdery mildew in South Florida, but years ago, the National Arboretum hybridized a line that resists that disease. Muskegee, Natchez and Tuscarora are among them.

The plants are leafless in winter, and so work best in a mixed, informal landscape where other shrubs steal your eye away from them. However, they have quite lovely peeling bark to make up for their nakedness. They also may turn lovely autumn colors before losing leaves in the late fall.

Botanical name: Lagerstroemia indica

Height: 20 feet

Light: Full sun

Culture: Allow enough room for this large, vase-shaped shrub, and resist the temptation to whack it back every winter. When pruned back hard, the new growth comes up thin and wobbly and rather inelegant. Remove only small branches when shaping, but pinch new growth in spring to encourage development of more twigs because flowers are terminal.

Fertilize with a controlled-release fertilizer, and in November, consider using a bloom booster such as 4-6-8 for more flowers in the spring. Once established, the shrub can grow without much supplemental irrigation. Mulch the root zone, keeping mulch away from the trunk.

MIAMI HERALD FILES

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