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Crape Myrtles — To Plant Or Not To Plant?

By Paul James

It’s no secret that a lot of crape myrtles around town got zapped by the February freeze. Some died outright, and some lost their topgrowth but are continuing to rebound from the base. Only a scant few were completely unaffected. As a result, I’ve been asked dozens of times whether we should continue planting crape myrtles. And my response has been the same every time  — Absolutely!

I mean seriously folks, is there a better flowering tree (or shrub) for summer in Oklahoma? No, there isn’t. And here’s the deal: last February 16 was a fluke. Yes, it was the fourth lowest temperature on record dating back to 1905, but it’s not as though such cold temps are a common occurrence. 

In my now 42 years of gardening I’ve only witnessed crape myrtle dieback one other time. That was back in the early 80s, and although temps didn’t drop as low as they did in February, there were several consecutive cold days and nights in a row, often in the single digits. My three large ‘Natchez’ (with 5” diameter trunks!) died back to the ground but recovered nicely and flowered that summer.

And since that time, there have been so many new varieties and cultivars introduced (at least 150, including those with nearly black foliage, as well as numerous miniatures and dwarfs) that it’s hard to imagine not planting a crape myrtle somewhere in your garden.

So ask yourself this question: Does it make sense not to plant something that can provide decades of joy and beauty just because there’s an ever so slight chance of it succumbing to freeze damage? I say no. And I hope you agree.

Happy gardening, ya’ll.

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