Crape Myrtle Standards

All crape myrtles are genetically shrubs. However, as landscapes grew smaller and smaller, landscape contractors began to realize that overgrown old crape myrtles could be retrained as small specimen trees by removing many of the lower lateral branches. That began to be commonplace by 1960-70.

Carrying that to the ultimate, nurserymen and landscapers began to use single-trunk crape myrtles (“standards”) fairly often in the 1990s. Today, they’re commonly seen in southern landscapes, both commercial and residential. Shown are Natchez white crape myrtles photographed on June 26 on the east side of Central Expressway in Allen, Texas.

If you’re interested in a single-trunk crape myrtle you probably should buy one that has already been trained this way. The nurseryman will have chosen one strong, straight leader and tied it against a sturdy stake until it developed enough strength to stand on its own. All side shoots are immediately pruned off and the top is kept tightly trained to keep it from becoming top-heavy and lopsided.

The single-trunk look is dramatic and visually appealing. It allows improved line-of-sight when crape myrtles are to be used in parkways and medians of city streets. They also allow you to maintain seating or landscaping closer to the trunks than you might otherwise be able to do. However, it’s not without an element of risk. Anytime you maintain plants in such a symmetrical form you run the chance that something will happen to destroy one or more of the plants and that will spoil the look. For example, severe winter weather can kill crape myrtles completely to the ground. While shrub-form plants will quickly rebound, these highly trained specimens could be rendered useless. Retraining them would be time-consuming and difficult. So, know the risks beforehand, then use the plants in prudent ways.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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