When Nature Speaks to your Soul with Early Fall Blooms

I am lucky to be the Horticulture Chair for the Boxwood Garden Club, a member club of The Garden Club of Virginia. For this Fall’s horticulture exhibit at the Board of Governor’s meeting, each club was asked to submit a plant that “speaks” to the soul.

As the instructions read:

“Nature is a thing of wondrous beauty. It speaks to all of our senses. What makes a plant
speak to you? Is it the color, the smell, the feel, the shape of the bloom? We are all for natives and pollinators! But, sometimes they are not the ones that give us that ‘ahhhh’ moment in the garden. Please choose a plant or bloom that speaks to your soul for our Horticulture Exhibit at the 2019 GCV Board of Governors.”
Well, I came up with 5 (with my botanist- minded mother’s help) native pollinators that speak to my soul, and they may to yours too.

Lobelia Sihpilitica

Lobelia siphilitica

What makes this native pollinator so special is it’s time of bloom and its beautiful blue flowers. Also known as Great Blue Lobelia or blue cardinal flower, this is a low-maintenance, moisture loving, late summer, early fall blooming show-off. The bright blue flowers in the axils of leafy bracts are crowded together on the upper stem. It is a single branch plant, unless damaged or cut early in its growth.
In my garden, this Lobelia thrives in the crevices between the slates on my patio, and next to the pond and pathways. They prefer being near rocks, perhaps because they hold in the moisture better.
Perfect for rain gardens, woodland gardens like mine, full sun or deep shade. The genus name honors Matthaias de l’Obel (1538-1616), a french physician and botanist who helped identify a new plant classification system based upon leaves.  The siphilitica species name, on the other hand, comes from its usage as a “cure” for syphilis before penicillin was discovered.
Lobelia siphilitica speaks to me because blue in a garden is a happy sight, particularly when the rest of the garden is winding down for winter.

Impatiens capensisjewel weed

Also known as jewel weed, orange jewel weed, and spotted touch-me-not. This fall blooming, bright orange native pollinator can be found near creek beads and riversides throughout Virginia. It is a shade loving plant that usually grows wherever poison ivy also thrives, in moist or wet soil that is either clay, loam or sand.
A favorite of butterflies and hummingbirds, the stem jiuce is said to relieve itching from poison ivy and to treat athletes foot. Scientific data confirms its fungicidal qualities.
Jewel weed blooms in the late summer and re-seeds prolifically. If you have one, next year you will have hundreds. Perfect for a natural garden, rain garden, or shady area.
This wildflower speaks to me because of it’s pretty orange blossoms at a time when little else is in bloom – and the orange is a wonderful compliment to those re-blooming pink roses that love the cooler temperatures.

Talinium panaculatum

jewels of omar
Jewels of Opar, or Flame flower is a self-seeding, tender perennial with sprays of tiny pink flowers. They are a wonderful filler flower for borders and containers and they don’t mind dry conditions.
This wonderful native pollinator has stunning chartreuse/yellow leaves that light up a garden. The delicate, fairy like flowers come out in late summer/early fall and are very good for drying and preserving. When they have gone to seed, however, the seed pods are a beautiful red that compliment the leaves beautifully.
This flower has a joyful language that attracts many followers. Chartreuse and pink are such a fun combination.

Euonymous americanuseuonymous americanus

Also known as American Strawberry Bush, Strawberry Bush, Brook Euonymous, Hearts-a-burstin, Bursting Heart, and Wahoo.
This is an airy, deciduous shrub that grows 6-12 feet tall. Its ridged twigs become purplish when exposed to the sun. The rather inconspicuous pale green flowers have purple stamens and five, distinct clawed petals. Bright green, oval leaves turn dark red in the fall when the showy, bright red fruits open to reveal orange seeds.
The Strawberry Bush is a member of the bittersweet family. It is native to wooded slopes and moist understory areas. Though somewhat sprawling when young, it becomes more erect as it matures.
Who doesn’t love showy fruit on a shrub! And your birds will sing their praises.

Aconitum uncinatummonkshood-3800681_640

Also known as Southern Blue Monkshood. This tall (3-5 feet), fall blooming beauty features several hooded, violet-blue flowers in loose clusters at the end of stem. It is part of the Ranunculaceae or Buttercup family. Ity got its name, however, because of its resemblance to the cowl on monk’s habits.
Monkshood is native to mountainous areas and likes to grow in moist, rich woods, on damp slopes or in thickets. Surprisingly, though, it is quite heat-tolerant too. A late summer/early fall bloomer, Monkshood adds a punch of beautiful blue to an otherwise fading landscape.
Caution: this is a highly poisonous plant, so best not to have in your garden if you have young children or pets. Handle it with care as all parts of the plant can be toxic.
Plant five native pollinators in your garden that will give you both an “ahhhh” of speaking to your soul, and an “ahhhh” for planting native pollinators that your birds, butterflies and hummingbirds will love.


“I was bitter. He was sweet. And in a parallel universe, we were bittersweet.”   ― Dominic Riccitello

One of the most beautiful and elegant dried vines for fall gathering and enticingly asymmetrical, long lived arrangements is Bittersweet. Growing the American Bittersweet (Celastrus scandens) can add 4-season value and interest to your garden. If you are cursed with the Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), you have your work cut out for you trying to rid your garden of this invasive.

Bittersweet arrangement
Pamela Schmieder


American BittersweetAmerican Bittersweet

The typical habitat for this native bittersweet is primarily upper Piedmont and mountain woodlands, savannas, thickets, and shady riverbanks of the central and eastern U.S. It has smooth, 2-4” long green leaves that are inward curling in the Spring and produces tiny greenish-white flowers in June. In early fall, orange-yellow seed husks peel back and showcase scarlet-colored fruit.

The fruit is not safe to eat but are a favorite food for birds and small animals – the primary culprits of their expanding habitat.

Oriental (aka Chinese) BittersweetChinese Bittersweet

An invasive, this vine can grow up to 40 feet and can easily strangle a tree in a matter of a few seasons. While similar in appearance, in Spring the slightly rounder leaves are folded in half lengthwise. Oriental Bittersweet also has tiny thorns and more distinctly yellow seed casings. Like many invasives, it spreads through seeds and rhizomes.

Planting American Bittersweet

  • Climbing BittersweetIt is best to purchase American Bittersweet from a reputable nursery. Because it is harder to find in the wild, many states prohibit cutting it. A list of some of the nurseries selling American Bittersweet are at the end of this post.
  • Fall is the best time to plant and it is necessary to have male and female plants to have berries. One male plant can produce enough pollen for 5-6 female plants (mostly spread by bees). While it grows well in both shade and sun, sun is necessary for fruit production.
  • Planting it along a fence or arbor so you can control its spread is advisable. Do not let it climb up a tree because the twining nature of these vines will easily girdle the trunk. Occasional light pruning will keep the appearance tidy and help reign in the size. Pruning is done in late winter or early spring when the vine is dormant.

How to Harvest Bittersweet

  • Many sites will recommend harvesting bittersweet as soon as the scarlet fruit appears. My experience has been to cut just ahead of this. As the vine dries, the pods open anyway and you won’t lose as many of the petals of the husks.
  • Cut the bittersweet into manageable pieces keeping the form of the vines in mind. You don’t want to lose a wonderful twist or turn because you cut a piece too short. My mother and I harvested some Oriental Bittersweet one year and had it draped over furniture and floors on her sunporch until dried.
  • You can remove the leaves either before of after drying. As the vines dry, many of the leaves will shrivel off and fall on their own.
  • Hanging the bittersweet in a warm, dry spot will make it useable faster, but any dry space will do. It is best not to disturb it while drying. As the fruit dries, the husks will open to reveal the fruit.

Where to find Bittersweet in Virginia

In early September, head west, young men, women and fans of all ages. Bittersweet can be found along roadsides in the Blue Ridge foothills and the mountains themselves. I have found it on some of the backroads around Afton Mountain. Go on a sunny day and have someone with you who can be looking up into the trees or doing the driving. Best not to try both at the same time. It is a good idea to cut more than you think you will need. There is no guarantee each piece will look wonderful after it has dried. If you are lucky and each piece is perfect, they make great gifts for your other gardening friends.

Bittersweet Bundle from Etsy

What to take with you:

  • Pole pruner
  • Loppers
  • Garden gloves
  • Bypass clippers
  • Large garbage bags for transporting (unless you want to vacuum your car afterwards)
  • Bottled water as the work can sometimes be a bit warm.

If you don’t feel like harvesting your own bittersweet, you can purchase bundles on Etsy!

Removing Invasive Bittersweet

As I’ve been told about many invasive vines, “Their roots go to China!” In the case of bittersweet, you can believe that – both literally and figuratively. If you have a Bittersweet invasion, it is probably Oriental Bittersweet.

You cannot simply cut the vines as that will only encourage new growth. You need to cut it off at the ground and dig out the stump. Keep an eye on the spot as new plants can grow from any remaining roots. If new shoots appear, repeat the process until it is gone.

As with many invasive plants, the seeds of the Oriental Bittersweet are spread by birds and other animals, and they remain viable for many years. Preventing the vines from fruiting will help keep the invasion in check.

Tips on Managing Your Bittersweet

  • Once established, it is difficult to remove, so be sure you are planting it where you want it.
  • New shoots will appear every year. You will want to pull them or move them to another location. Too many plants in one place can be overwhelming.
  • When your dried Bittersweet is spent, do not compost. If you do, you will have bittersweet vines everywhere you use the compost as the seeds remain viable for many years.

Other Uses for Bittersweet

(Please don’t try to make these yourself. The leaves and fruit are poisonous if used incorrectly. If that statement isn’t enough, here’s another: “Overdose may cause paralysis, slow heartbeat, low temperature, vertigo, convulsions.”)

  • Tea made from root bark has emetic and diuretic properties and is a folk recipe for treating liver ailments, arthritis, childbirth pain, skin problems, leukorrhea and rheumatism.
  • Bittersweet Bark is used in ointments to treat minor skin problems and burns.
  • Leaf tea is astringent and used for treating diarrhea and dysentery.
  • Roots were used by Native Americans and pioneers to induce vomiting, to treat venereal disease, and to treat symptoms of tuberculosis.

Other Common Names

American bittersweet, bittersweet, climbing bittersweet, false bittersweet, climbing orange-root, fever-twig, fever-twitch, staff-vine, Jacob’s-ladder, waxwork.

Where to Buy American Bittersweet

Check with your local nursery first to see if they have any plants. It is always better to buy local when you can as plants imported from other parts of the country may have a harder time adapting to Virginia’s climate.

Dave’s Garden
Dutch Gardens



September Work Will Bring Next Year Beauty


I hear you, September isn’t already super busy – book clubs, bridge clubs, school outings, football games. Now that Summer is over, no more lollygagging. It is time to make sure you know what day of the week it is, and any day is a good day to be in the garden.

If you can schedule just a little gardening time in your full calendar,  the extra effort made in September will mean a more beautiful and less stressful garden next year. So it’s time to get serious about your end of season work, and the cooler temperatures will make the work even more enjoyable.

Clean Up

Like anything we do, there is a little bit of dull work before we can get to the fun stuff.  Here are the must do’s before you plant:

  • Remove dead plants and leaves – this will keep diseases from spreading. You can compost these to use next year.
  • Pull up plants that won’t winter over and bring house plants inside.
  • Pull up all of those weeds you missed during your summer maintenance.

Fall Plantingshovel

Now through October is the best time to plant.

  • Winter annuals can add add color and texture to an otherwise barren landscape.
  • Who doesn’t love Bulbs for Spring blooming?
  • Shrubs & trees will fare much better if they have the fall and winter to get established before having to face a hot Virginia summer.
  • The prettiest lawns come from Fall core aeration and reseeding.



Winter Color and Texture

  • Mums. Even when they stop blooming, many Mums will last through another year if in the right spot.
  • Snapdragons, violets, violas, and ornamental cabbage





Spring BloomsBulbs

  • Daffodils, jonquils, lilies, iris, tulips, crocus, hyacinths, early spring


Tips for Planting Shrubs and Trees

  • Do a little planning first. Check exposure, drainage, competition (other tree or shrub roots), plant purpose (shade, color, form?), and mature plant size. If you want a bush, don’t plant a tree and vice versa (see Crepe Murder post for more insights).
  • Whether moving a plant to a new location or putting in a new friend, the new planting hole should be shallow and broad. Make the hole at least three times as wide as the root ball, but no deeper.
  • Identify the trunk flare. The trunk flare is where the roots spread at the base of a tree. When you plant a tree, the trunk flare must be visible above ground. The most common cause of death of newly planted trees and shrubs is planting too deep.
  • Set the plant in the hole and start back-filling. Fill the hole one-third full and gently but firmly pack the soil around the base of the root ball. Water generously. Continue to back-fill.arbor day
  • Apply a 2- to 4-inch layer of organic mulch. Make sure the mulch is 3″ away from
  • the trunk. A good rule for trees is 3x3x3. 3″ deep, 3″ away from the trunk, and 3′ around. This is a critical step.
  • Broad-leaved evergreen shrubs such as a rhododendron or holly will need careful watching during the winter as they are more susceptible to wind burn and even sunburn which means extra watering.
  • You can continue to plant into November, in case your calendar is too packed. As the soil temperature is above 40 degrees, roots will continue to grow.

Dividing and Replantinghosta

Early September is the perfect time to divide and conquer. Hostas, spring bulbs, Iris and perennials all do better if divided and replanted when they aren’t in the growing phase.  Be sure to water your plants. Daily for the first week, especially if a warm spell occurs. Apply 2-3 inches of mulch.


Final Note

One of the reasons many plants that are put in in the fall don’t make it is a lack of water. When you apply dry around a plant, it tends to hold the water that comes from above, and pulls moisture from underneath. So don’t go for a quick sprinkling on your fall plantings, make sure you apply enough water to reach the roots.

Taking care of your garden, even when it is going dormant makes for a very well mannered garden come Springtime.

Next Step – Leaves!




Late Summer Weeding

If your garden is anything like mine, this is the time of year you see something growing up in your beds and wonder first, “How did that get there?” and second, “What is the best way to get rid of it?”

Luckily, most of these weeds can be easily pulled up and thrown away. I learned the hard way not to compost them, unless I want to see more of the weed in next year’s beds. I’ve also learned that the sooner I grab that sucker and toss it, the less likely I’ll be to see its children next summer.

Here is what I am battling. How about you?


Three Seeded Mercury 3SM

Also known as Acalypha rhomboidea, this often ubiquitous annual weed can reach 12- to 24 inches tall. Part of the spurge (Euphorbia) family, it distinguishes itself with a clear, rather than milky, sap. “3SM” germinates when the soil warms in late spring and explodes with the arrival of summertime heat. In its first phase of growth it is unbranched, but once it reaches 8 to 10 inches tall it begins branching from the base. If crowded by others of its kind (because there is never just one), sparse branching can be seen. A shallow taproot and scattered horizontal branches make it easy to pull and come cleanly out of the soil.

If you leave this weed in your garden, the entire plant will likely take on a coppery fall color as the leaves die. Just know, if you enjoy this phase, you’ll also be enjoying many more plants next year.

3SM gets its name from the 3-segmented seed capsule that emerges after pollination. Each segment contains one tiny seed. The reference to mercury is to the god as the small bracts surrounding the tiny flowers fancifully resemble the winged feet found on statues of Mercury.

3SM can be found in disturbed soils everywhere east of the Rockies. As weeds go it is not as obnoxious as many because it can be pulled easily without stooping over or spending a lot of time digging out its roots. It should be removed early in the summer instead of waiting for the seed to mature. Mulching in late spring does an effective job of preventing seed germination.



Native Americans used parts of pokeberry weed in medicine and food, and many people  have put the fruit into pies & jellies or made what must be a dubiously sippable wine.

Pokeweed or pokeberry (Phytolacca americana) is a native plant that grows in disturbed soils, like garden beds. It is a perennial with a red, woody stem boasting long, oval leaves that may get up to ten inches long. Greenish flowers appear in July to September and yield to grape-like clusters of berries. While the berries alone can cause some distress, all parts of the plant are somewhat dangerous.

Manual removal requires deep digging in order to get all of the taproot. Pulling it will leave roots that regenerate. If you do nothing else, remove the berries before they can drop and spread. Each plant can produce 48,000 seeds that remain viable in the soil for over 40 years. Plus, birds that eat the fruit spread seeds in their droppings. So for your neighbor’s sake, don’t let that happen.

One safe way to use the berries is as a dye. A fuchsia to deep crimson color will result.

Prostrate Spurgesperge

Prostrate Spurge is also known as spotted spurge or creeping spurge (Chamaesyce maculata and Euphorbia supina). Another of those Euphorbia weeds, it is a low growing, mat-forming, summer annual.

Not surprisingly, it thrives on harsh, sun-baked sites like compacted soils, sidewalks, driveways and paths. The leaves have a red blotch in the center and reddish stems that ooze a milky sap when broken. It’s a vigorous plant that can grow up to three feet in diameter if left unchecked.

Unlike Three Seeded Mercury, this weed is nearly impossible to pull up without first using a trowel or shovel to loosen the dirt surrounding the roots and then gently shaking off the soil. Another method would be solarization (putting plastic over it to bake it to death – and get any latent seeds). A salt and vinegar solution may work with a couple of treatments as this is a creeping weed.


Japanese Stiltgrassstiltgrass.png

This grass was used as packing material for imported porcelains and first showed its stems near a landfill in Tennessee in 1919. It is now found in over 16 mostly east coast states from New York to Florida.  It threatens native understory plants by invading disturbed shaded areas like floodplains. The plant resembles bamboo and can grow 2 to 3 feet tall. It can spread by seed and vegetatively by rooting at joints along the stem.

The good news is that the grass roots are shallow and pulling up adult plants in summer before they drop their seeds will help with next year’s infestation. You can also apply corn gluten to prevent any missed seeds from sprouting when soil temperature reaches 50 F, which normally is around March.


Wild Violets violets

Wild violets (Viola papilionacea, Viola sororia, Viola pubescens, and other species) are a close relative of violas, pansies and Johhny-Jump-Ups, but are more devious and grow where you don’t want them to grow. Some people view violets as lovely woodland wildflowers, but for me they are a stubborn lawn weed that is resistant to all efforts to eradicate them except digging.

In addition to being a labor intensive pest, there is another disturbing aspect to these weeds. While they flower mostly in the spring and occasionally in the fall, during the summer and fall, they have secret flowers that never open but continue producing seeds. I did say devious.

When I first moved to my little house in the woods, my yard was entirely violets and privet. My mother had faced the same hurdle when she built her home in the 1960’s and told me how to best deal with my violet infestation. “Pour yourself a big glass of wine, grab your garden gloves, an asparagus fork and a paper bag. Go out into the yard and dig up violets until you either fill the bag or finish the wine. Repeat each day until the deed is done. It’s the only way to make it tolerable.”

Good advice for dealing with any of your summer weed infestations.



These birds are Humming!

Some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright.” Shawshank Redemption


It may seem early, but according to the Hummingbird Migration Sighting Map, hummingbirds are slowly making their way up the cost from Central America and will be here in a matter of days.

Did you know that most Ruby Throated Hummingbirds return to the same place, and even the same feeder, each year? Some will just be passing through but will stop by your garden for a quick snack before moving on.

During migration, a hummingbird flies alone, often on the same path each year. They fly low, just above the tree line or water. Flying low allows them to see and stop at food supplies. As they travel up to 23 miles a day, they need to make frequent stops to fuel up.

You garden may already have some natural resources for these hummingbirds. They are drawn to Tulip Poplars, Rhododendron and azaleas, Clethra, Columbine, Bergamot, Phlox, and Passionflower. They sip the nectar from flowers and tree sap, and even ingest insects that are caught in the sap.

As many hummingbirds come home to roost, so to speak, you want to attract as many as you can to make their summer homes with you. Contrary to popular belief, hummingbirds do not eat only nectar. Insects and other invertebrates are the primary source of protein hummingbirds. An adult female can consume up to 2,000 insects a day. This includes mosquitoes, gnats, fruit files, spiders, aphids, and insect eggs. That beats Mosquito Squad any day!

Another advantage: do you hate to weed? Hummingbirds love to forage for food in naturalized areas, so you can define a section of your yard that you just leave alone and let the grasses and weeds take over, then tell your neighbors it is your Hummingbird garden! Better yet, throw in some wildflower seeds and make it a sort of English cutting garden, and you and the hummingbirds are good to go.

Nectar is still an essential part of the hummingbird’s diet. Plus, over 150 species of plants are pollinated by hummingbirds rather than bees. Flower color and structure are less attractive to bees and other pollen feeding insects in these plants, such as any red flower that bees do not see as well or those that do not have perching platforms like bell-shaped calendula.

Providing a feeder is also a great way to attract hummingbirds to your garden. Be sure to get one that is easy to disassemble and clean. They should be cleaned every week with soap and water, and the nectar changed every 3-4 days.


Red feeders will be more effective and less attractive to insects. Try not to have any  yellow on the feeder as this attracts wasps and hornets.

You should place your feeder in a shady area that is open enough to allow the hummingbirds to fly around the feeder. Shade also prevents the nectar from spoiling on hotter days. Multiple feeders should be spaced 10-15 feet apart. If you see more than four birds at a feeder, or a male chasing another male off, you should add another feeder.

Locating your feeder near trees gives the birds a place to rest between feedings.

Nectar solution is easy to make. Mix 4 parts water to one-part sugar. Boil the mixture for 2 minutes to slow fermentation. Do not microwave – it changes the composition. Refrigerate until needed. Sugar water is perfect with a red feeder. Do not add honey, artificial sweeteners or red dye as they post health issues to the hummingbirds.

There is nothing more charming than looking out your window and seeing a hummingbird at your feeder. They have such a C’est la vie sort of feeling to them. And who doesn’t love a little more C’est la vie in their lives.



Planting Annuals is all a Matter of Timing

pink-geranium-2729139_1920.jpgGarden Week in Virginia is later than usual this year, but when you think of planting annuals, Garden Week every year is a good time to do it. That is, between touring all of the beautiful homes and gardens that are open to visitors this week only. In case you haven’t noted it on your calendar yet, Garden Week is April 27th through May 4th. You can still plan your tours by visiting this web site!

Garden centers across Central Virginia are loading up on flats of begonias, petunias, geraniums and other summer bloomers, but you might be well advised to wait just another week or two before putting them in the ground. No, it isn’t going to snow, but there is still a danger of frost which can nip your petunias in the bud before you get to enjoy a single bloom. Central Virginia’s “frost free” date is between April 20th and May 15th, depending on where you live. The closer you are to the mountains, the later your date.

To be safe, store your potted annuals overnight in a protected place like a garage or hot house just in case Jack Frost makes one last, unanticipated visit. You can take them out into the sunshine during the day so they’ll continue to thrive.

So which annuals are most susceptible to cold snaps?

Impatiens (though they are still under a blight here in Central Virginia and may be harder to find)
Warm-weather vegetables
Herbs, especially basil and mint

Not all is lost, though. These annuals are heartier when it comes to cold, so if you feel you need to get some plants in sooner rather than later, you’ll be luckier with these.

Osteospermum (African Daisy)
Pansy (though they will definitely fade off in the heat)
Swiss Chard
Dusty Miller
Sweet Alyssum

Remember to try and put some compost around your annuals. They are grown in soil that has chemical fertilizer at the nursery, so they will need some more food over the summer. Natural compost, a compost tea, or a bought compost like Mushroom compost will help them thrive and bloom. Happy planting, and happy touring during Garden Week!


The Quintessential Southern Plant

Before we begin, let’s clear up one issue. Is it spelled Crape Myrtle or Crepe Myrtle? The scientific name for the plant is lagerstroemia crape myrtle, the traditional Southern spelling is Crepe Myrtle (because the flowers resemble crepe paper). As central Virginia is still Southern (in spite of what some in the deep South may think), I’ll use Crepe Myrtle here.


Crepe Myrtles are a wonderful staple in  the central Virginia garden. They are drought and heat resistant, and their beautiful summer flowers make them ideal choices, even in the driest, or as we’ve seen this past year the wettest, of seasons. In recent years, breeders have developed even hardier forms so that gardeners above the Mason Dixon line can grow them as well, and an increase in color choices and disease resistant forms has made them a staple for both commercial and residential use.

I have a perpetual smile on my face as I drive down Monument Avenue in Richmond in the summer and see the Crepe Myrtles because they are usually blooming when nothing else is showing color. And, when the petals fall it is like a refreshing summer snow.

Note that they come in only in colors ranging from red to lilac, so there are no blues, yellows or oranges, yet. Don’t be fooled by a tag that has an orange look to the blossom – that may be a butterfly bush instead!

It is also interesting to note that Crepe Myrtles are not natives plants, thought they seem to grow everywhere you look. They were originally brought to America in 1790 by a French botanist named Andre Michaux. He grew them in his garden outside of Charleston, SC where they thrived and became a symbol of summer in the South.

Botanists refer to the Crape Myrtles in the U.S. as Lagerstroemia Indica, which grows naturally in China, Korea, Japan and India. That there are over 50 other varieties growing in warm regions around the world is amazing. The differences must be hard to see with the naked eye! In case you are wondering, non-Botanists or nurseries may refer to them simply as the Common Crape Myrtle.

Most Crape Myrtles seem to want to grow to an average height of between 15 and 20 feet. Natchez, a magnificent tree when fully grown, will reach a height of 30 feet. Catawba will max out at between 8 and 10 feet. It’s best to know your space and how much height you want before selecting a Crepe Myrtle. No need to stress the tree or yourself with a surprise.

Which brings me to what is now commonly known as Crepe Murder. Call it excessive pruning, amputation, disfiguring, murder – it all results in the same thing. Ugly, knuckled branches that mar the tree’s shape.

Crepe Myrtles need  to be pruned – correctly. It shouldn’t be noticeable. The purpose is to enhance the natural habit of the tree so it is elegant, easy to maintain, and prevents stressing out the tree.

According to Southern Living Magazine, decapitating Crepe Myrtles is simply a copycat crime. People do it because their neighbors did it, or because a commercial landscaper did it (likely because he’ll get more money the “busier” he is – and don’t get me started here on mulch volcanoes and that rip-off).

The truth of the matter is, if your tree is too tall, then you picked the wrong tree. Pruning a Crepe Myrtle to reduce its height is a battle you’ll never win, and it stresses the tree so that it is less disease resistant and is putting so much energy into trying to survive that you may not get the blooms you’d like. Pruning a tree for more blooms simply puts those blooms closer to the ground, it doesn’t mean there are more of them, likely less.

The great thing about Crepe Mytles is that they transplant easily and you can replace it with a shorter variety. Shrub versions, like Hope, Centennial or Prairie Lace grow to only 3-4 feet tall.

So how should you prune your tree?

Cut off the suckers at the base at the surface of the soil.
Cut off any cross branches that might rub against another. A vertical tree is prettier than a floppy tree.
Remove any limbs flush to the trunk. A stub will result in new shoots where you left the stub.

If you have, sorry, butchered your Crepe Myrtle and would like to try and save it, here is a link to a video from Southern Living that may help. It won’t happen in a season, but you can restore your tree to its natural beauty with some special pruning and then low maintenance attention. And we all love low maintenance, don’t we?

Every central Virginia garden should have at least one Crepe Myrtle in it (the shorter versions do well in pots, in case your landscape is full). I’ve heard often from friends who visit here in the summer that they are delighted to see so many trees in bloom. I don’t take that for granted. I get the same delight.