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Maryland’s Tree for All Seasons

Please don’t crape murder it

I find crape myrtle 10 times more attractive than white birch trees, which we in New Hampshire consider a weed but Marylanders insist on trying to grow against the odds. It is a waste of time and money to plant white birch in southern Maryland because the summers are too hot and the winters do not provide sufficient cold to satisfy the tree’s dormancy needs. We have the ideal climate to grow crape myrtle, a tree (or shrub) that adds so much to any landscape.
    Once a crape myrtle has achieved its desired size and shape, it requires little pruning other than removing suckers from the roots and sprouts growing from the lower parts of the stems. Until the crape myrtle has achieved its desired size, pruning should be limited to removing only undesirable branches smaller than a pencil in diameter. Crape myrtles do not need much attention to produce an abundance of flower clusters, which appear in mid-summer when most trees and shrubs have nothing more to offer than green. And crape myrtles come in nearly all colors of the rainbow.
    Dr. Don Egolf, former plant breeder at the National Arboretum, developed powdery mildew-resistant and hardier varieties of crape myrtles. Any variety with a native American name is a result of his efforts. Other plant breeders have furthered his work in developing the dwarf and semi-dwarf varieties, so you can choose the size crape myrtle that’s right for your space, from shrubs only a few feet tall to small trees. If a small or medium crape myrtle is desired, select from the many dwarf and semi-dwarf varieties now available.
    Do not commit crape murder, cutting the plant’s branches back to polled stumps. A main attraction of the tree is its vase-shaped habit of growth with colorful shaggy bark and twiggy branches that add interest to winter landscapes. I enjoy watching the finches attack the seedpods in late fall and early winter. These attractive features are lost when you murder crape myrtle.


Growing Paw Paw

Q    About 10 years ago, we planted two paw paw trees. I believe that one is male and one female. For the past two years, one has produced flowers and tiny fruit. Then they all fall off the tree. Do you know if there is a reason for this problem and if I can do anything about it?

–Deborah Unitus, Millersville

A    Did you purchase seedlings from a nursery, or did you dig seedlings from the wild? Paw paw does not have male and female plants. The flowers on paw paws carry both sexes.
    If the plants have been in the ground for 10 years they must be about 20 feet tall. Are they growing in full sun or in partial shade or heavy shade? Paw paws are an understory plant that performs best growing in light shade. Paw paws also perform best when planted in moist soils. They are not drought-tolerant, and lack of water will cause them to drop their fruit. Are your plants being irrigated during periods of drought?