Crape myrtle, Lagerstroemia indica, is an ideal landscape shrub or tree for the high desert. It is used extensively in Sierra Vista as a street-side tree, in commercial landscape applications, and private residences as well. Fine examples of crape myrtle have been placed between buildings at the Cochise College campus in Sierra Vista. The trees have grown and flourished in tree wells which are surrounded by concrete paths, withstanding winds and the passerby handling their limbs as they grew. It has become a local favorite for its long-lasting blossom period and for its quick adaptability to new environments.
Varieties can be purchased for shrub or hedge development, and the plants can be trained with a single stem forming a charming tree. The bark is mottled, smooth-looking with varying shades of brown. The trees have clusters of white, pink, or lavender blossoms that bloom through summer and into the fall. The tree or shrub will be covered with color.
The recommended procedure for transplanting crape myrtle is to place the plant in a prepared hole which is deep enough to accommodate the roots and wide enough - plenty wide - to allow for lateral growth. Crape myrtle can take full sun but will also grow successfully in shady areas. It blossoms during the hottest time of the year, so give it regular moisture, preferably by means of a drip system for metered, even water flow. It is subject to mildew, but this is seldom a problem in our dry climate.
Crape myrtle is chosen by the gardener for the lack of maintenance it requires. It is deciduous and will grow at a fairly good rate. A pruning and shaping of the plant when it is dormant may be necessary to increase blossoms for next year. This plant will not stress out during hot spells or in high winds. It can be used in formal landscapes or casual settings, depending on placement in the landscape scheme, plant shape desired, and the variety chosen.
* Keep watering!
* You can always plant something (try cool season veggies - see September 1993 newsletter)
* Start shopping for bulbs (Bulbs For Southern Arizona bulletin is available in the Cooperative Extension Offices)
Other bush/tree flowering deciduous plants which grow well in the high desert are:
* Pomegranate (Punica granatum) Brilliant red flowers become juicy fruit which can be dried to a reddish purple, leaves small, waxy green, forming dense cover for wild life.
* Mock orange (Pittosporum) Beautifully fragrant white blossoms on a very bushy plant.
* Texas ranger (Leucophyllum frutescens) Gray foliage with small pink-purple blossoms. Bushy appearance can be pruned for a more sculptured appearance. Adapts well.
* Blue plumbago (Plumbago auriculata) Full bushy plant which has blue flowers. Is not frost tolerant.
* Coralbean (Erythrina flabelliformi) More of a specimen plant with red blossoms and large leaves which drop, exposing a white limbed skeleton. Bright red large seeds in long, dangling pods. Poisonous.
* Creosote bush (Larrea tridentata) Small dark green waxy leaves with bright yellow blossoms on multiple spindly stems. Strong odor after a rain.
* Manzanita (Arctostaphylos) Beautiful red barked limbs with bushy green foliage and tiny white to pink blossoms. Does not transplant easily and requires an acid soil. Evergreen.