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Dallas Morning News - July 23, 2020

Crape Myrtle Story


Topping crape myrtles is not the worse mistake made with these beautiful ornamental trees. Don't get me wrong - I don’t recommend "topping" but a much more serious mistake is planting them too deeply in the ground. Even trees planted correctly with root flares showing are sometimes covered with additional soil, mulch and plantings. However happening, this deep condition is all too common on many trees, but especially on crape myrtles.


Truth is – the single most important condition for a tree's health is being planted high with the root flare dramatically exposed. This simple factor reduces stress in trees and basically eliminates pest problems including powdery mildew, black sooty mold, aphids, white scale insects, borers and other insect pests and diseases.


Crape myrtle planted improperly too deep in the ground

Crape myrtle flares properly exposed are large and dramatic


A tree's flare being covered by anything is unnatural and unhealthy. Root flares (trunk flares might be a more appropriate term) are transition zones and more part of the trunks than roots. When properly exposed they are able to breathe. When covered by ground covers and vines or any kind of soil or mulch – including gravel or stones - the flare cannot breathe properly, stress sets in and pest problems result. The reason crape myrtles aren't dying all around is that they are incredibly tough and can tolerate the abuse to a degree. However, crape myrtles planted too deeply will have to be treated for pests more often, grow slower and flower less.


Watermelon red crape myrtles in the McCommas parkway


There’s a unique planting of crape myrtles in Dallas that clearly shows the importance of flares. On McCommas Blvd. between Abrams and Skillman you can see an impressive stand of watermelon red crape myrtles. I have long admired this block of trees and just assumed that the homeowners banded together in agreement to keep the trees in their natural shapes and not cover the root flares.


I decided to try to get the history and started knocking on doors. I was quickly guided to owner of the first house to plant crape myrtles in the parkway. This very pleasant lady gave me the story. The first three trees had been planted circa 1940 by her parents. Other homeowners liked the look and followed suit until the street was well adorned with the colorful trees. There had been no organized effort.


McCommas Ave crape myrtles, Dallas


The original three trees appear never to have been topped and have the most dramatically exposed flares. They are the best looking of the trees but even the ones that appeared to have been cut back years ago have healed and are back to their graceful, natural shapes. What you will start to notice now is how much healthier trees look when their flares are dramatically and properly exposed. You might even notice that the easily seen flares are decorative and pleasant features of trees.


Crape myrtles of McCommas Avenue, Dallas


The homeowners of McCommas have given us a very special landscape feature and example of proper crape myrtle management.





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