Babes in the Garden (Dwarf Crape Myrtles)

I don’t know if Robert Burns – he of “the best-made plans…” fame – was a gardener, but sometimes I feel as if more things are “going agley” than usual. That is how I recently came to have three baby-size dwarf Lagerstroemias rather than the teenagers I’d originally planned on. It occurred to me that it might be interesting to photographically chart their growing-up rate for the next year or two.

There’s a bit of backstory, as usual. In June 2019, a gardening friend sent me a gallon-size (about 9”-12” high top growth) dwarf crape myrtle ‘Cherry Mocha’ as a gift. This cultivar is part of the Barista Series of nine similarly small (mature height 2-3 ft) Lagerstroemias patented by Walters Gardens; they have names like ‘Dark Roast’, ‘Sweet Macchiato’, and ‘Like a Latte’ which is the only white flowered one; the others are all various shades of pink to red. After seeing the color of Cherry Mocha last summer, I decided that I wanted another one and also two of the white.

Of course, cultivar trends have moved on and this year I could find only one nursery (New Blooms) selling any of the Barista series online. Luckily, the ones that I wanted were among them. The downside is that the plants are much smaller than I was hoping/planning to find; indeed, smaller than any shrub – dwarf or otherwise – that I’ve ever put into any of my gardens before. How long, I wondered, will it take for them to catch up to the size of their taller-than-a-foot cousin from 2019, in Zone 7 garden conditions?

So, this post will be a ‘baby book’ of sorts for these three dwarf crape myrtle babies, with photos and measurements added every month during the growing season. The photos below were taken on April 27, 2021; the next update will be on June 1st and then at the start of each month thereafter. They will get full sun all day; there is no automatic irrigation; plants get watered by yours truly, as and when needed. Like the other crape myrtles, these will not be fed or otherwise pampered or mollycoddled; my garden is run on Darwinian principles!

Like a Latte (a)

The larger of the two Like a Latte was put into the bed on the east side of the house’s front walkway. Of course, ‘larger’ is relative, as you can see by the photos to which I’ve added the plant’s dimensions: 6” tall and 4” at its widest point on April 27th.

Three days after taking the first round of photos, I decided to move all three of the small crape myrtles into the same planting bed (which is where the original 2019 plant still is.) By June 1st, it has managed to add a whopping one inch of height in the past month, although only a skootch (highly technical measurement term, there) in width.

All of these update photos were taken on July 5th. Sadly, the neighborhood rabbit appears to have taken some nips off the top growth of this plant, which means it’s now down to only 5.5” tall. The width has increased slightly, to 7 inches.

What a difference a month made! All three of the crape babies decided to wake up and enjoy the summer – no doubt because we had some brutally hot spells several times during mid- and late July. As this August 4th photo shows, this plant’s height almost doubled (to 10”) and the widest part is now 18 inches.

I am a bit late with my early-September shots because these were taken on the 15th. This plant added another two inches of height over the past 40 days, and also got wider: It is roughly 12” x 8” now. The first flowers opened on August 20th.

On October 16th the tallest branch on this plant has now reached 19”, although the others have stopped at between 14” and 15” high. It has also gotten wider since last month – about 25 inches at the max, although 15” of that is thanks to only one extremely long branch extending toward the left side of the photo. Doing the math shows that in roughly 22 weeks this plant has essentially doubled its height (from 6″ to an average of 14″-25″ in most places) and spread out by 20″ (from 4″ to about 25″, although not symmetrically.)

Cherry Mocha (b)

In contrast, my second Cherry Mocha is essentially half the walkway-Latte’s size at 3.5” tall and 2” wide on April 27th.  I have some qualms about its survivability.

Well… a half inch is better than no height increase at all… I guess. As for increased width? Zero, zilch, nada as of June 1st.
As of July 5th, this plant is no longer the shortest of the three…but not by much! It is now 5.75” high, but also the narrowest at 4.75” wide. It has taken nine weeks to get to that width from the 2” span it had at the end of April.

This was a real surprise. By August 4th its height has increased to 10”, and its formerly-narrow width has also increased – to a whopping 12” at the widest! I measured it twice to make sure I hadn’t somehow made a mistake, because to go from barely five inches wide to twelve is…unexpected. It also has some flower buds!

Sadly, by September 14th all the flower buds are covered with mildew. It is also three inches taller (13” now) and has spread out even more; its ‘canopy’, if that term can be applied to a dwarf shrub, is now 21” x 19”.

No size change at all in the past 30 days, probably indicating that growth is done for this year as of October 16th. So to recap, in five and a half months (early May to mid-October, this plant has grown 10 inches taller (from 3.5″ to 13″) and 19 inches wider (from 2″ to 21″) in Zone 7.

 

Like a Latte (b)

This is the shortest baby today (April 27th) at only 2.5” high and has one horizontally-oriented branch that extends out for three inches. I hope it eventually develops a decent leader because I was not intending to have a ground-cover effect from this plant.

On June 1st this one really did surprise me because it literally doubled its (admittedly diminutive) size in the same 31 days: It’s now 5” high and almost 7” wide, which means it is definitely taking the whole ‘prostrate/groundcover’ growth habit thing seriously. This does not particularly thrill me. After this plant gets some size to it, relocation will probably be in order but it can stay where it is for the foreseeable future, given how tiny it was to begin with.

The groundcover-tendency continues with this plant, as it added only one inch of height but another 3” horizontally, bringing the overall size to 6” x 10” as of July 5th.

This plant doubled its height in the past 30 days and added 7” in maximum width, to end up at 12” x 17” on August 5th.

And this plant just keeps on growing…now at 15” high and with a spread of 25” (no, that’s not a typo) x 18” as of September 14th! It is now as wide as the adjacent circa.-2019 Cherry Mocha, and is now flowering (and mildewed, just like all the others, unfortunately.)

This one has decided to end the growing season (probably) on October 16th with one noticeably taller branch (18”) while the other have remained at the same 15” as a month ago. It has gotten a bit wider (28”) side to side as well. The stats for this plant show a height increase from 2.5″ to either 15″ or 18″ depending on which branch is measured, and a spread that actually changed direction; for the first three months the widest part was front-to-back, but that changed during the next two months so that it is now wider side-to-side (a good thing, given its location; maybe it heard me musing about moving it!)

 

Here’s a planting-bed photo in mid-October. The dwarf bearded iris have been relocated to other beds, because I have decided that the upper section here would be a great spot for a daphne such as D. x mantensiana ‘Eternal Fragrance.’ The soil is too uncharacteristically good in this bed to waste it on iris that can grow equally well in more challenging locations!

 

  3 comments for “Babes in the Garden (Dwarf Crape Myrtles)

  1. May 3, 2021 at 7:11 pm

    Good luck to the dwarf crape myrtles. They are not hardy around here. Looking forward to the tree peonies.

  2. May 4, 2021 at 12:03 pm

    I have never seen them here, but often admired them in French gardens, are they hardy? I shall be interested to hear how your tree peony babies are getting on, in fact they must be adolescents by now.

    • May 5, 2021 at 6:27 pm

      There are quite a few crape myrtles (including this dwarf series) that are root hardy to USA Zone 6, which is winter lows of -10F to 0F. So for us in Zone 7 (0F to 10F), they are a safe bet although there is always some level of tip dieback depending on the winter. With these very dwarf ones, the more relevant winter damage is probably branch breakage from either heavy wet snow (if we get it, which is always an unknown) or rabbit-browsing at this low height. Some winters we have relatively little snow cover or for only a short time, but last winter we had repeated storms that dumped at least 6″ each time, every 7-10 days, and so it was well into March before my garden was clear of it completely.

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