Crape myrtles have long been treasured by gardeners for their striking foliage and explosion of papery blooms during their flowering period, with many modern varieties allowing a second flowering period once deadheaded. When these plants started to make their first appearances in garden centers much was misunderstood about the heights they could achieve; this led to many exceeding expectations and quickly outgrowing their locations. Fortunately, we are now blessed with hundreds of different varieties that ensure there is a size and shape available for virtually any space; you will also find a veritable rainbow of colors to choose from. Whether you are looking for something to add depth to a bed or border, or for a dramatic statement piece, there is a crape myrtle for you. Perhaps unusually Acoma can be either of these things. When left to its own devices it will form a sizeable shrub of around ten feet but, with a little encouragement and pruning, it will form a wonderful tree form with a horizontal canopy that erupts with multiple clusters of small white flowers in late spring.
When found in their natural habitat the crape myrtle is a leggy tree or shrub that can reach towering heights, and when they were first introduced into the domestic market little was known about the growth potential, with many places underestimating how tall they would actually grow. When allowed unfettered space in their native areas of the Indian subcontinent, south-east Asia, northern Australia and Oceania, varieties that gardeners were assured would reach only 15 feet often doubled this. This led to aggressive pruning which damaged the plants and created a lot of ugly, stunted specimens. As the flowers and general form were so sought after breeders rose to the challenge, so around 200 varieties now exist in order to meet the demand of the domestic market for predictable plants that won’t outgrow their designated spaces.
The Acoma crape myrtle is an extremely desirable plant that can fulfill many purposes in your gardens, and even as a standalone specimen plant on your lawns. As either a bush or a tree it will not reach much past ten feet, so controlling its shape does not present a difficult task. New foliage appears in early spring as a rich glossy red that matures into deep green which in fall takes on shades of rich mahoganies and earthy purples. Aside from the obvious wow factor of encouraging Acoma to grow as a tree it also allows better appreciation of the beautiful stems which, as they age, take on an exfoliated appearance with grey peeling bark adding year round interest that is at its peak when fully exposed in winter. A relatively late bloomer, the Acoma comes into its own in mid –summer when the white flowers appear on dense lances that grace the ends of new growth. The flowers are numerous and yet remain delicate and not overbearing; the white petals of that distinctive papery texture – for which these plants are so well known – are balanced with clusters of greenish yellow stamens that stand proud of the flowers. These will last right into fall and the first frosts, and (as with all crape myrtles) removing the dead heads will ensure a richer and longer showing of blooms.
Modern crap myrtles have been bred to be low maintenance and pest resistant. Many traditional varieties have suffered from mildew, but this is much less of a problem with the new breeds as they are much less vulnerable to both pests and disease. When choosing a position for your new crape myrtle it is important to find well drained soil that will not allow water to sit around the roots for extended periods. Once established, this is a drought tolerant plant which is typical of their warm and dry natural habitats. Preferring an acidic soil, it can be beneficial to add some powdered rock sulfur to neutral soils when planting, but alkaline soils are best avoided entirely.
Pruning is best undertaken in late winter or early spring as flowers form on new growth, with new growth being pinched off on the length of the stems if you are opting for the tree form – which is arguably the prettiest form for this particular variety. It is important to resist pruning to restrict height in the tree form as this will encourage growth from the bottom, which is what you are trying to avoid. Instead, concentrate on keeping the stems free of greenery and this will, in turn, encourage the thickening of the foliage at the top. Keep well watered whilst the plant establishes itself and, even once established, there is much to be gained from watering during the flowering period.
The modern crape myrtles really are a gardener’s dream and they bring wonderful shape and form that is easy to care for and maintain. With its gorgeous white flowers and adaptability, Acoma really is a stand out variety that will look spectacular in any setting.