Centennial Spirit Crape MyrtleLagerstroemia indica 'Centennial Spirit'
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Lagerstroemia indica 'Centennial Spirit'
Outdoor Growing zone
The Centennial Spirit Crape Myrtle is a wonderful small flowering tree, growing to about 20 feet in 10 years, and spreading to a similar width. It has one or a few main trunks, covered in bark that is mottled gray, cream and tan. The thick, leathery, glossy leaves are dark green, free of powdery mildew, and turn reds and oranges in fall. Big heads of many blooms form from late June into October and they are an amazing brilliant true-red, especially in hot weather. Grow it as a lawn specimen in a smaller garden, or beside your house, at the back of shrub beds, or along a fence. It’s gorgeous anywhere.
Choose a spot in full sun for your Centennial Spirit Crape Myrtle. Grow it in any well-drained soil, even poorer soils, and established plants are drought resistant. This variety has been bred to be resistant to powdery mildew, and it is normally not bothered by pests. Some shaping when young will give you an attractive tree, and a light spring trim can be useful, but this tree is very low maintenance, and needs very little care.
A tree standing on a lawn is a beautiful thing, but many of our traditional shade trees, like maples or oaks, grow too large for city gardens, and smaller suburban gardens too. Anyway, while leaves are nice, flowers are better, and you get more beauty per square foot of your garden if your shade tree doubles as a flowering tree. When you grow the Centennial Spirit Crape Myrtle, you certainly get flowers, smothering a beautiful smaller tree growing no more than 20 feet tall and wide. Plus, you still get the beautiful fall colors we expect from the best shade trees, because the leaves turn glorious tones of reds and oranges when fall arrives. The lovely bark is a great winter feature, making this a year-round tree – perfect when space is limited.
The Centennial Spirit Crape Myrtle is a small deciduous tree of fast growth, reaching 15 to 20 feet tall, with a similar spread, within 10 years. It has a handsome trunk, with pale gray bark that sheds in strips, revealing creamy tan bark underneath, creating fascinating mottled patterns. With a little attention when young it will have a single trunk, or it can be grown into a more casual form with two or three main stems. The leaves are thick and leathery, glossy and deep green, between 2 and 3 inches long. Older varieties of crape myrtle have a bad name for the unsightly powdery mildew that often develops in the summer. This makes the leaves dusty and gray. Newer varieties, including the Centennial Spirit Crape Myrtle, are resistant to this disease, so your tree remains fresh and green all summer long. This variety doesn’t produce suckers, so the stems remain clean and smooth, emphasizing the tree form.
Starting in late June or July, and continuing all the way through October, your tree will be covered in a profusion of blooms. Every branch carries hundreds, and the tree is a continuous blaze of color. The flowers are beautiful, with wrinkled petals that indeed do seem to be made of crepe paper, carried in large, foot-long clusters. These are strong, and don’t bend or collapse, even in heavy rainstorms, The color of the flowers is deep rose-pink to rich red, depending on temperature. Cooler weather makes them pinker, and hotter weather turns them redder. Flowers fall cleanly, and without first turning dark and unsightly, as other varieties can do. Then in fall the leaves turn gorgeous tones of deep reds and bright oranges, making a spectacular ending to the garden season.
Wherever you need a small tree, be it on a lawn, beside your home, at the back of a shrub bed, or along a fence, the Centennial Spirit Crape Myrtle is perfect. It is tall enough to have shrubs underneath, or to leave a clear area of lawn for children or barbecues, but big enough to make a bold impact and beautify your garden. Plant alone or in groups of three, or in a row for summer screening. For group and row planting, space plants 6 to 10 feet apart, depending on the density you want.
The Centennial Spirit Crape Myrtle can be grown from zone 7 through all the hottest parts of the country. It can also be grown in zone 6, but it will die back to an extent in winter. That doesn’t affect flowering at all, but it will remain just a medium to large shrub, perhaps 6 feet tall.
Like all crape myrtles, this tree needs full sun to bloom profusely. Even a little shade has a big impact on the quantity and continuity of blooming. It grows well in any well-drained soil, including poorer and drier soils, but very dry conditions for long periods can reduce flowering and re-blooming.
Free of powdery mildew, and rarely troubled by pests, the Centennial Spirit Crape Myrtle is very easy to grow, and very vigorous. Decide how many main trunks you want while it is still young, and prune as necessary to create that. A light trim in late winter or early spring can be given, if you wish, to keep the crown neater and more rounded. Spring pruning has no impact on flowering, but never trim new, leafy shoots, as this will seriously reduce blooming.
The crape myrtle, Lagerstroemia indica, was first seen in America around 1790, in Charleston, South Carolina. It had been brought there by the French explorer and royal botanist André Michaux around 1786, from India. This was just a few years after Charleston fell to the revolutionary army after a bloody siege. This new tree caused a sensation, and became a big hit in the South. It flowered so much better than it had in Europe, where the summers are generally too cold and wet. Since then many new varieties have been created, and the variety called ‘Centennial Spirit’ began its life in 1981, as a seedling at the Oklahoma Agriculture Experiment Station, part of Oklahoma State University. There Dr Carl Whitcomb had been experimenting with a chemical called ethyl methanesulfonate (EMS), which causes mutations in seeds soaked in it. One of the resulting seedlings was one parent of a new variety he patented, without naming it, in 1985 (PP# 6,383). It is one of many wonderful crape myrtles Dr Whitcomb has created. It was named ‘Centennial Spirit’ in 1990 to celebrate the founding of Oklahoma State University in 1890.
This classic crape is still the reddest of them all – if you love red, then this is the one. It is not widely available, so take this rare opportunity and plant it in your garden. You will love it, and be so glad you chose this terrific tree. But act fast, as they go fast.