Watermelon Red Crape MyrtleLagerstroemia indica `Watermelon Red’
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Lagerstroemia indica `Watermelon Red’
Outdoor Growing zone
The Watermelon Red Crape Myrtle is a magnificent small specimen tree in the classic tradition of the best crape myrtles. It has enormous heads full of extravagantly frilly blooms that are the exact red-pink of watermelon flesh. It grows quickly into a tree approaching 25 feet tall, with a broad, rounded crown spreading over 20 feet across. The attractive mottled bark is especially effective in winter, and the glossy, dark-green leaves turn yellow-oranges in fall. Expect a profusion of blooms from mid-summer all the way into the fall. Even the seed pods are an attractive winter decoration.
Place the Watermelon Red Crape Myrtle in full sun, or it won’t achieve its best in flowering. Grow it in any well-drained soil, including poor soils and urban gardens. Once established it is drought resistant and needs very little attention, but of course some watering in summer and some spring fertilizer will give the best results. This tree has excellent resistance to the powdery mildew that can disfigure some older varieties.
Sometimes, with all the great new smaller varieties on offer, we can forget the classic form and uses of the crape myrtle. As a compact specimen tree it has no equal, making a powerful statement in the garden, as a single tree, a group or a stately avenue. All the original forms were tree-like, and sometimes ‘first is best’ holds true with plants as it does in life. That’s why we are reaching back 100 years to a classic tree-form crape myrtle that still makes a truly striking specimen tree in any warm garden. Enjoy months of spectacular pink-red coloring – it really is like the flesh of a watermelon – and make a bold statement in your garden that will make you the talk of the town. Growing not much over 20 feet tall, with a broad, rounded crown, the Watermelon Red Crape Myrtle has foot-long sprays of flowers that keep on coming and coming. The striking winter bark is a handsome feature, as are the unusual seed heads, and the lush green leaves fill in the times between. Although we are suggesting zone 7 for this variety, where it will reach its full stature, you can also grow it in zone 6 as a shrub, allowing for some winter injury, which in no way reduces flowering at all.
The Watermelon Red Crape Myrtle is a small to medium-sized deciduous tree, growing a foot or two taller each year, that will form a broad rounded crown and can be grown on a single trunk or on two or three trunks. It will grow to between 20 and 25 feet tall, with a crown of a similar spread, so allow 10 to 15 feet of clearance from buildings, property lines and other potential obstructions. Don’t plant beneath low overhead cables. In zone 6 you can expect regular winter damage, and a large shrub no more than 10 feet tall will develop – flowering will still be profuse. When more mature the trunk develops very attractive mottled patterns, shedding bark to reveal patches of different shades of grays, browns, and creams, making interest throughout the year, but especially in winter. The glossy oval leaves are up to 3 inches long, colored bronzy-red in spring and turning dark green as they mature. In fall they turn attractive shades of orange-yellow.
The superb flowers form at the ends of new shoots, and by mid-summer the first blooms will be opening. The individual flowers have crinkled and ruffled petals like crepe paper, and they are clustered in large heads up to 12 inches long. The flowers open in succession, producing blooms for weeks and weeks. They are a bright, pinkish red, very similar to the bright flesh of watermelons, and they really shine out across the garden in profusion, making a spectacular show. A second flush of blooms can form in late summer or early fall. This is encouraged by dead-heading spent flowers – practical at least while your tree is younger. Flowers are followed by clusters of unusual round seed pods that are yellowish-brown and persist into winter, adding an interesting display to those quiet months.
As a small specimen tree, the Watermelon Red Crape Myrtle is unrivaled for beauty and impact. Plant it on a lawn as a single tree, or in a corner of your home for summer shading. Grow it in groups, or line it up along a pathway. Planted 10 feet apart it will make a solid screen, planted more than 20 feet apart it will make a stately avenue. In zone 6 grow it at the back of shrub beds for late color.
The Watermelon Red Crape Myrtle is fully hardy in zone 7, and thrives there, and even more in warmer zones. In zone 6 expect some winter kill, but a simple pruning in spring will maintain an attractive shrub form, and still give lots of blooms.
Sun Exposure and Soil Conditions
Full sun is perfect for the Watermelon Red Crape Myrtle, which won’t bloom well in shade. It grows in most ordinary soils, as long as they are well-drained and tolerates poor soil and dry conditions once established. Avoid wet places.
You won’t have significant pest or disease problems, and this variety has excellent resistance to powdery mildew, although it isn’t a hybrid variety, as these were not developed until much later. Deer won’t normally bother it. Some formative pruning while young to develop the trunk form you want is advisable, and younger plants can be dead-headed. Any trimming is best done in spring, where old seed heads can be removed and the branches of the previous year trimmed back, even to just a couple of inches if needed. Avoid any temptation to trim new growth, as that will reduce or even prevent flowering. Although crape myrtles were once hard-pruned yearly, these days we favor a more natural look, so little or no pruning is really needed to fully enjoy this wonderful tree.
The crape myrtle, Lagerstroemia indica, made its first appearance in America in Charleston in 1786, when it was still a French city. The French naturalist André Michaux brought plants over from England, where it had been introduced from its home in China about 30 years before. It thrived in the southern climate and has been a feature of the South ever since. The variety called Watermelon Red ’ was first listed at the T.V Munson Nursery in Denison, Texas in their 1922-23 catalogue, and again at Griffing Nursery, Beaumont, Texas in 1930. It is also sometimes listed as ‘Griffing’s Watermelon Red, which suggests that they could have been the actual developer, but both nurseries were famous in their time.
For a tree-form crape myrtle, Watermelon Red is very hard to beat. It’s spectacular flowering and very large flower heads ensure a great show, and it is tough and reliable too. It’s a classic variety that isn’t offered as much as it once was, so take advantage of our current availability and add a wonderful tree to your garden. Order now, we only have a few and they will soon all be gone.