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Creative Uses for Crape Myrtles in Your Landscape

By Paul McLane and Louis Ratchford, Merrifield Plant Specialists

The crape myrtle is one of the most iconic trees of the southern summer. You can rarely drive throughout the Northern Virginia area during this season without seeing these beauties in bloom. They provide stunning color and are very easy to care for. Generally, they don’t need a lot of water and will be happy with at least eight hours of sunlight. The warm, bright summers in our area actually make crape myrtles flower more. Because of this, crape myrtles can grow in places many plants won’t.

Crape myrtles come in many different varieties, including tree and shrub variations, making them a versatile plant that can be used in many ways in your landscape. Here are a few of our favorite ways to make the crape myrtles shine in your landscape.

Standout Specimens

With flowers in various shades of red, purple, pink, and white and leaves in shades of green, red, and black, there are a multitude of varieties available that make stunning specimen plants in any yard. These deciduous plants make an excellent specimen, providing four season interest with new growth in spring, beautiful summer blooms, standout fall foliage, and smooth, white branches in winter. For nighttime interest, add up lighting to the base of the tree to illuminate their beauty against the dramatic dark backdrop of the night sky.

Southern Living Crape Myrtle

(Image via Southern Living)

Complementary Plantings

The texture, size and colors of crape myrtles pair beautifully with all types of other plants. Here are some of our favorite trees and shrubs to pair to bring out the beauty in both plants:

  • Cherry tree: For blooms all spring and summer, plant cherry trees and crape myrtles together. The cherry trees will bloom through the spring, and just as their bloom is ending, the crape myrtles will begin to show off beautiful blossoms.
  • Evergreens: With their year-round foliage, evergreens provide contrast to the crape myrtle’s trunk and branches in the winter landscape..
  • Nandinas: With their similar care schedule and multicolored foliage, nandinas add greens, reds, and yellows to your garden, complementing the crape myrtles’ colors in spring, summer and fall.
  • Limelight hydrangeas: This particular variety of hydrangea has a similar bloom schedule as most crape myrtles. Their glowing white blooms will instantly brighten the purples and reds of your crape myrtle blooms. You can also make a wonderful white garden by combining the limelight hydrangea with a white flowering crape myrtle. These compliments will glow during fall evenings while both are in bloom.
House Beautiful Crape Myrtle

(Image via House Beautiful)

Shade for Outdoor Spaces

Create a relaxing summer space by using a crape myrtle to create shade on your patio. Crape myrtles are late bloomers and deciduous, which means in the spring you will have access to the warm spring sunshine as the tree leafs, and in the heat of summer your tree will provide refreshing shade and beautiful blooms.

Southern Living Shrub Form Rose

(Image via Southern Living)

Perennial Borders

Miniature crape myrtles will only grow about 3 feet high, making them an excellent choice for a perennial border that will change with the seasons. They add great color to foundation plantings and shallow depth to your landscape.

Chaste Tree, Shrub

Our Favorite Summer Flowering Shrubs

Louis Ratchford, Merrifield Plant Specialist

It’s midsummer and if you are like most people, when you think of blooming trees and shrubs you are probably thinking of crape myrtles and hydrangeas. Both of these iconic summer plants are beautiful, but there are many other summer blooming trees and shrubs to consider!  Each of these 7 gorgeous trees and shrubs make a wonderful addition to any summer garden. Now is a great time to plant any of these summer-bloomers, so come visit one of our locations to find the perfect match for your garden!

Buddleia, Butterfly Bush, Shrub

Butterfly Bush

As the name implies, this shrub is a butterfly’s best friend! Watch your Butterfly Bushes attract these pretty pollinators to your outdoor space as they bloom consistently throughout the summer with purple, blue, pink, red, white, or even yellow flowers (these ones are harder to come by). Typically, this shrub will grow 6-8 feet tall, but there are dwarf varieties available which max out at around 3 feet.

Chaste Tree, Shrub

Chaste Tree

The Chaste tree’s purple, cone-like flowers remind me of the Butterfly Bush. Similarly, it flowers consistently throughout the summertime, with nice colorful blooms lasting for many weeks. As the plant matures and grows larger in size—up to 12 feet or taller!—it acquires a multi-trunk sculpture and takes on a beautiful tree-like form.

Abelia 'Kaleidoscope', Shrub

Abelia

If you are looking for a bush that will always bring color to your garden for multiple seasons of the year, abelia is the right choice. It has long-lasting summer blooms, flowering for about 1 month. Even as colder months approach and the flowers start to fall off, it still keeps its brilliance! The parts left over from the white flowers, known as sepals, have the appearance of little red flowers— a perfect look for fall. The ‘Radiant’ and ‘Kaleidoscope’ abelias are known for their variegated foliage, which keeps your abelias looking wonderful even after the blooming season passes!

Trumpet Vine 'Morning Calm'

Morning Calm Trumpet Vine

This vining plant is a wonderful addition to any garden. Morning Calm is a unique kind of trumpet vine. It has trailing vines with orange flowers that bloom on the ends of the stems, following the vine as it trails downwards, creating a beautiful cascade of orange flowers. It takes on the personality of a grape plant with its large woody stem structure. There are also native varieties of trumpet vine available.

Rose of Sharon Hibiscus, Shrub

Hibiscus – Rose of Sharon

These easy-to-grow flowers will add a gorgeous tropical feel to your garden. There are both tropical and perennial varieties of hibiscus, and each flower consistently for at least 3 weeks. You can choose from a selection of pink, purple, yellow, blue, and white colors. Some varieties of the hibiscus are sterile, so if you are looking for a beautiful non-reproductive plant, the hibiscus is a great choice.

Hydrangea

This is an already popular plant, but for good reason! Add this colorful flower to your garden for a beautiful, timeless look. Note that there are many varieties of the hydrangea, with a more extensive list in our full hydrangea blog post.

Here are my favorite picks:

Macrophylla

The macrophylla, more commonly known as the big leaf hydrangea, falls under the endless summer series of hydrangeas, which bloom off of both new and old growth! It has coloring that is dependent on the pH level of the soil it is planted in. A more acidic soil will result in a blue flower, and a more alkaline soil will produce a pink flower. This variety is happiest in part-sun to shade.

Panicle Hydrangea, Shrub

Panicle

Depending on the cultivar, the coloring on the panicle hydrangea starts off as lime green and undergoes a transition from white, to light pink, to dark pink and finally to a beautiful maroon shade as it matures. This one is a more sun-loving hydrangea, preferring full-sun.

Oakleaf

Known for its cone-shaped flowers, the oakleaf hydrangea petals turn from white to pink as it matures. It has a nice woody structure with distinctive peeling bark and, in the fall, develops attractive red foliage.

Kodiak Orange Diervilla, Shrub

Kodiak Orange Diervilla

An exciting new addition to Merrifield Garden Center! Commonly known as the bush honeysuckle, the diervilla kodiak orange has beautiful red stems and will grow to be approximately 3-4 feet tall. It develops a bright orange foliage in the fall, is shade tolerant and adaptive to most soil types. My favorite aspect of this plant is that it is deer resistant!

And don’t forget – my favorite perennials for summer color!

If you are looking for a smaller plant for summer color, I always love the classic perennials Coneflower, Coreopsis, and Black Eyed Susan. These beautiful plants allow gardeners to add bright color to their gardens in the summer even if they do not have room for a tree or shrub.

Bigleaf Hydrangea, Shrub

Our Hydrangea Picks for Summer Blooms

If you are looking for something to brighten up your summer landscape, hydrangeas are the perfect plant! These beautiful plants bloom in bouquets of large white, pink and blue blossoms. In any garden, hydrangeas can turn a green summer landscape into a show of vibrant flowers.

Here are our hydrangea picks:

Annabelle Hydrangea, Shrub

Annabelle

‘Annabelle’ is a native hydrangea that features stunning white flower clusters up to 12 inches wide. The flowers appear in late spring to summer, often continuing into fall. Strong, straight stems hold up the huge flower heads.

Endless Summer Hydrangea, Shrub

Bigleaf

Arguably the most recognizable of all hydrangeas, bigleaf hydrangeas are in full bloom from June through July. The flowers are come in two shapes – round and softball sized (mophead),

or flat topped and delicate (lace-capped).

With many of these varieties, the blooms tend to be blue in acidic soils and pink in more alkaline soil. Gardeners can change the colors of pink and blue flowers by altering the pH of the soil, but white flowers cannot be changed by altering the soil.

Our Bigleaf Hydrangea Picks

  • ‘Nikko Blue’ – Gigantic, blue flower clusters demand attention in the summer garden
  • ‘Pistachio’ – this dazzling variety features unique lime green and hot pink flowers.
  • Repeat bloomers – these recent introductions will continue blooming throughout the summer. Our favorites are ‘Endless Summer’, ‘Blushing Bride’, ‘Twist-n-Shout’ and ‘Penny Mac’.
Climbing Hydrangea

Climbing Hydrangea

This sprawling, woody vine can reach 30-40 ft. and becomes covered in white, lace-cap flowers up to 10 inches in diameter in the late spring and early summer. It can tolerate part to full shade and climbs up any structures it is places against, or when unsupported, as a mounding, sprawling shrub.

Japanese Hydrangea Vine

Similar to the climbing hydrangea, the Japanese hydrangea vine blooms a little later in the season and has heart-shaped flowers. One of our favorites is ‘Moonlight’, with silver, blue-green leaves and fragrant, white, lace-cap flowers.

Oakleaf Hydrangea

Native to the United States, Oakleaf is named for its dark green, oak-like leaves. It produces large creamy white or pink blossoms. This hydrangea provides four season interest with deep mahogany-red leaves in the fall and exfoliating bark in winter.

Limelight Hydrangea, Shrub

Panicle Hydrangea

One of the last hydrangeas to bloom each summer, gardeners prize panicle hydrangeas for their gracefully arching branches and clusters of white flowers.

Our picks

  • ‘Pee Gee’ – This cultivar features prolific, showy blooms and can grow very large – 10-20 feet in height and width. Sometimes it can be trained into a small tree.
  • ‘Tardiva’ – This recent introduction flowers late, in August and September
  • ‘Limelight’ and ‘Little Lime’ – These compact cultivars feature unique light green blooms.
  • ‘Vanilla Strawberry’ and ‘Strawberry Sunday’ – The flowers mature to a strawberry color.

Caring for your hydrangea

Selecting the right location will make growing beautiful hydrangeas that much easier. They thrive in partial sun and moist, well-drained soil. Morning sun and afternoon shade with good air circulation is idea. Allow enough room for your hydrangeas to grow – 4 ft. by 4 ft. for compact varieties and 6 ft. by 6 ft. for larger varieties.

Cherry Tree

Our Favorite Spring Blooming Trees and Shrubs

Spring is here and we are indulging our spring fever with a lineup of our favorite spring blooming trees! Between the tried-and-true traditional favorites and new arrivals, we all have a tree we want for ourselves this season!

Cherry

‘Autumnalis’: If you just can’t get enough of cherry blossoms, try ‘Autumnalis’ in your landscape. This cultivar is known for blooming prolifically in the spring, then again sporadically in the late fall.

Yoshino Cherry: If you are looking for the best-known cherry tree in the northern Virginia region, this is your variety. Each year it turns the Washington DC Tidal Basin into a cloud of white blooms in early spring. Placing one in your yard may not draw millions of visitors from around the world as the Cherry Blossom Festival does, but that may be for the best!

Weeping Higan: The arching branches of this weeping variety can drape all the way to the ground with blooms in early spring. This popular ornamental variety produces light pink flowers.

Magnolia

As one of our most popular and iconic trees of the southeastern United States, there are many varieties of magnolia to choose from in addition to the beloved southern magnolia. Here are some of our favorites:

Saucer Magnolia: Without a doubt the most dramatic member of the magnolia family, this tree blooms in early spring with vibrant pink flowers. ‘Jane’ ‘Betty’ and ‘Ann’ are some of our favorite cultivars.

Star Magnolia: This tree unveils its magnificent star-like white blooms in early spring. In comparison with the bold structure of other magnolia blooms, the flowers of star magnolias are prized for their delicate appearance.

Sweet Bay Magnolia: This popular native variety delivers a creamy, white flower with a light lemon fragrance in early June. It is able to tolerate the clay soil in the area and is also able to handle poorly draining soil, making it a good choice for difficult landscape areas.

Pieris Japonica

This dense evergreen shrub produces drooping clusters of bell-shaped white flowers in early spring. Its foliage emerges bronze but matures to a glossy green.

Redbud

Redbud is best known for its small clusters of magenta-pink flowers that bloom in late March to early April. While this tree is widely considered a harbinger of spring, it boasts beauty during the fall as well, when its heart-shaped leaves turn a light yellow. This tree comes in both upright and weeping varieties.

Here are some of our favorite cultivars:

  • ‘Don Egolf’ is a dwarf Chinese cultivar named after Dr. Donald Egolf from the National Arboretum.
  • ‘Appalachian Red’ has brighter blossoms than other redbuds. Their neon pink are almost red. We like to say they are two shades brighter than other redbuds!
  • ‘Oklahoma’ has a darker purple blossom and a more compact, rounded form than other redbuds.
  • ‘Ruby Falls’ is a popular weeping cultivar with purple foliage.

Serviceberry

This North American native is a great year-round plant. It blooms in early spring with clusters of white flowers, then in early summer its fruit ripens to a blue color and attracts local birds. In the fall, the leaves change to a vibrant red or yellow.

Virginia Fringe Tree

Another native, Virginia fringe tree produces blooms in late spring that look the way they sound – like white fringe! The airy, fragrant blooms give the tree a unique look, unlike any other plant we name in this post.

Mandevilla, Tropical, Annual

Say Hello to Summer with Tropical Plants

Tropicals instantly evoke a sense of serenity with their ability to make us dream of white sand and blue water. This summer, create your own vacation hideaway at home by adding tropical plants to your outdoor living space. If you have a tropical plant already, now is the perfect time to take it outside for the season. Here are a few plants that you can enjoy both inside and out this season.

Boston Fern

Boston Fern

If you are looking for beautiful foliage, look no further than the Boston Fern. This popular fern’s trailing, flat fronds make it an excellent addition to any hanging basket. Native to the forest floors of the tropics, these plants thrive in cool places with high humidity and indirect light. The key to keeping your fern healthy is to keep it moist, mimicking its natural environment as closely as possible. Feed your fern a diluted amount of Jack’s All Purpose fertilizer during the summer, then provide it the standard dose of fertilizer when it goes back inside for the winter. When indoors, keep it away from wood stoves or fireplaces, which dry out the air and deprive your plant of the humidity it loves.

Asparagus Fern

Asparagus Fern

The Asparagus Fern is not actually a true fern, but a member of the lily family. Its trailing foliage is perfect for containers and hanging baskets. This fern’s needle-like fronds and produce white flowers and red berries when situated in ideal conditions. Just like the Boston Fern, keep this fern moist to keep it happy and place it far away from your fireplace or wood stove during the cool months! Feed it a diluted amount of all purpose fertilizer during the summer to help its foliage show better and then the recommended amount when your fern goes back inside for the winter.

Citrus Plants

Lemon Tree

Keep a slice of tropical paradise in your home with a potted citrus plant. Fragrant flowers and delicious fruit we all love make this plant is one that will delight all year. There are many varieties of citrus fruits, though the most popular ones are lemons (Meyer and Ponderosa varieties), limes, and oranges. Bring your citrus plant outside for the summer to provide your plant with more sun and to allow for pollination. The best month to transition your plant outdoors is May, and the best time to bring it back inside is toward the end of September. Let the plant slowly acclimate to the new light and the space when transitioning indoors and out. To encourage health and beauty in your plants, fertilize every 7-10 days with a citrus fertilizer like Jack’s Citrus Feed.

Medinillas

Medinilla

Native to the Philippines, medinilla has been prized as an exotic houseplant by European nobility for hundreds of years! This tropical features dramatic, drooping pink blooms that last about 3 months, and a grape-like cluster of lavender flowers which bloom for a shorter time. When caring for your medinilla, water it well all the way down to the bottom of the pot and then let it dry ¾ of the way before watering again. Check regularly to find out how long this takes. These plants enjoy at least 4 hours of sun each day, but dislikes direct light.

Mandevillas

Mandevilla

Mandevillas with their stunning pinwheel shaped flowers provide vibrant color year round. Native to the southwestern United States and Central America, they come in many wonderful colors as well as night illuminating whites. They are easy to care for, thriving in bright, indirect or filtered sunlight. Give your plant  a balanced, high phosphorus fertilizer (20-20-20 or Osmocote) once every two weeks in the summer to boost the blooms. It is a vine, so give it a trellis to climb up as it grows!