GARDENING BY RONELLA: Crape myrtles, mildew and Bobcat Fever
by Ronella Stagner, Columnist
Aug 07, 2013 | 84 84 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The undisputed Queen of Summer in the gardening world is the beautiful crape myrtle. They are at their best right now and the rain and sun must be just right for them because I have never seen them so beautiful. Though they are easy to grow and very popular, they are often misunderstood. To clear up some wrong ideas, a little information about this lovely shrub might be of interest.

First, there is no such plant as a crape myrtle tree as some think. What looks like a tree is the crape myrtle trimmed up to resemble a tree. To cut down on mildew in the South, growers cut out all but four or five limbs. They are cut to the ground. Then all branches are trimmed off, up to about four or five feet, thus looking like a tree. This is done to allow air to circulate through the branches, eliminating mildew. I first saw this pruning of crape myrtles about thirty years ago in Georgia. I, too, thought it was some kind of tree.

Another misunderstanding about crape myrtles is in pruning them. They need only to have the flowered stems pruned after the blooms are wilted at the end of summer. Only cut the flower back, not the whole stems. That would only be pruning off about two feet of only the stems that are blooming. Crape myrtles are never pruned all over. Pruning of the whole shrub would mean no flowers for the next season.

Crape myrtles come in three sizes: the dwarf, the medium and the very tall ones. The dwarf has become most popular in the last few years because it is so versatile. It can be fitted into a foundation planting or by combining several as specimen plants. There is a relatively new dwarf, which is red, and I really admire that one. Crape myrtles come in so many colors that there must be one just right for everyone. They can be attacked by mildew, however and that is a problem this summer that needs some clarification.

Due to the frequent rains this summer, most gardeners are fighting mildew. A recent caller had mildew on a lilac. Since mildew can attack most all shrubs, especially the broad-leafed flowering shrubs, a repeat of information may help you.

There is a really interesting new treatment called Rose X 3 in 1. This product controls just about everything including Japanese beetles, aphids, and other insects plus black spot and mildew. This product is a drench and you sprinkle it around the base of the plant. Since it is systemic, it goes into the stem and leaves from the soil. Bonide makes this treatment and it is available in most garden stores. This is so much simpler than spraying but, as in all such products, it is most important to use this one exactly as recommended.

In a recent column, I mentioned a tick carried disease, which kills housecats, and I discovered that it is in our area. A friend lost a beloved cat recently from this disease called Bobcat Fever. Bobcats carry it, and though the bobcats are immune to this disease, their ticks carry it to indoor and outdoor cats and for them, it can be fatal if not caught in time.

It seems that there are more mosquitoes, fleas and ticks than ever this summer and our poor pets suffer from these insects if left outside untreated.

For the vegetable gardener, this has been a perfect year with enough rain when needed and plenty of sunshine. I can remember, in dry summers, that I would spend hours each day watering my huge flower gardens.

I often wonder at Ma’s gardening success without watering her flowers. The only watering I can remember is the many pots of flowers on the old front porch. She watered them all with rainwater, which she caught in a big barrel. The water, which ran off the old tin roof, was captured in gutters and then directed to the barrel, which had a screen top to keep out critters. That barrel was situated at the end of the old front porch, just very convenient for watering her pots of plants. I was so delighted when I was tall enough to reach a bucket into that barrel. It’s a miracle I didn’t fall in. That’s about the time I became tall enough to stand on the flower shelf on the porch to reach the telephone wire and unhook it when a storm was coming. That was pretty scary and a little tricky but I thought it was my job, as well as catching any little chickens that were ranging around the back yard. They had to be caught and put in their little pens and, thankfully, the old mother hens followed.

So, all in all, a summer storm meant a busy time for both Ma and me. For Ma, there might be clothes on the line and windows to be lowered and other bigger chores than I could handle. But, the beauty of a summer storm was that Pa would come hurrying from the field if he was near the house and that made for so much pleasure, sitting on the old front porch with the two of them watching it storm. There was a lot of love on that old porch.

Please feel free to call me at 270-522-3632 with questions or comments.
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