A Gardening Journal

The Best Season Ever: 'Pink Velour' Crapemyrtle

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With a nasty Winter still weeks from retreat, the gaudy flowers of August seem farther away than ever. Even where temperatures fall below zero Fahrenheit, the hot-weather favorite of crapemyrtle is still possible. These are the flowers of 'Pink Velour', one of the hardiest crapemyrtle cultivars ever. They make sure you never forget that hot pink doesn't give a damn about subtlety.

 

 

The dark glossy foliage is a striking contrast. It continues to emerge all season long, making Lagerstroemia indica 'Pink Velour' engaging from Spring to Fall. 

 

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Long before the flowers emerge, the foliage is the perfect foil for brighter colors. In the picture below, the huge compound umbels of pale Indian plantain are a striking contrast of color as well as texture.

 

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Gardening even as far north as Boston? Nearly all other crapemyrtles would fail, but you can go ahead and plant 'Pink Velour'. After one of the worst Winters of the century (young as it is, so true) my shrubs show no Winter damage. As the close-up shows, the tiny twigs at the very tips of the stems—normally the first to be killed by intense cold—are completely green.

 

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'Pink Velour' helps lessen the challenge of establishing crapemyrtle far from its usual hot-climate haunts. See the "Culture" and both "How to Handle it" boxes below for ways to ensure success.

 

Here's how to grow this extraordinary Summer-flowering shrub:

 

Latin Name

Lagerstroemia indica 'Pink Velour'

Common Name

Pink Velour crapemyrtle

Family

Lythraceae, the Loosestrife family, containing plants such as the invasive species purple loosestrife, Lythrum salicaria.

What kind of plant is it?

Upright shrub 

Hardiness

Zones 6 - 9. Branches are reported as being able to resist Winterkill down to -5 to -8 degrees Fahrenheit. Modest Winterkill doesn't significantly affect flowering the following Summer: Bushes can regenerate even from the stump, so 'Pink Velour' can survive a Zone 5 Winter if the base receives sufficient protection. See both "How to handle it" boxes, below.

Habit

Shrubby and upright, with the vase-like profile typical of Rose of Sharon or lilacs.

Rate of Growth

Performance is climate-dependent. Growth is faster in hot-Summer mild-Winter climates, slower (and less floriferous) in cool-Summer mild-Winter climates, and slower still in climates whose Zone 6 Winters test the plant's viability.

Size in ten years

Ten to twelve feet high; usually higher than wide. Potentially larger in Zones 8 and 9; much slower growing and rarely to maximum size in Zone 6.

Texture

Dense; until flowers emerge in Summer, the bush could be mistaken for dark-leaved privet.

Grown for

its flowers: Six-petaled and just over an inch wide, the pink-and-proud blossoms of 'Pink Velour' are not for anyone squeamish about the colors of Pepto Bismol or raspberry Kool-Aid. Moreover, the petals have the trademark rumpliness of the genus's flowers, as if they were a beta test for crêpe paper. The blooms are borne in panicles formed only at the tips of current-season growth. The panicles are similar in size and shape to those of lilacs, and so dense that the blossom's individuality is lost. On all counts, crapemyrtle flowers are what they are: enthusiastic but not elegant. 

 

its privet-like foliage, which emerges the color of burgundy wine and becomes greener over the Summer. The degree of greening seems to depend on the length and heat of the growing season. The warm-weather pictures above are from early October; here in southern New England, then, the burgundy is retained all season. As long as stems continue to grow, new foliage continues to emerge. Whether new leaves debut in May or in September, they still have maximum depth of color.

 

its hardiness: Many cultivars of crapemyrtle are not able to cope with a Zone 6 Winter. Yes, new stems can be generated from the very base of the trunks, or even (seemingly) from the roots themselves, enabling shrubs that have experienced substantial Winter-kill to regenerate and even flower in the same season. But unless there are a few milder Winters beforehand, sufficient horsepower to permit such impressive regrowth is rarely developed. 'Pink Velour' is reliably hardy in Zone 6. Established bushes can survive with no dieback a Winter with repeated bouts of extensive cold, as well as below-zero nights.

 

its mildew resistance: The glossy dark-green foliage of the species can be distressingly disfigured by mildew—yet another similarity of crapemyrtles and lilacs. The foliage of 'Pink Velour' remains clear all season. Given the size of the market for crapemyrtle, there was strong commercial impetus to develop resistant cultivars such as 'Pink Velour'; it was just a matter of time before such mildew-resistant forms became available.

Flowering season

Depending on the intensity of the Summer heat and the severity of the prevous Winter, flowering can begin as early as July and continue into September. If Winter was severe enough to cause damage that necessitates substantial Spring pruning, the start of flowering can be delayed into August or even September.

Color combinations

The dark burgundy foliage goes with everything, and is particularly showy when juxtaposed with brightly-hued or variegated foliage. The strong pink of the flowers requires that the usual clashes—orange and red—be completely out of sight, in favor of other shades of pink, rose, and purple. Because the yolk-yellow stamens are prominent, I would also exclude an otherwise classic partner to pink: blue. Strong pink and bright yellow both in the same breath, as it were, is enough excitement.

Plant partners

With its simple shape, smooth edges, prominent shiny and dark coloring, the foliage of 'Pink Velour' is a pleasure to integrate into a larger planting. Choose companion plants whose foliage is constrastingly fuzzy or, at least, not shiny, plus whose leaves have more complexity of shape, or whose pattern of variegation is prominent. I was able to plant Polygonum cuspidatum 'Freckles' near my 'Pink Velour'. Its hectic white-and-green foliage would be all the contrast needed with that of 'Pink Velour', but this knotweed's pink stems ensure that there's a direct link with the crapemyrtle's flowers, too. A less rambunctious option would be to site a variegated ornamental grass at the side of the the shrub: if on the shady side, Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola'; at the sunny, Carex muskingumensis 'Oehme'. Hostas would provide similar coloristic excitement, but with huge foliage instead of slender.

 

Especially at the cold end of its hardiness range, there are many weeks of just foliage before the pink flowers emerge later in August or September. I rely on a backdrop of espaliered 'New Dawn' roses to bring pink flowers nearby in June and early July. In August, flowers of the gigantic perennial 'Red Flyer' hibiscus are so high that they look down on the crapemyrtle bushes.

 

'Pink Velour' is so exuberant in foliage and (eventually) in flower that you could also choose neighbors that are completely deferential. I've underplanted my 'Pink Velour' trio with a tiny-leaved shrubby honeysuckle, Lonicera nitida. It doesn't have showy flowers, and is grown, instead, for its mounding twiggy branches and evergreen foliage. They are a great contrast in shape and texture, while also serving to protect the base of the shrub from Winter's worst.  

Where to use it in your garden

Where fully hardy, 'Pink Velour' grows large enough to serve as a background shrub, or as screening or an informal hedge. In Zone 6, it is more likely to be sited to maximize vigor (and, therefore, its profusion of flowers), whether or not the space at hand is large enough. See "How to handle it: Another option—or two!"

Culture

Average to good soil, plus all possible sun and heat, even in climates where both are intense as a matter of course. Average to excellent drainage; as usual, better drainage assists in maximizing hardiness.

How to handle it: The Basics

Plant in Spring, ensuring enough water for establishment. In average to good soil, established crapemyrtles can tough out hot and dry Summers without supplemental water, although new growth (and, therefore, the profusion of flowering) is better when bushes are not drought-stressed.

 

If you have the room for free-range growth, 'Pink Velour' is nearly maintenance-free: Shrubs do not need formative or maintenance pruning if they have room to grow to full size. In Zone 6, there might be modest tip dieback over the Winter. As with hydrangeas and roses, it's easiest to determine which stems have dieback by waiting until new foliage begins to emerge. Dieback will cause affected stems to be leafless. They will be readily apparent, and are easy to prune out: Cut back to an inch or two below the lower extent of die-back.

How to handle it: Another option—or two? 

In climates where crapemyrtles are fully hardy—Zones 7 to 9—there are so many cultivars available, and of such diversity of mature sizes, that it should be possible to site the shrubs in almost any context, from cramped to palatial, and yet not have to prune them to control their size. (See "Variants," below, for an introduction to crapemyrtle's wide range of possibilities.) In Zone 6, comparatively few cultivars are hardy enough to succeed year after year. And the spot that might maximize hardiness might not be large enough to host one of the few cultivars likely to survive there. Not to worry. Plant crapemyrtle where the siting is ideal in terms of hardiness; a thriving shrub can be pruned to fit and yet still give a performace that epitomizes enthusiasm and bounty instead of confinement or meagerness.

 

First, the details of siting: Consider every option in providing these shrubs the direct day- and season-long sunlight and sustained heat they prefer. Can vegetation that might cast shade from the East, South, or North be removed or shortened? What protection from the North is possible? Can there be paving at the front? Natural stone or masonry (some ledge or a wall, in other words) to the back? Stone or concrete will absorb heat from the sun and radiate it back into the air and abutting soil at night.

 

As always, ensure that the surface of the bed into which the shrub is planted slopes, even modestly, so that surface water is as likely to drain away as to soak in. And, although crapemyrtle will grow more luxuriantly in rich, moisture-retentive soil, planting in soil that is leaner, and enhanced deeply with just as much sand and gravel as compost, will enable the water that does soak in to percolate more quickly down into the soil and away from the base of the shrub.

 

The challenge with minimizing high horticulture to the East, West, and South is that the increased exposure to warmth and sun from Spring to Fall also means decreased buffering of cold and wind all Winter. The have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too solution is to provide all possible shelter at the North and East (via bulky horticulture or a wall or, at least, a fence), and then implement some Winter-only shelter at the South and West. What woody plants are you growing that would already welcome their annual pruning in the Fall? Then you could pile up their branches around the crapemyrtle. Yew, box, and American holly can all be pruned in Fall or early Winter. Then, they look sharp until they resume growth in Spring, and a mound of their boughs would be just the protection a crapemyrtle would welcome.

 

While all of these protective tactics will help 'Pink Velour' achieve maximum vigor, this particular cultivar is so hardy that my bushes are thriving in my Zone 6b garden with none of these hardiness assists but a gently-sloping bed. If you are gardening in Zone 6a and, of course, if you are trying to establish crapemyrtle in Zone 5, these extra considerations of siting and sheltering will probably all be essential.   

 

And even so, there will be some Winter damage; prune away all stems and stem tips that have died. When growing woody plants at the limits of their hardiness, it's best to prune off the minimum of otherwise viable growth. Only if your choices in siting and protection have been validated by what seems to be full-throttle vigor should you respond with the major pruning that growth might necessitate.

 

It's better to control size by pruning back just the few out-of-bound larger branches than by chopping all the branches back to nubs. Where crapemyrtle is fully hardy, such radical Spring pruning can result in profuse "watery" growth that becomes floppy as the Summer progresses. (Northerners will be familiar with this situation when they prune back PG hydrangeas radically.) In a more challenging climate, such regrowth isn't likely to be so vigorous. But if you find that it is, the next season that such severe pruning is necessary, try handling the new shoots as you would those PG hydrangeas: Pinch the tips of the new stems in late May or mid-June, so they send out side branches. The overall length of the new growth that season will never be as long. Plus, the more stem tips that are produced, the more terminal panicles will emerge. Just as good, they will probably be somewhat smaller than usual, so are less likely to weigh down the stem tips.

Quirks and special cases

The preferred common name is "crapemyrtle" not "crape myrtle." Further, although the crinkly petals would seem to be the perfect horticultural homage to crêpe paper, Lagerstroemia is not referred to as crepemyrtle, let alone crêpe myrtle or crêpemyrtle.  It's "crape," not "crêpe."

 

Seeds germinate readily and the seedlings mature so quickly that they can flower their first season. Lagerstroemia indica, then, could be used as a flowering annual. However, seeds of cultivars are not likely to come true. 

Downsides

If only crapemyrtle were hardier.   

Variants

Although there are about fifty species in the Lagerstroemia genus, the cultivars grown in gardens are derived just from L. indica plus, sometimes, L. faurei, which has contributed resistance to mildew, hardiness more fully down to the below-zero temperatures of Zone 6, and even more contrasting patterns in the exfoliating bark.

 

There are hundreds of cultivars, and they vary tremendously across many metrics: Resistance to mildew and leaf spot; increased cold tolerance; height (which can vary from mounding dwarves two to three feet high, to trees more than thirty feet tall); warm-weather foliage (which is usually dark green but can, as with 'Pink Velour' be burgundy); cool-weather foliage (although cultivars are not bred specifically to enhance Fall foliage, it can be almost any hue from yellow to red; white-flowered forms tend to yellow); seasonality of flowering (earlier-to-bloom cultivars can begin flowering in June or even May) and, most notably, the color of the flowers. These range from white to pink to rose to lavender to purple; "red" forms are cherry red. To date, there are no cultivars whose flowers have the touch of orange that would make their flowers compatible with a classic hot-garden palette of scarlet and orange. The "red" forms belong in a pink-friendly planting, or as the cherry-red accent to a white-and-green scheme.

 

Comparatively few of the cultivars survive for the long-term in climates colder than Zone 7, and many that do persist develop regular Winter die-back. In addition to 'Pink Velour', I can vouch for these cultivars as surviving most Zone 6 Winters unscathed: 'Acoma' and 'Natchez' both have white flowers with green foliage; 'Burgundy Cotton' has white flowers and burgundy foliage.

Availability

On-line and, in Zone 7 and warmer, at retailers.

Propagation

By cuttings.

Native habitat

Lagerstroemia indica is native to Asia; its cultivars are grown worldwide. 'Pink Velour' was hybridized in Oklahoma, and was patented in 1998.

 
 
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