Houston Chronicle

Be kind to your crape myrtles when it comes to pruning this season

- By Brandi Keller CORRESPOND­ENT Brandi Keller is a Harris County Horticultu­re Agent with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.

Crape myrtle topping is so prolific that many homeowners do it year after year without knowing why. Removing branches promotes larger, although less numerous, blooms; it is a maintenanc­e task easily accomplish­ed by landscape companies during a slow season.

However, that does not mean it should be done.

Studies increasing­ly link crape myrtle topping, also known as crape murder, with crape myrtle bark scale. Crape murder results in excessive new bark tissue that just happens to be a nice, cozy home for this invasive insect. It then creates a honeydew that provides food and conditions for sooty mold. The fungus is obvious as a black layer on tree branches. While not every tree is infested yet, it is not hard to find on a short drive.

Spread the word to stop this practice, not only because the outcome is hideous in some cases, but also because it is doing more harm than good to the health of your crape myrtle tree.

Instead, prune dead, crossing or damaged limbs, as well as suckers emerging from the ground. Selectivel­y prune the canopy if it needs to be thinned by removing small twigs and branches that block air flow from the center of the plant. This is best done when dormant, a time that is soon to end.

Spring lawn care

Wait to fertilize your lawn until it has grown enough to be mowed at least twice. April is an ideal time. Turf grass grows new roots in the spring. Added nutrients encourage leaf growth, which takes away from what happens below the soil. All efforts should be made to encourage a strong root system before summer. In addition, fertilizin­g too early will mean more leached nutrients.

To help reduce chemical runoff into our waterways, apply the recommende­d amount of fertilizer when it is time, avoid applicatio­n close to bodies of water and avoid overwateri­ng the lawn. In many cases, fertilizer may not be needed. Sign up at watermyyar­d.org for personaliz­ed watering tips based on location, precipitat­ion and your irrigation system.

In the garden

Ornamental grasses like Pennisetum, miscanthus and muhly will be putting out new growth. If you have not trimmed them back, do as soon as possible so the tips of new green leaves are not cut.

March 1 was the last average freeze date for Hobby Airport. You know what that means. It is time to plant! Sow snap and lima beans, Swiss chard, corn, cucumbers, mustard, radish, summer and winter squash. Plant transplant­s of eggplant, pepper, sweet potato slips and tomatoes.

Plant sales and gardening events

HARRIS COUNTY MASTER GARDENER FRUIT TREE SALE: Purchase online now though March 16, or in person during the sale date. Online orders are encouraged for the best selection. Annual Master Gardener sales are the primary fundraiser­s for the year that support gardening outreach. 9 a.m.-1 p.m. March 18, Genoa Friendship Gardens, 1210 Genoa Red Bluff. To order online, visit hcmga.tamu.edu/ shop.

MARCH FOR MONARCHS: Learn about the monarch northern migration to summer breeding grounds while taking a garden walk. Participan­ts will discover backyard monarchfri­endly tips, then be treated to snacks, crafts and games. Presented by Houston Botanic Garden. 10 a.m.-1 p.m. March 18. $15 for workshop and general admission to the garden. Free for members. 1 Botanic Lane. Register at hbg.org. OPEN GARDEN DAY: All are welcome to the Harris County Master Gardener Demonstrat­ion Garden, Genoa Friendship Gardens. Tour a variety of planting exhibits and meet AgriLife Extension Master Gardener volunteers. Fruit trees still available from the plant sale will be available for purchase, in addition to plants in the greenhouse. 8:30-11 a.m. March 20, Genoa Friendship Gardens, 1210 Genoa Red Bluff.

 ?? Brandi Keller/Contributo­r ?? Topping crape myrtles may result in bark scale.
Brandi Keller/Contributo­r Topping crape myrtles may result in bark scale.
 ?? R J McDiarmid/Getty Images ?? A healthy crape myrtle only needs minimal pruning.
R J McDiarmid/Getty Images A healthy crape myrtle only needs minimal pruning.

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