Monday , 23 October 2017

America’s `Crape Myrtle City’ is McKinney: Here’s How it Happened

Submitted by Crape Myrtle Trails of McKinney

This has been a terrific year for crape myrtles in our Crape Myrtle Trails of McKinney plantings, throughout our city in general, and all across North Texas.

We’re seeing many adjacent cities (Frisco, Allen, Plano and Richardson) capture the fervor McKinney fostered starting back in the late 1990s. We members of the Board of The Crape Myrtle Trails of McKinney are delighted that crape myrtles have become widespread choices for public area plantings.

We think it could be productive to tell McKinney residents a little about our plant, our organization, our goals and our progress. Here are answers to some questions we have recently been asked:

Q
How did McKinney come to embrace the featuring of crape myrtles in our medians and other landscapes? What has been the timeline?

A
The idea of having “trails” designated in the city was presented to a former city manager in 1991 by McKinney businessman and Texas garden expert Neil Sperry. (The discussion focused on the example of Tyler, and what
its famous spring Azalea Trails mean to that city.) In time, Rick Traylor, chair of McKinney’s Quality of Life Board, which later evolved into the McKinney Community Development Corporation, embraced the idea. He
formed a committee to explore the possibilities, and enthusiasm quickly grew.

After initial plantings at McKinney High School in 1999, the first plantings in the medians took place in 2000 and 2001. The ensuing years have brought successive plantings by the city and by local businesses. Through the CMT Super Sponsor program, businesses and other organizations have planted more than 5,000 crape myrtles in publicly visible places in the city.

In June 2011, The World Collection Park of the Crape Myrtle Trails of McKinney was dedicated and opened on Collin McKinney Parkway in Craig Ranch. This unique public park features all known varieties of crape
myrtles (as of 2011) growing side-by-side. Experts at the headquarters of crape myrtle research in the United States, the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington D.C., have told us that there is no such collection of crape
myrtles anywhere else in the world.

The new park not only provides McKinney residents with the opportunity to see and compare all types of the South’s most popular flowering shrub and small tree, but it will attract tourists as the plantings become established and more beautiful. The park also represents a very serious botanical collection, in that all of the genetic protoplasm of these (sometimes very rare) varieties is kept and preserved for future research and breeding. McKinney has already hosted botanists and horticulturists at a National Crape Myrtle Conference, so we anticipate that this park will draw tourists and experts alike.

Q
So how many crape myrtles are going to be planted by the city and Crape Myrtle Trails?

A
Several years ago an informal agreement that Crape Myrtle Trails struck via handshake with then-mayor (and current Crape Myrtle Trails board member) Bill Whitfield was, and is still, one of our objectives. The goal was for the city and our board to team to plant 5,000 new crape myrtles per year for 10 years. This is an unofficial goal of 50,000 crape myrtles that didn’t exist in our city at the time of the handshake. We are a good way toward that goal, and we are doing our best to live up to our part of it.

For example, CMT has developed a program whereby we distribute one-gallon, vigorously growing crape myrtle plants to as many McKinney 5th-grade classes as possible on the Friday before Mother’s Day. Board members go to school assemblies, tell the story of crape myrtles and CMT, and then hand one plant to each student to give to his or her mother – a plant they can plant together and watch as the child grows up. In the six years that this program has been under way, we have given out 7,500 plants to excited boys and girls.

Q
Why do we see some crape myrtles in our roadway medians blooming and others not blooming? Is this due to insufficient watering?

A
2012 provided one of the best shows of crape myrtle blooms in many years, even after the record drought we experienced in the summer of 2011. These plants are survivors! The best thing about crape myrtles is that, unlike almost all other flowering shrubs, trees and vines, they cycle into and out of bloom several times during the summer, beginning in May, peaking in June and July, and continuing sporadically through August and into September. Most of McKinney’s median plantings have bloomed at least twice already. Some are still blooming, and others will bloom again over the next few weeks.

Roses don’t provide that length of flowering season, and azaleas don’t even come close. And while neither of those blooms at all well during the hottest part of the summer, crape myrtles thrive in the heat. Crape myrtles
are drought-tolerant, which is why they are favorites all across the desert Southwest. Some water, of course, is needed for any flowering plant, and crape myrtles do bloom better when they are irrigated several times during
a hot Texas summer, but they are quite good stewards of any water that is given to them.

Q
Why do some crape myrtles have what looks like black soot on the plant’s bark? Is this a serious problem?

A
Under certain conditions, all varieties of living things can be susceptible to challenges, and crape myrtles are occasionally attacked by scale insects, which secrete honeydew that can provide a substrate for sooty mold. It’s
the same sooty mold that can develop beneath or on oaks, pecans, elms, fringe flowers, azaleas, and even on old cars and patio furniture. No crape myrtle has ever died from either the scale or sooty mold, and the highly
credentialed horticulture committee of the Crape Myrtle Trails recently gave crape myrtles one of its top two ratings for plant hardiness. (Only Earth-Kind® roses were rated higher. Our board will be happy to share the  report with anyone who is interested). The sooty bark condition is temporary. We don’t avoid pecan trees because of webworms, roses because of black spot, or teenagers because of pimples. We get to keep and love them all!

Q
Has the World Collection Park entailed extraordinary costs to build, and what about costs to maintain it?

A
McKinney citizens decided by vote years ago to levy a ½-cent sales tax to fund enrichment projects, including city parks, as authorized in the state’s 4b sales tax regulation. It was McKinney’s 4b Community Development
Corporation that allocated some of the funding for the World Collection Park. A significant portion of the total value of the park came from the donation of park land — required of all residential developers, and of Craig
Ranch, in this case.

Where the new park’s maintenance costs are concerned, they are no different from those of other small, landscaped parks in McKinney. The city provides the basic maintenance of watering, mowing, and turf fertilization. The Crape Myrtle Trails Board is responsible for tasks like pruning, and we have offered to provide additional fertilization and crape myrtle care as needed. Plans for maintenance were agreed on long before the park was even in the planning phase.

Q
If we feature crape myrtles in the city’s medians, will they come at the expense of other plants such as canopy shade trees?

A
Absolutely not! The Crape Myrtle Trails Board wholeheartedly supports, and has always supported, a blend of well-adapted plant materials, including shade trees, evergreens and crape myrtles.

Because of their relatively small size, crape myrtles are ideal for use in narrow median plantings, where larger canopy trees may grow over the roadway and be damaged or “box-trimmed” by trucks and other large
vehicles. For this reason, crape myrtles are also ideal for use in roadside plantings near overhead power lines, where larger canopy trees would require regular and often unsightly pruning to minimize contact with the power lines.

Q

Many people cut all the branches off their crape myrtles in the winter. Why do they do this? That’s a lot of work if it has to be done to all the trees in the medians.

A
We refer to this severe pruning practice as “Crape Murder.” Some people mistakenly believe that this harsh pruning will promote plant growth and increase bloom production. There is no credible horticultural evidence that this practice does either. In fact, the practice is unnecessary, and it only promotes misshapen and stunted tree growth. Tree-form crape myrtles perform best when they are allowed to grow to their natural size and shape, with only occasional selective pruning to remove new growth shoots from the base of the tree.

Q
Does featuring crape myrtles in our landscapes really help McKinney and it’s citizens?

A
Money magazine recently ranked McKinney as the Number 2 most livable city in America (among cities with populations between 50,000 and 300,000)! The magazine cites the uniqueness of our landscapes as one of the key reasons. Our trails of crape myrtles are truly getting attention from visitors to our city, and as the plantings are completed and as they mature, tourists will be able to drive the trails as they were originally envisioned
— criss-crossing the entire city to see lovely neighborhoods, as well as attractive areas of commerce.

We believe our efforts toward city beautification and promotion of the city’s new World Collection Park of The Crape Myrtle Trails help spotlight McKinney as a tourist destination. Attracting visitors to McKinney through the beautification of its streets, parks and campuses will increase growth of local businesses and even play a part in encouraging other businesses to establish themselves here. Likewise, plantings on the grounds of area schools are helping to make those campuses as impressive as the district’s academic reputation, attracting families as they look for a place to locate.

Q
Articles in the local media single out McKinney as a city that publicly embraces crape myrtles. One article refers to McKinney as Crape Myrtle Central and another says many are referring to McKinney as “America’s crape myrtle city.” Is this an official designation?

A
Our organization’s mission states that we will promote McKinney as America’s crape myrtle city, and the slogan seems to have caught on. Indeed, members of the CMT Board recently suggested to the City Council
that the registration of that name might boost tourism and community development in the future. A formal registration would protect the slogan legally and keep it unique to McKinney.

Speaking of uniqueness, we see this as a furtherance of the city’s widely accepted slogan McKinney — Unique by Nature. Citizens have increasingly embraced crape myrtles as a part of our culture and featured them in
beautiful landscapes everywhere, so crape myrtles may well be the most publicly visible proof of the city’s slogan. Being known as America’s crape myrtle city may prove to be an important “piece of the puzzle” in our future ranking as Money magazine’s Number One!

In closing, we want to invite community-wide participation in our Crape Myrtle Trails 5K and 1-Mile Fun Run & More on Saturday, Nov. 17. The Fun Run is an important way you can enjoy a healthful activity the Saturday before Thanksgiving and also support efforts to beautify McKinney.

Our Board welcomes the opportunity to answer questions regarding crape myrtles, as well as questions about our Board. Phil Wheat, our vice president and Fun Run chair, can be reached by phone (214.385.2415) or e-mail (pdwheat@unitedplanners.com).

Sincerely,

The Crape Myrtle Trails of McKinney Board

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