How to plant crepe myrtles?

The way crape myrtles look in February and March is a travesty (a distorted representation of a tree) and a tragedy (an event causing great suffering destruction and distress) to the individual plants. To what am I referring, but the way the trees get brutally whacked and chopped by loppers and saws, and then get loaded into a large trailer adding to the landfill!! If they are too tall, pull them out and plant shorter varieties, but Crape Myrtles rarely or never need pruning.

Crape Myrtles are TREES and that means they grow TALL from 20 – 40’ in height. They have been lovingly referred to as the Lilac of the South (with no fragrance) with a very long bloom time in the summer. Crape myrtles have wonderful exfoliating bark in late spring/early summer that as a kid, I loved to peel off the trunk to reveal a beautiful, velvety, cinnamon colored trunk. The leaves also provide great fall color from yellow to orange to red if the weather cooperates. So here we have a plant that give us an exceptionally long summer bloom period, great fall foliage (not many trees do that here) and a beautiful sculptured trunk when allowed to grow naturally.

There are two types of Crape Myrtle frequently planted; there is Lagerstroemia indica and Lagerstroemia hybrid (indica x fauriei). The first species L. indica has small round leaves and is terribly susceptible to powdery mildew which is a white powder that causes the leaves to curl up and distort, stops photosynthesis and occurs in spring AND fall. Powdery mildew must be sprayed with several fungicide applications OR you can plant the National Arboretum Hybrids which are totally resistant to powdery mildew.

The Hybrid Crape Myrtle, Lagerstroemia indica x fauriei, (Indian Tribe Hybrids and named so) was started by Dr. Donald Egolf of the National Arboretum beginning in 1959. He started a research project to develop disease resistance (powdery mildew), hardiness (because fauriei species was more frost tender that indica) rebloomers, true flower color and unique inheritable dark trunk colors. The hybrid crape is easily distinguished from the species as it has larger rectangle leaves, larger flowers and flower clusters and is totally resistant to powdery mildew – never spray fungicide again!

Some of the National Arboretum hybrids you may be familiar with are:
Muskogee – to 30’ – light lavender flower – red orange fall color
Tuscarora – to 20’ – dark coral pink flower – red orange fall color
Natchez – to 30’ – white flower – cinnamon colored trunk – yellow to red to orange fall color
Arapaho – 20-30’ – true red flower – maroon tinged leaves
Fantasy – 25-40’ – white flower, fragrance emits a sweet nectar for bees, cinnamon trunk
If you do not have the space for a 20 or 30 foot tree try using one of the shrub or dwarf varieties.
Chickasaw – 1-3’ shrub – light lavender pink
Chica – 2-4’ shrub – deep red
Pokomoke – 3-5’ shrub – deep rose pink
Hopi – 5-10’ large shrub – clear light pink
Dynamite – 6-8’ dense shrub – true red
Acoma – 6-10’ – white flowers – semi- dwarf weeping habit
Catawba – 8-10’ – violet purple – dense shrub


1) Do not plant in the flower beds next to the house; INSTEAD use a tall variety in the middle of the yard to provide summer shade on the west side of the house.
2) Crape Myrtles are either single trunk or multi-trunked and it can take a long time to turn a multi trunk into a single trunk, so purchase single trunk to begin with if that is what you need.
3) Plant the hybrids with the large leaves to avoid powdery mildew in the spring and fall.
4) Crape Myrtles need at least 6 hours of DIRECT SUN for good, long summer bloom.
5) Watch for Crape Myrtle Asian Bark Scale, it turns the trunks completely black and must be treated systemically and topically. Severe pruning seems to attract these sucking insects.
6) Pruning should only be done when trees are young to shape the tree by removing crossing and rubbing branches and dead wood. You could remove seed heads in the winter but this is how all the abuse started, because it was too time consuming to snip the tips and progressed into the crape murder we have come to recognize today. (If you have trees that have been chopped down to shoulder or waist height, remove it for it will never be beautiful again.)

Finally, you be the teacher and help educate those holding the chain saws and pruners to stop the horrible disfiguring of our beautiful sculptured trees and know, no pruning is necessary if the trees have never been pruned.

Have a great spring!!

How To Prune Crape Myrtles Without Murdering Them

Ouch! This picture shows a horrible “Crape Murder.”

Please, don’t use heading or topping cuts to pollard Crape Myrtles, it’s just won’t give you that natural look you want. You’ll also avoid creating those knobby knuckles, which sadly wreck the appearance of that beautiful Crape Myrtle bark.

Instead, let’s watch Ed Laivo, one of Nature Hills horticulturalists, as he gives valuable information on how to correctly prune this beautiful tree.

The Right Way to Prune a Crape Myrtle

The goal is to get air circulation and sunlight into the canopy of the tree. You also want to allow your Crape Myrtle to showcase the beautiful bark as part of its character.

In the video, you’ll learn when to prune Crape Myrtles, and get a step-by-step approach to determine your pruning plan. Hint, start from the ground up!

Ed also walks you through a pruning tool selection guide. He’ll show you exactly what types of branches you want to prune. You’ll also learn what to leave on the tree.

As always, the Nature Hills team is here to help! Call us at (888) 864-7663 with any questions about Crape Myrtles.

Watch How to Prune Crape Myrtles Without Murdering Them

Ed also sent over some photos of Crape Myrtles that were pruned correctly:

Hard pruned Crape Myrtle done the correct way

Another Crape Myrtle pruned correctly. Hope this helps!

Plant A Smaller Crepe Myrtle This Year

Why do people murder crepe myrtles? No, it’s not too much Neanderthal DNA. It’s that the variety of crepe myrtle they planted got way too big. Here’s a guide to which crepe myrtles won’t outgrow your house or yard, so you won’t have to chop them grotesquely each year.

What Went Wrong

Crepe murder — the grisly rite of chopping crepe myrtles into ugly stumps — really got a shot in the arm about 20 to 30 years ago, when the first mildew-resistant hybrids with native American names (‘Natchez,’ ‘Muskogee,’ ‘Tuscarora,’ etc.) were introduced by the U.S. National Arboretum. Growers didn’t know how big these crepes would get, because they hadn’t been out long enough. So they guessed — and almost always guessed wrong. Crepe myrtles they said would grow 10 to 15 feet tall ended up growing 20 to 30 feet tall. Which meant that many crepe myrtles grew too big for the spots they were in and homeowners started chopping off their heads every spring.

(To see how to correctly prune a large crepe myrtle, .)

What Went Right

Gardeners and growers both saw the need for smaller, more compact crepe myrtles that didn’t need annual pruning. Growers created new selections of semi-dwarf (12 feet tall or less at maturity) and dwarf (less than 4 feet tall at maturity) types that bloomed well, resisted disease, and were hardy. Let Grumpy introduce some of his favorites, all of which are available at garden centers now.


‘Acoma’ — That’s it up top. White flowers atop an arching, sculptural small tree. Grows about 10 feet tall. Great in a large container.

”Burgundy Cotton’ — Upright tree to about 12 feet. White flowers appear atop foliage that changes from wine-red in spring to burgundy-green in summer.

‘Delta Jazz’ — Combines bright-pink flowers with spectacular burgundy foliage that doesn’t “green” in hot weather. Grows 6 to 10 feet tall. Part of our Southern Living Plant Collection.

Early Bird Series — Comes in three colors — lavender, purple, and white. Long-blooming plant starts flowering in May. Grows 5 to 8 feet tall. Part of our Southern Living Plant Collection.

‘Hopi’ — Medium-pink flowers on a spreading, bushy plant 7 to 10 feet tall and wide.

Magic Series — Rounded, bushy plants 6 to 10 feet tall and wide. Colors include coral-pink, fuchsia-pink, and purple. Foliage emerges reddish and then changes to deep-green.

‘Pink Velour’ — Neon-pink flowers with wine red foliage that doesn’t fade. Nearly seedless; blooms for a long time. Grows about 12 feet tall.

‘Red Rooster’ — Brilliant red flowers. Foliage emerges maroon and changes to green. Flowers may show white or red flecking. Grows 8 to 10 feet tall.

‘Rhapsody in Pink’ — Combines soft-pink flowers with purplish new growth. Nearly seedless; blooms a long time. Upright grower to 12 feet.

‘Siren Red’ — Dark-red flowers on a rounded plant 8 to 10 feet tall and wide. New foliage emerges wine-red and then changes to dark-green.

‘Tonto’ — Red flowers and maroon foliage. Grows 10 to 12 feet tall and wide. Handsome bark.

‘Velma’s Royal Delight’ — Intense, purple-magenta flowers and deep green leaves. Cold-hardy to well below zero degrees. Bushy plant grows 4 to 6 feet tall.


‘Centennial’ — Bright-purple blooms on a rounded, dense mound, 3-5 tell and wide. Quite cold-hardy. The best purple dwarf.

‘Pocomoke’ — Bright-pink blooms and deep green foliage on a mounding shrub that grows 2 to 3 feet high and 3 to 4 feet wide. Great in pots.

‘Tightwad Red’ — Dark-red flowers on mounding plant to 4 feet tall and wide. Seedless.

‘Victor’ — Deep-red flowers. Grows 5-5 feet tall and wide. Cold-hardy.

Take These Little Guys Home

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‘Pink Velour’

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‘Early Bird Purple’

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‘Rhapsody in Pink’

Image zoom emPhoto:


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‘Delta Jazz’

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‘Burgundy Cotton’

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‘Red Rooster’

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‘Velma’s Royal Delight’

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‘Strawberry Dazzle’

Image zoom emPhoto by John Vining./em


So the Final Question You Need to Ask Yourself Is….

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….do you want your crepe myrtles to look like this?

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Or do you want them to look like this?


With our 32nd Crepe Myrtle Fest upon us, we’ve put together some info to see how well you know your Crepe Myrtle. Check out the facts and fiction of this local favorite and don’t forget to come out this weekend and save big on Crepe Myrtles and much, much more!

All Crepe Myrtles grow into trees.
FALSE: Crepe Myrtle breeding has given us a wide range of sizes. Some are as small as a few feet tall, like Pocomoke, while others grow to medium-sized trees capable of providing summer shade like Natchez. Some Crepes are small enough to act as a ground cover like the Orchid Cascade variety. There’s a Crepe Myrtle for every size yard.

Crepe Myrtles bloom for 100 days.
TRUE: Crepe Myrtles are known as the “Tree of 100 Days” due to the fact that they bloom from June into September.

Crepe Myrtles are a multi-season interest plant.
TRUE: These deciduous plants produce crepe-like flowers all summer, then have great orange-red fall color. During cold winter months, many varieties display a unique, cinnamon-colored bark that stands out in the landscape. In a nutshell, Crepe Myrtles look great all year long!

All Crepe Myrtles are disease resistant.
FALSE: Many of the older varieties do not have the improved breeding from Dr. Donald Egolf of the National Arboretum. Dr. Egolf first worked with Lagerstroemia indica for breeding and selection in hopes of eliminating the problem of powdery mildew. From that initial work, 6 varieties were chosen with improvements and these were given Native American names so that these plants would be recognized worldwide as having American Heritage. His work further continued with cross-breeding with Lagerstroemia fauriei which gave us many of today’s newer hybrids such as Natchez, Tuscarora and Tonto. It is important to select newer improved varieties to replace the older disease prone selections.

Crepe Myrtles love the heat.
TRUE: Crepe Myrtles love the hot summers of our area and are the perfect addition for carefree summer color.

Crepe Myrtles are not picky about the soil they are planted in.
TRUE: Crepe Myrtles are adaptable to a wide range of soil conditions and can perform even in poor soils.

Crepe Myrtle is spelled with an “e.”
TRUE: In the McDonald Garden Center dictionary, we spell Crepe Myrtle with an “e” based on the tissue-paper like flowers that resemble the “crepe” paper texture.

Crepe Myrtles can flower in the shade.
FALSE: For maximum flowering, Crepe Myrtles must have a full sun location – meaning at least 6 hours of sun daily. Less than that will mean less flowers.

Crepe Myrtles need to be dead headed.
FALSE: It is not necessary with the newer selections to remove old blooms before they go to seed to produce new flowers. Re-current flowering is one of the benefits achieved with new selections and they are free flowering through out the summer.

Join us as we celebrate this local favorite this weekend at our 37th annual Crepe Myrtle Fest, July 19-21.

  • A kerbside crepe myrtle tree
  • Pink crepe myrtle flower heads
  • A close up of purple crepe myrtle flower petals
  • Bright pink crepe myrtle flowers
  • White crepe myrtle flowers
  • Two large crepe myrtle trees
  • Pink crepe myrtle flower heads
  • A red crepe myrtle tree in a backyard

Crepe myrtles are among the world’s best flowering trees.

They are native to eastern Asia and are hardy in most parts of Australia. Don looked at an exciting new range of crepe myrtle hybrids which reach different heights and spreads, and so reduce the need for pruning. They are also resistant to powdery mildew, a fungal disease that is difficult to control with fungicides.

Plant details

Common name: Crepe Myrtle

Botanic name: Lagerstroemia indica

The petals are ruffled, with a crepe-like texture. In autumn the mid-green leaves turn yellow, orange or red (depending on the variety) before falling. Unpruned crepe myrtles develop beautifully coloured, smooth, mottled trunks. There is an Australian native crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia archeriana), which grows to around 7m (20′) tall and has pinkish mauve flowers.

Indian Summer Crepe Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica x L. fauriei)

The Indian Summer range has been specially bred to resist powdery mildew, a fungal disease that can be seen on some older crepe myrtle varieties. Each cultivar is named after an American Indian tribe, and they range in size from around 3-6m (10-18) fully grown.
Varieties shown were:
‘Acoma’ (white flowers and a weeping habit), 3m (10′)
‘Tonto’ (rich pink flowers), 3m (10′)
‘Zuni’ (mauve flowers), 3m (10′)
‘Sioux’ (carmine pink flowers) 4m (12′)
‘Yuma’ (pale pink flowers) 4m (12′)
‘Tuscarora’ (rose red flowers) 6m (18′)
‘Natchez’ (white flowers) 6m (18′)

Best climate:

Crepe myrtles grow well in most parts of Australia. In mountain zones plant in a warm, sheltered microclimate. The Indian Summer series have good cold tolerance.

Good points:

beautiful flowers autumn colour attractive bark many new varieties including ground cover varieties (sold as Chopin series)


some older varieties are susceptible to powdery mildew prone to suckering


Crepe myrtles can be heavily pruned in winter to encourage the development of long, arching branches of flowers. However, the downside of this annual pruning is that it creates an ugly, butchered looking plant. Left unpruned, crepe myrtles develop a naturally appealing shape and will flower well regardless. If a shrub is preferred, plant one of the new, smaller varieties, rather than pruning every year to keep a tree down to shrub size.


Keep well watered through summer. To reduce the risk of powdery mildew plant in an open, sunny garden situation with good air circulation. Alternatively select one of the mildew-resistant varieties. When plants are small remove spent flower heads in late autumn or winter to keep them tidy. Also remove low growth to develop a smooth, attractive trunk. To stop suckering problems avoid damaging the roots or lower trunk, mulch to prevent weeds or grass growing under the tree, and keep plants well watered in dry periods.

Getting started:

Crepe myrtles are available at nurseries. Plants in 200mm (8″) pots cost about $20, but larger plants in 300mm or 25 litre (12″) pots are priced at around $65.

Further reading:

For more information on crepe myrtles (including other new varieties) see Jennifer Stackhouse’s article in the February edition of the Burkes Backyard magazine. Its available at newsagents for $4.60.

Tonto Crape Myrtle Tree

Giant Blooms, Even in the Smallest Spaces

Why Tonto Crape Myrtle Trees?

Get the promise of huge, eye-catching blooms, no matter the size of your landscape. With the Tonto Crape Myrtle Tree, you get rich fuchsia-red flowers throughout the summer, even in tiny gardens.

It’s the perfect tree for big color in small spaces. Plus, it’s disease resistant and adaptable to nearly any soil type, so hours spent maintaining your garden are a thing of the past. It thrives on neglect, delivering vivid color from late spring to early fall, even in drought conditions.

In fact, the Tonto is more resistant to common Crape diseases than any other variety. And because it’s so healthy and vibrant, it will be one of the last trees in your garden to lose its leaves each fall.

Why is Better

The Tonto Crape Myrtle was bred to give you an explosion of color without the hassle of a large tree.

Our experts have hand-selected this award-winning tree so that you get results. We have nurtured and shipped your tree with care and stronger roots. Now, you get a full, beautiful form that encourages the most blooms possible.

And your new tree has a well-developed root structure that will support rapid growth.

Our larger trees are ready to deliver color as soon as the first season. Don’t wait – these healthy, well-branched Tontos are going fast. Order your Tonto Crape Myrtle today!

Planting & Care

1. Planting: Select a site with well-drained soil and full sun (6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day).

Dig a hole twice as wide as the root ball and just as deep. Place the Tonto Crape Myrtle into the hole, ensuring it is standing straight. Backfill the soil, water to settle the roots, and apply a layer of mulch around your tree to help retain moisture.

2. Watering: Water your young tree up to three times a week during the first growing season. Once your tree is established, it will only need watering in times of extreme drought with no rainfall.

If you’re not sure when to water, simply check your surrounding soil about 3 inches down. When the soil is dry here, water your Tonto Crape.

3. Fertilizing: Feed your tree in the spring before new growth begins. A light application of 5-10-5 fertilizer is best.

4. Pruning: Watch for any leaves emerging from the base of the tree and remove promptly. To promote good air circulation, thin out young trees to 3 to 4 main branches and remove any dead or twiggy branches. Prune in late winter, before new growth begins.

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Lagerstroemia x ‘Tonto’ Tonto Crape Myrtle1

Edward F. Gilman2


A long period of striking summer flower color, attractive fall foliage, and good drought-tolerance all combine to make crape myrtle a favorite small tree for either formal or informal landscapes (Fig. 1). It is highly recommended for planting in urban and suburban areas.

Figure 1.

‘Tonto’ crape myrtle

General Information

Scientific name: Lagerstroemia x ‘Tonto’ Pronunciation: lay-gur-STREE-mee-uh Common name(s): ‘Tonto’ crape myrtle Family: Lythraceae Plant type: shrub USDA hardiness zones: 7 through 9 (Fig. 2) Planting month for zone 7: year round Planting month for zone 8: year round Planting month for zone 9: year round Origin: not native to North America Uses: border; container or above-ground planter; trained as a standard; accent Availability: somewhat available, may have to go out of the region to find the plant Figure 2.

Shaded area represents potential planting range.


Height: 5 to 10 feet Spread: 5 to 8 feet Plant habit: round Plant density: moderate Growth rate: moderate Texture: medium


Leaf arrangement: alternate Leaf type: simple Leaf margin: entire Leaf shape: oblong; obovate Leaf venation: pinnate Leaf type and persistence: deciduous Leaf blade length: 2 to 4 inches Leaf color: green Fall color: yellow; red Fall characteristic: showy


Flower color: red Flower characteristic: spring flowering; summer flowering Figure 3.

Flower of ‘Tonto’ crape myrtle


Fruit shape: oval Fruit length: .5 to 1 inch Fruit cover: dry or hard Fruit color: brown Fruit characteristic: persists on the plant

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/bark/branches: typically multi-trunked or clumping stems; showy; can be trained to grow with a short, single trunk Current year stem/twig color: reddish Current year stem/twig thickness: thin


Light requirement: plant grows in full sun Soil tolerances: slightly alkaline; clay; sand; acidic; loam Drought tolerance: high Soil salt tolerances: unknown Plant spacing: 36 to 60 inches


Roots: usually not a problem Winter interest: plant has winter interest due to unusual form, nice persistent fruits, showy winter trunk, or winter flowers Outstanding plant: not particularly outstanding Invasive potential: not known to be invasive Pest resistance: long-term health usually not affected by pests

Use and Management

Available in all shades of white, pink, red, or lavender, the 6- to 12-inch-long clustered blooms appear on the tips of branches during late spring and summer in USDA hardiness zones 9 and 10 as well as summer in other areas. The individual flowers are ruffled and crinkly as if made of crepe paper. The smooth, peeling bark and multi-branched, open habit of crape myrtle make it ideal for specimen planting where its bright red to orange-colored fall leaves add further interest. Most forms of the tree are upright, upright-spreading, or vase-shaped, spreading out as they ascend. Most tree types grow to 20 to 25 feet tall although there are more dwarf types available. The upright, vase-shaped crown makes the tall-growing selections well-suited for street tree planting.

Pruning should be done in late winter or early in the spring before growth begins because it is easier to see which branches to prune. New growth can be pinched during the growing season to increase branchiness and flower number. Pruning methods vary from topping, to cutting crape myrtle nearly to the ground each spring, to the removal of dead wood and old flower stalks only. Topping creates several long, thin branches from each cut which droop down under the weight of the flowers. This practice disfigures the nice trunk and branch structure. Lower branches are often thinned to show off the trunk form and color. You can remove the spent flower heads to encourage a second flush of flowers and to prevent formation of the brown fruits. Since cultivars are now available in a wide range of growth heights, severe pruning should not be necessary to control size. Severe pruning or topping can stimulate basal sprouting, which can become a constant nuisance, requiring regular removal. Some trees sprout from the base of the trunk and roots even without severe heading. This can be a maintenance nuisance.

Crape myrtle grows best in full sun with rich, moist soil but will tolerate less hospitable positions in the landscape just as well, once it becomes established. It grows well in limited soil spaces in urban areas such as along boulevards, in parking lots, and in small pavement cutouts if provided with some irrigation until well established. They tolerate clay and alkaline soil well. However, the flowers of some selections may stain car paint. Insect pests are few but crape myrtle is susceptible to powdery mildew damage, especially when planted in some shade or when the leaves are kept moist. There are new cultivars (many developed by the USDA) available that are resistant to powdery mildew and aphids.

Many cultivars of crape myrtle are available: hybrid ‘Acoma’, 14 to 16 feet tall, white flowers, purple-red fall foliage, mildew resistant; hybrid ‘Biloxi’, 25 feet tall, pale pink blooms, orange-red fall foliage, hardy and mildew resistant; ‘Cherokee’, 10 to 12 feet, bright red flowers; ‘Powhatan’, 14 to 20 feet, clear yellow fall foliage, medium purple flowers. The hybrid cultivars ‘Natchez’, 30 feet tall, pure white flowers, resistant to aphids, one of the best Crape-Myrtles; ‘Muskogee’, 24 feet tall, light lavender flowers, and ‘Tuscarora’, 16 feet tall, dark coral pink blooms, are hybrids between Lagerstroemia indica and Lagerstroemia fauriei and have greater resistance to mildew. The cultivar ‘Crape Myrtlette’ has the same color range as the species but only grow to three to four feet high. The National Arboretum releases are generally superior because they have been selected for their disease resistance. These releases may prove more resistant to powdery mildew in the Deep South, although further testing needs to be done to confirm this.

Propagation is by cuttings or seed.

Pests and Diseases

Aphids often infest the new growth causing an unsightly but harmless sooty mold to grow on the foliage. Heavy aphid infestations cause a heavy black sooty mold, which detracts from the tree’s appearance.

Powdery mildew can severely affect crape myrtle. Select resistant cultivars and hybrids to avoid this disease. Leaf spots are only a minor concern and do not require treatment.


This document is FPS-329, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date October 1999. Reviewed February 2014. Visit the EDIS website at

Edward F. Gilman, professor, Environmental Horticulture Department; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county’s UF/IFAS Extension office.
U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.

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