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How to Plant and Fertilize Crape Myrtle

Nolen is an avid gardener and has planted several different species and colors of crape myrtle trees around his yard.

After planting your crape myrtle, make sure to water it well.

After planting your crape myrtle, make sure to water it well.

Step 1: Decide Which Color and Pick a Spot

Crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia) is a super hardy and drought-tolerant shrub that can be a wonderful addition to any garden. This hardy plant does exceptionally well in warm climates, producing vibrant, colorful foliage even during the hottest time of the year.

There are many different colors of crape myrtle shrubs available. The most common colors are red, pink, and white. There's even a new purple/maroon variety available, which is also quite attractive. The variety we planted for this article is called Midnight Magic and features dark leaves and maroon or purple flowers.

Plan Ahead

You'll first want to consider how your garden will look in a few years, after the shrubs have matured to full size. Some varieties of crape myrtle can reach as large as 25' tall and 15' wide, so consider how they may interact with fences, outbuildings and walkways when they're mature. Also, be aware that some species of crape myrtles can send out "runners" which can sprout new plants up to several feet away from the main plant.

When planting more than one crape myrtle, you may want to consider alternating colors, or even choosing one single color for all of your plants, for a more uniform look.

Check Before You Dig

Be sure to check before you dig any holes, even it they're in your own yard. Often there are gas, cable, sewer and water lines buried just beneath the surface. When planting larger crape myrtle plants, which require deeper holes, first call 811, which is the National Call Before You Dig Hotline.

Step 2: Planting the Crape Myrtle

The next step is to dig a hole for your crape myrtle. A general rule of thumb for shrubs is that the hole you dig for it should be twice as wide and twice as deep as the pot that the plant came in. Our crape myrtle came in a 10" X 8" pot, so we dug our hole 20" wide and 16" deep.

Break Up Tangled Roots

After you've dug your hole and cleaned it out, gently remove the crape myrtle from its container.

Next you'll want to untangle any roots that may have become tangled up against the sides and bottom of the pot. Straightening and tearing these roots apart will allow them to grow outward and prevent your shrub from becoming "root bound".

Placing the Crape Myrtle Into the Hole

Add some potting mix to your hole until you're able to place the plant into it with the roots being slightly above ground level. After you've watered the plant and it settles, the top of the root ball should be fairly level with the surface of your yard.

Water It Well

After you've planted your crape myrtle, be sure to water it very well by trickling water from a hose placed at the base of the plant for several minutes. Your goal is not only to water the plant, but also to wet the soil around it in all directions, so that the young roots can begin to grow into it.

For smaller plants, you may want to use a wooden stake and ties to help support the weight of the branches, at least until the roots are better established.

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Fertilize Your Crape Myrtle

If your plant is healthy and isn't stressed, it's OK to go ahead and fertilize it, but go easy. Use a smaller amount of fertilizer than what is recommended on the label for that size of shrub.

For our 24" tall plant, we used one tablespoon of Vigoro Tree, Shrub and Evergreen Fertilizer, scattered around the base of it. It has a 16-4-8 NPK ratio (Nitrogen–Phosphorous–Potassium), which is ideal for crape myrtle plants.

You can also use any good balanced fertilizer, such as those with an NPK ratio of 8–8–8 or 10–10–10, both of which work for crape myrtles as well.

Be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions for the correct amount of fertilizer to apply on the size of crape myrtle you've planted.

Care After Planting

You'll definitely want to water and fertilize your crape myrtle in the spring, and it's also not a bad idea to do so again in the fall, if you want really lush foliage.

Crape myrtles are hardy, drought tolerant, and don't require much care after planting, which is probably why I love them so much!

Should You Prune Crape Myrtle?

Some gardeners refer to the act of pruning crape myrtle as "crape murder" since they're so appalled by the practice.

Research done by the University of Florida, however, seems to have put this age-old question to rest, or at least given some clarity to the question of whether you should do so.

If you choose the right crape myrtle species for your planting application, pruning shouldn't be necessary, and you're better off leaving it alone to grow into its natural shape.

It may be necessary in some cases to prune a crape myrtle though, such as if it's approaching overhead power lines or causing issues with a fence or outbuilding.

Food for Bees

Crape myrtles will live for decades and their flowers can provide food for honeybees and butterflies. It's interesting to note that they produce two types of pollen grains: one for fertilization and the other that's a false pollen, which is most liked by honeybees for its digestibility.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Nolen Hart

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