Crepe Myrtle Transplanting: When And How To Transplant Crepe Myrtle Trees

By: Teo Spengler

With long-lasting, beautiful blooms, easy-care crepe myrtle is a garden favorite. It is an ideal landscape tree for the high desert and a lovely ornamental in any backyard. If your mature crepe myrtle needs to be transplanted, it’s critical to be on top of the procedure. When to transplant crepe myrtle? How to transplant crepe myrtle? Read on for all the information you need to make transplanting a crepe myrtle a snap.

Moving Crepe Myrtles

If you plant a tree, you hope to put in in a “forever” location, where it can live out its life comfortably and in harmony with its surroundings. But life happens all around us, and sometimes these plans don’t work out.

If you planted your crepe myrtles in a spot you now regret, you aren’t the only one. Crepe myrtles flower best in sun. Perhaps you chose a sunny site but now neighboring trees are throwing shade on the area. Or maybe the crepe myrtle just needs more space.

Crepe myrtle transplanting involves essentially three steps. These are: digging a hole in an appropriate new site, digging out the rootball, and transplanting a crepe myrtle in the new spot.

When to Transplant Crepe Myrtle

Before you get starting digging, you’ll want to figure out when to transplant crepe myrtle. The best possible time to start moving crepe myrtle is when the tree is dormant. That period runs from the time the tree loses its leaves to spring leaf break.

Late winter is usually cited as the best time for crepe myrtle transplanting. You’ll need to wait until the soil is workable but act before the first leaves appear.

How to Transplant Crepe Myrtle

Crepe myrtle transplanting starts with selecting a new location for the tree. Think about its requirements then find the spot that works best. You’ll need a sunny location for best flowering, plus some elbow room for the tree.

Moving crepe myrtles requires a bit of digging. First, dig out a new planting hole. It has to be large enough to fit all of the tree’s current roots, but somewhat wider, to allow those roots to expand.

Next, you need to dig out the tree. The bigger your tree, the more friends you should invite to help. Dig around the outside of the roots, taking a root ball that is some 2 to 3 feet (.6-.9 m.) in diameter. This will ensure that the plant moves to its new location with sufficient roots to survive.

The next step in transplanting a crepe myrtle is to get the root ball out of the soil. With the help of your friends, lift the root ball onto a tarp. Then pull the tarp over to the new planting site and set the root ball in the hole.

During this stage of crepe myrtle transplanting, position the tree so that the top of the root ball is even with the soil surface. Flood the root area with water. Keep watering regularly during the first few growing seasons at the new location.

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How to Replant Crape Myrtle Sprouts

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Crape myrtle (lagerstroemia indica) suffers a minor identity crisis. The spelling of “crape” is the spelling preferred by most American gardeners and the American Horticultural Society. Southerners spell it “crepe,” the French word identifying the colorful blossoms that resemble crepe paper. Whichever spelling you prefer, the task at hand is to replant the tree’s sprouts, creating more crape. But don’t plan on snipping off the sucker from the tree trunk and getting another tree. The only sprouts that’ll take to transplanting are those with roots, and they’re found adjacent to the existing tree.

Getting Your Crape Myrtle Trees Ready to Plant

The very first thing to do is un-wrap your trees. Remove all the wrapping materials, remove the trees from the box and remove any wrapping around the trees themselves. Leave the tree in its pot until you are ready to plant.

If you receive your trees in winter – which is a great planting season as long as the ground is not frozen – then of course they will have no leaves on them. That is normal – as soon as spring comes your tree will send out its fresh, new leaves and begin to grow.

Move your plant around by picking up the pot – do not lift it by the trunk or stem.

Care Before Planting Time

Your trees have been on a journey and they will be a little stressed, so place them in a shady part of your garden and give them a good watering. Do not put them in the garage, a shed or in the house, even if it is cold outside. After a couple of days in the shade, move your trees to a sunny location, they will live happily in pots for some time as long as you care for them. Remember to water every day or every second day, depending on how warm the weather is – do not let the pot become completely dry, but don’t water a pot that is already damp. If it does become very dry, place it in a bucket and half-fill the bucket with water so that the soil can soak completely.

Choosing a Planting Location

Crape Myrtle Trees need plenty of sun, so choose a bright sunny spot for your planting. They are idea for those hot, dry places where other plants do not thrive, so take advantage of that and use them in places that can be hard to fill. They will grow in shadier spots too, but you will get fewer flowers the shadier it gets.

If you are planting a screen, remember that if you plant right on your property line your neighbor has a legal right to cut back your tree to the property line, which may not look very nice, so plant well inside your property so that you have control over the growth and pruning of your tree. Allow at least three feet back from that line – for larger types of Crape Myrtle five feet is better.

Setting Out Your Planting

If you are planting a screen of Crape Myrtles, space the plants according to how tall they will become. If they will grow over 20 feet tall, allow six to eight feet between each plant. For smaller plants allow four to six feet and if you are planting a low hedge of very small varieties, allow two to three feet.

If you are planting against a fence, plant at least three feet from the fence, not right up against it, or your plants will not be bushy right to the ground.

For a more solid screen you can even plant a double row, staggering the plants in each row. Place the rows three feet apart and the plants between six and ten feet apart in the rows, depending on their final size.

For a group planting of smaller varieties, space them 75% of the final width apart. So if each plant will grow four feet wide, plant three feet apart. This will create an attractive solid group.

Preparing the Planting Site

Good soil preparation is the key to the success of your tree. Crape Myrtles enjoy a soil that has some organic material in it, but it must be well-drained and even if it becomes completely dry in summer that will not be a problem. Whatever your soil is like, use it. Do not try to dig a hole and fill it with soil you bought somewhere else. If your soil is poor, just use extra organic material.

You goal is to make a large area of looser soil that the young roots can penetrate easily, getting food as they go and establishing quickly. You need to have an area at least three times the diameter of the pot, dug as deep as your spade will go. Add some organic material to the soil as you dig. Almost any kind of organic material is good, among the best are well-rotted animal manure garden compost any ‘top-soil’ from a garden center or peat-moss. A bucket per tree is about right, but less is OK too, Crape Myrtles are tough plants.

In addition, trees need fertilizer to help develop their roots. This can be rock phosphate or bone-meal or any kind of superphosphate. There are many ‘tree planting’ fertilizers available too and they all work well, so whatever is available will be fine.

Remove roots of weeds from the area and any stones bigger than your fist. Smaller stones can be left and it is not a good idea to sieve the soil to remove smaller stones they are best left in and can help with drainage.

Turn over the soil, mixing the organic material and fertilizer into it and then level it off and get ready to plant. Save some of the organic material you used to mulch your tree after planting.

Preparing the Tree

The evening before you are going to plant, give the pot a good soaking with water. If the root ball is dry when you plant, it may stay that way and cause your tree to suffer from dryness even if the surrounding soil is damp.

Digging the Hole

Now dig a hole in the exact spot where you want your tree to be, making it twice the diameter of the pot, but only just as deep. If you have dug the soil deeper than that, use your foot to press down the soil in the bottom of the hole, to form a firm base beneath the tree. This is to prevent it from sinking deeper than you want in the hole after you have planted it.

For row planting of smaller varieties it can be easier to take out a trench along the planting line, rather than dig individual holes.

Removing the Pot

Take your tree to the planting hole and slide the pot gently off. You may need to tap the edge a couple of times to release the roots, but it should slide out pretty easily. Usually there will be plenty of roots filling the pot and the root-ball will stay together and not fall apart at all.

If it looks like the soil is going to fall off the roots, don’t worry, that is easily dealt with. If you tree is dormant, with no leaves, then just let any extra soil fall into the planting hole. If your tree is growing, with green leaves, then leave it in the pot, take a sharp knife and cut around the bottom of the pot and remove the base. Then get someone to hold the pot together while you cut down the side of the pot. Tie a piece of string around it to hold together while you plant.

Types of Crepe Myrtle Trees

Japanese Crepe Myrtle

L. fauriei. Native to Japan. Tree to 20–30 ft. tall and wide, with erect habit and outward-arching branches. Light green leaves to 4 in. long and 2 in. wide turn yellow in fall. Especially handsome bark: the smooth gray outer bark flakes away to reveal glossy cinnamon brown bark beneath. Small white flowers are borne in 2- to
4-in.-long clusters in early summer often blooms again in late summer. Resistant to mildew and best known as a parent of hardy, mildew-resistant hybrids with L. indica, though it is handsome in its own right. ‘Fantasy', with even showier bark than the species, has a vase form―narrow below, spreading above. ‘Kiowa' has outstanding cinnamon-colored bark.

Indica Crepe Myrtle

L. indica. The premier summer-flowering tree of the South. Tolerates heat, humidity, drought does well in most soils as long as they are well drained. May be frozen to the ground in severe winters in the Upper South, but will resprout. Gardeners there should plant cold-hardy selections such as ‘Acoma', ‘Centennial Spirit', and ‘Hopi'. Variable in size (some forms are dwarf shrubs, others large shrubs or small trees) and habit (spreading or upright). Dark green leaves are 1–2 1/2 in. long and somewhat narrower, usually tinted red when new they often turn brilliant orange or red in fall. Crinkled, crepe-papery, 1- to 1 1/2-in.-wide flowers in white or shades of pink, red, or purple are carried in dense clusters.

Trained as a tree, it develops an attractive trunk and branch pattern. Smooth gray or light brown bark peels off to reveal smooth, pinkish inner bark winter trunk and branches seem polished.

Mildew can be a problem. Spray with triforine (Funginex) before plants bloom, or grow mildew-resistant hybrids of L. indica and L. fauriei. Almost all selections with names of Native American tribes, such as ‘Hopi', ‘Miami', and ‘Zuni', are mildew resistant.

Queen's Crepe Myrtle

L. speciosa. Zones TS 12–9. Tree to 25–30 ft. tall, 15–25 ft. wide. The showiest and most tender of the crepe myrtles, displaying huge clusters of white, pink, lavender, or purple flowers in June and July. Individual blossoms reach 3 in. across. Large leaves (8–12 in. long, 4 in. wide) turn red in fall. Smooth, mottled, exfoliating bark. Rank grower annual pruning in winter is especially important to control size and form.

How to Grow Crepe Myrtle

This article was co-authored by Lauren Kurtz. Lauren Kurtz is a Naturalist and Horticultural Specialist. Lauren has worked for Aurora, Colorado managing the Water-Wise Garden at Aurora Municipal Center for the Water Conservation Department. She earned a BA in Environmental and Sustainability Studies from Western Michigan University in 2014.

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Crepe myrtles are summer flowering trees admired for their vibrant pink, red, purple, and white blossoms. Their natural beauty, resilience, and minimal need for tending make them a welcome addition to any yard or garden. Since the trees thrive in warm, humid conditions, they’ll do best in a well-drained patch of soil somewhere they can receive plenty of direct sunlight. Once you’ve planted your crepe myrtles, spread mulch around the base of the trunk to protect against moisture loss, apply a well-balanced fertilizer once a year, and water as needed to keep them producing healthy, flowers when they return each season.

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