Crape Myrtles: How to Plant and Care for this Southern Belle

August 30, 2022

Like all trees, proper planting and ongoing care is crucial for your crape myrtle to look its best for years to come.


Nothing embodies hospitality like the crape myrtle. With its blushing flowers, attractive bark, and lovely fall foliage, this is the tree that keeps on giving with its year-round curb appeal. Like all trees, proper planting and ongoing care is crucial for your crape myrtle to look its best for years to come. Here’s how to make a crape myrtle feel welcome in your landscape!


Choosing a Planting Location

Crape myrtles love to bask in the sun; they will thrive in a location with at least 6 hours of direct sunlight. A location with lots of airflow and average, well-draining soil will encourage healthy foliage and abundant flowers. Unlike most other plants, fertilizing and enriching the soil is not recommended for crape myrtles as it tends to result in fewer flowers.


How to Plant Crape Myrtles

Prepare a hole three to four times the width of your crape myrtle’s nursery container but no deeper. Ideally, you want the base of the tree’s trunk to sit level with the soil line once you’ve planted it. 

Ease the root ball out of the nursery container and massage it gently to loosen the roots before placing the new tree into the center of the hole. Backfill the hole halfway, tamp it down slightly to press out any air pockets, then water. Then, backfill the rest of the soil in a basin shape around the trunk. The basin shape will help hold and direct water toward its tender roots the first few weeks after planting.


Your Crape Myrtle’s First Year

The first few months of your crape myrtle’s new life will involve 1-2 weekly waterings, unless the rain beats you to it. Crape myrtles planted in winter, spring, and fall should manage well with just one deep watering per week, but if you choose to plant in summer, you may need to add an extra weekly watering if there are heatwave or drought conditions. Apply mulch around the base of the trunk, avoiding direct contact with the tree, to help conserve moisture.

After the first flowering, you’ll notice seed pods forming on your crape myrtle’s branches. Take care to remove them whenever possible, unless you hope to start a whole crape myrtle forest on your property!


Pruning Crape Myrtles

The number one killer of crape myrtles isn’t a fungus, a pest, or a disease—it’s a well-meaning human with a pair of loppers. How you prune your young crape myrtle can make or break its appearance for years to come, so great technique is vital!

  1. Use clean, disinfected tools. Depending on the thickness of the branches you need to cut, you may need hand clippers, a pruning saw, or loppers.
  2. Cut at the right spots. The best place to make your cuts is at the node of a branch, or where it splits off into a new branch.
  3. Time your pruning. Crape myrtles recover faster from pruning if you time it for late winter, just before the tree comes out of dormancy.
  4. Remove suckers. These are lower limbs thinner than a pencil’s width. You’ll want to leave 3-5 strong trunks to grow and form the main structure of the tree.
  5. Clip off problem branches. Removing wayward branches early on will save you a headache down the road; this includes any branches growing downward, branches that cross over another branch, or any that show signs of disease or damage.
  6. Thin the canopy. Airflow is important for crape myrtles—they can be prone to powdery mildew if the branches aren’t well-spaced. Prune sparingly, but just enough that you don’t have clumps of foliage.
  7. Don’t take too much off the top! Chopping upper branches down is how you end up with the dreaded “knobby” appearance. Instead, if you must reduce the height of your crape myrtle, trim the tallest branches back to a lower node. Better yet, choose a variety that fits your space at full maturity—we’ve got plenty of crape myrtles for sale at our Glenside garden center.


With the proper care, your crape myrtle will become a beloved presence in your landscape for decades, sharing her charm with everyone who happens on by.