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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Tuesday - June 12, 2012

From: Wesley Chapel, FL
Region: Southeast
Topic: Non-Natives, Compost and Mulch, Planting, Trees
Title: Transplant shock in non-native crape myrtle from Wesley Chapel, FL
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I just bought a 12 ft. crape myrtle and planted it, giving it plenty of water I think. After 3 days the leaves are wilting and flowers are falling off.

ANSWER:

Lagerstroemia indica, (crape myrtle), article from the United States National Arboretum, is native to Japan and China. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is dedicated to the growth, propagation and protection of plants native not only to North America but to the areas in which those plants grow natively. The reason for this is that plants native to an area have a better chance of surviving conditions where they are growing in which they have many centuries of experience, thus saving resources like money, water and back muscles.

This is a classic case of what we call wrong plant, wrong place, wrong time.

Wrong plant: Crape myrtle is native neither to North America nor to Florida.

Wrong place: We don't know where you planted your tree but if it was not in a hole bigger than the rootball, with additional  compost, and provisions for drainage, then it is in the wrong place. For care, see this article Crape Murder from Auburn University Extension.

Wrong time: Apparently you put this plant in the ground about the first of June, just when temperatures were really heating up in Florida (and everywhere else.) In warm temperature areas, we recommend that woody plants (trees and shrubs) be planted from November to January, when the plants are dormant. While this tree appreciates full sun, it doesn't like being planted when the full sun is blazing.

The last, wrong time, is probably one of the greatest causes for transplant shock. Plant that have possibly been in the pot in which they are purchased for more than a year, may need root pruning so the roots can grow into soil, instead of winding around and strangling the plant. It takes those new little rootlets a while to get out into the soil and start bringing water in for the stems and leaves. Without that cooling transpiration of water from the leaves, they will wilt; so would you. The flowers are discarded to reduce the load on the tree. Blooming requires a great deal of energy in a plant at a time when it needs all its energy to stay alive.

We don't know if this tree can be saved, but here are our recommendations:

1.  Don't fertilize, that just adds more stress to an already stressed tree.

2.  To water, stick a hose down in the (hopefully) soft soil around the tree and let the water drip slowly until it comes to the surface. Do this about twice a week during the hot weather unless you are getting a lot of rain.

3.  Get a good-quality shredded bark mulch and spread it about 4 inches deep around the root area, but do not allow it to crowd up against the trunk; this can cause insect and fungus damage. The mulch will help keep the roots cool or warm, as needed, hold in water and help to discourage weeds.

 

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