Redbud trees are deciduous trees renowned for their ornamental beauty. They are members of the Fabaceae family, which is the pea and legume family.
In early spring, they explode with vibrant pink to purple blossoms. Their distinctive heart-shaped leaves and gracefully spreading branches contribute to their visual allure. Redbud trees are a popular choice for a feature tree in the garden.
Not only are redbud trees visually stunning, but they are also a crucial food source for pollinators. The early blossoms are a welcome food source for many important pollinators. Let’s dive into the enchanting world of redbud trees and how to make them thrive in your garden.
The captivating sight of spring redbud blooms led to their popularity as ornamental garden trees.
Redbud trees are native to North America. Indigenous peoples in North America used them medicinally and as a dye.
In the 17th century, colonists and explorers came into contact with these fabulous trees. The early blooming spring flowers were a striking sight. Soon, they became ornamental garden trees known for their flowers and hardiness. They are grown in many gardens throughout the old and new world.
Eastern redbuds, with various varieties, are a preferred choice in gardens.
There are two main types of redbud trees: the Eastern (Cercis canadensis) and Western (Cercis occidentalis). Eastern redbuds are much larger, almost reaching double the height of their western counterparts. Eastern redbuds are also hardier and can be grown down to USDA zones 4-9.
Western redbuds are only hardy from zones 6-9. Finally, Eastern redbuds have lighter-colored flowers and heart-shaped leaves. Westerns have darker flowers and more round-shaped leaves. Eastern redbuds are a more popular choice in the garden, with many varieties available.
Avoid starting from cuttings or seeds, as they take time to establish and may not be true to the parent plant.
When it comes to growing large trees, I view it as an investment. Therefore, I think it is important to start right. This is why I don’t recommend starting trees from cutting or seeds.
Cuttings take a long time to establish. Seeds take even longer and might not come true to the parent plant. Going to a reputable greenhouse or nursery and choosing a healthy-looking tree is the way to go.
The chosen location matters! Dig a hole larger than the root ball, add fertilizer, and water the tree well once transplanted.
When planting a tree that will be growing for decades, it is important to take your time and get it planted correctly.
Start by choosing a suitable location (read the how-to-grow section below). You will want to dig the hole two to three times larger than the tree’s root ball. At this point, I will fill the hole with water and let it drain. I will add some transplant fertilizer or bone/blood meal into the hole. I will then remove my redbud tree from its pot. Take some time to rough up and untangle the roots.
Place the tree into the hole you dug. I will take my time and spin the tree and choose the exact way I want it to face. Take about two-thirds of the existing soil and blend in about a third of your preferred organic matter. This can be compost, worm castings, aged manure, or sea soil. Fill in the tree. Ensure the tree’s crown is level with the soil, and do not bury any of the trunk.
Now, it is time to water. I like to leave the hose on a slow trickle to get the water in nice and deep. You will want to check regularly to ensure your new tree is watered for the first season. Water is crucial for your new tree to establish. Again, I like to water low and slow to get it deep into the earth so your new tree will root down deeper.
How to Grow
Growing your redbud tree in its ideal conditions will provide you with more blooms and an overall healthier and more beautiful tree.
Optimal for full to partial sun, redbud trees won’t bloom in excessive shade.
Redbud trees grow best in full to partial sun. They will not bloom if they are planted in too much shade.
If you live in an area with very hot sun, or if the tree is near a building or concrete that will reflect more sunlight, give it some afternoon shade. If exposed to too much sun, your redbud tree is vulnerable to sunscald on the trunk. This shows up as peeling, split bark.
If you cannot shade the tree’s trunk, consider coating the trunk in white arborist’s paint. This is an air-permeable paint that helps reflect the heat away from the bark.
Redbud trees flourish in rich, well-drained soil, a preference many garden plants share.
Redbud trees prefer rich, well-drained soil. This is what many typical plants in your garden also prefer.
I usually do a soil squeeze test to help determine my soil type. Grab a handful of soil and squeeze it together. It should crumble apart slowly once you release it. If it sticks together like putty, it has too high clay content and will not be well-drained.
Add peat, coconut coir, or organic matter to help loosen it. If the soil slips through your fingers, it is too sandy and doesn’t have enough nutrients. Add lots of organic matter.
Applying a layer of mulch around the tree’s base aids in retaining moisture.
Redbud trees are native, so they don’t require much supplemental watering except in periods of drought. I like to water trees low and slow to ensure the moisture goes deep down into the roots. Leave a drip hose on, or just lay your regular hose at the drip line (the ground below where the branches reach) for a few hours.
Make sure your tree gets enough water going into the winter season. I think sometimes we finish the summer garden season and forget that the plants still need water if there hasn’t been much rain.
Adding a layer of mulch around the tree’s base is a great way to keep the water in and the tree moist.
Climate and Temperature Requirements
Eastern Redbud trees, thriving in USDA zones 4-9, withstand the cold better than their Western counterparts.
Eastern Redbud trees are hardier than their Western counterparts. The Eastern redbud tree can be grown in USDA hardiness zones 4-9, whereas the Western redbud can be grown in zones 6-9.
They should be planted in a sheltered location. Too much direct sun or harsh winds can cause sunscald on the tree’s trunk.
In the event of fertilization, a slow-release fertilizer specifically formulated for trees is applied during the spring season.
I don’t fertilize my trees often. Instead, I rely on adding lots of rich organic matter into my garden beds to amend the soil. Apply generously in the early spring or fall. Worm castings or compost tea are my favorite things to add. It makes all your garden plants happy.
If you want to fertilize, use a slow-release fertilizer formulated for trees and shrubs. Apply it in the spring.
Optimal pruning times are late winter for visibility of the tree’s structure or in spring after flowering.
Redbud trees are fairly low maintenance. However, like all trees, they benefit from pruning. This will help maintain the shape and health of the tree. While redbuds maintain a nice shape on their own, they may tend to become shrub-like. You may need to prune and shape it into a single-stemmed tree (if that’s the look you want). This needs to be done while your tree is still young. Prune off lower branches, keeping one single branch.
You will also want to remove any damaged branches. Remove any branches that cross over each other. Use clean, sharp pruners and make angled cuts that face downwards to prevent pests and diseases from entering.
It is best to prune your redbud in the late winter months. It is easier to see the shape or skeleton of your tree. But it can also be done in the spring after your redbud has flowered. Avoid pruning in the fall. This can affect the flowers for the next season.
Their moderate size and non-intrusive roots allow for versatile garden arrangements.
Redbud trees are a lovely feature tree to add to your garden. Unlike many trees, they stay somewhat compact. They won’t block out light or compete with other plants for water and nutrients. They make a great focal point and add structure and height to the garden.
Consider planting a variety of perennials below your redbud trees. Lots of perennials like a bit of dappled afternoon shade, which a redbud can provide. Peonies, delphinium, pansies, and iris are all great choices for planting underneath a redbud.
They can also be planted on the street or boulevard to create an eye-catching canopy.
Its reddish heart-shaped leaves emerge, deepening into a rich burgundy come fall.
‘Forest Pansy’ is a popular variety of Eastern redbud. It blooms a flourish of purple flowers in the early spring. Then, its reddish heart-shaped foliage will emerge. As fall approaches, the leaves will deepen into a burgundy color.
With its characteristic pink flowers and heart-shaped leaves, it adopts an elegant, downward-sweeping form.
‘Lavender Twist’ is a weeping variety of Eastern redbud. It has the same showy pink flowers and heart-shaped leaves as other redbud varieties. But it takes on a downturned weeping form. This is a great option for small gardens.
This redbud graces gardens with its romantic and elegant white spring blooms, adding a touch of brightness.
‘Royal White’ blooms with delicate white flowers in the spring. It is a romantic and elegant variety and can add a touch of brightness to your garden.
Following its pink spring blooms, golden yellow heart-shaped leaves emerge.
‘Golden Falls’ is another weeping variety. It has an interesting weeping form as it is narrow and columnar. After it blooms, its pink spring blooms and golden yellow heart-shaped leaves emerge. This one is great for small spaces and even containers.
Pests and Diseases
If grown in their ideal conditions, redbud trees have very few problems. If you notice something on your tree or it is dying, there are some possible causes to watch for.
If detected, treat with fungicide and dispose of leaf litter in the fall to prevent reinfection.
Powdery mildew is a common fungus affecting all kinds of garden plants and trees. You will notice a dusty white film on the foliage of your tree. It is best to prevent powdery mildew from growing rather than dealing with it after it forms.
Avoid overhead spraying the foliage of your tree when watering. Also, make sure you plant your trees with enough space in between, around six to eight feet for redbud trees. This will allow airflow between the trees and will prevent powdery mildew from forming.
If you notice powdery on your redbud tree, you will want to spray the foliage with a fungicide. Clean up and dispose of the leaf litter in the fall to prevent reinfection.
These troublesome pests drain vitality from trees, leaving their sticky honeydew behind.
Aphids are an annoying pest that can suck the life out of your trees. You will notice small bugs on the leaves, particularly the underside and the leaf nodes. They will emit a sticky substance known as honeydew and suck the vibrancy and life out of the foliage as they feed on the sap.
I usually begin with a good blast with the hose to remove the aphids.
Your best bet is to attract beneficial predators like ladybugs to your garden. They will feast on the aphids. Beware of ants in your aphids. While they may look like they are eating the aphids, they only harvest the sticky honeydew they produce.
Insecticidal soap can also be sprayed onto the foliage to destroy the aphids.
As a result of fungal or bacterial infection, cankers manifest as sunken black spots on branches.
Cankers are caused by fungal or bacterial pathogens that find their way into the branches and stems and cause sunken black spots on them. There are no treatments for cankers, so prevention is key to your tree’s health.
Cut off and dispose of any cankered branches if their removal does not significantly harm the plant. Ones on the trunk may need to be monitored to ensure that the tree maintains its vigor. Keep your tree healthy and growing in ideal conditions to prevent cankers from forming.
Frequently Asked Questions
A: Redbud trees can live anywhere from 20 to 50+ years, depending on the variety and the growing conditions.
A: Planting them too close to your house is not recommended. Aim for at least 10’ from your house. A better rule of thumb is to plant any tree at least 20′ away from walls or structures, as this ensures the root system cannot cause potential cracking or damage to the walls/structures as it develops underneath.
A: Redbuds drop their leaves in the fall. But unlike some other flowering trees (ornamental crabapples etc.), they do not drop fruit or berries.
A: Members of the pea family are known as nitrogen fixers in the garden. Unfortunately, there is one exception, and that is the redbud. They do not fix nitrogen in the soil like other members of the Fabaceae family do.
Redbuds are beautiful trees that have spectacular blooms in the spring. They also have attractive foliage in the summer and nice fall foliage in the fall. They also have a nice structure that adds interest to your winter garden.
Not only are they beautiful, but redbuds are also US native trees adapted to living in our climate and conditions. These easy-to-care-for trees make a perfect feature specimen in your garden.