Redbud Trees: Good Things Come in Small Packages

There is nothing more gorgeous in spring than the graceful branches of the redbud tree outlined in glowing magenta-pink flowers. The redbud is a small tree, suitable for even the most compact yards, providing spring color, summer shade and fall color too. The Eastern Redbud tree, Cercis canadensis, is native to the eastern Untied States and may also be seen blooming in the woodlands in the spring. There are also redbud trees native to the West Coast of North America, China and southern Europe and Asia. The common name, Judas Tree, comes from the belief that Judas hung himself from a middle eastern redbud tree after betraying Christ.

The redbud tree's pea-like flowers pop out in early spring all along its branches and even along the trunk as the tree ages. Redbud trees bloom before the leaves appear, which makes the flowers even more visible. The leaves are heart-shaped and turn golden in the fall. Redbud flowers turn into large brown pods, containing 4 to 10 beanlike seeds. Redbud trees are rarely more than 25' high and about as wide.

Growing redbud trees
Redbuds are hardy from Zones 5 to 8. They need some cold weather to form flower buds, but in the northern parts of Zone 5, they should probably be planted in a protected area for the best blooms. Although the redbud will tolerate partial shade, it blooms best in sunny locations, particularly in the North. Redbuds tolerate a wide range of soil conditions as long as the area is well-drained; they will not grow in wet areas. Redbud trees are excellent for naturalized settings at the edge of woodlands. They are beautiful against a background of dark evergreens.

The temptation for homeowners who see a redbud in bloom is to buy a large tree so they can enjoy the blooms sooner in their own yard. But small, potted redbud trees are the easiest to establish and spring dormant planting is best. Trees grown from seed or cuttings of redbud trees growing in your area will adjust to your site more readily.

Redbud trees form a taproot and resent transplanting, so choose the location where you plant your redbud carefully. A tree shelter or tube helps redbud trees adapt to their new home and protects them from hungry animals. Redbuds usually begin to bloom in their seventh year if conditions are to their liking. Redbuds can also be started from seed planted in the fall where they are to grow or in pots outside. Although establishment may be slower than some other trees, and a little more care is required to get the redbud tree off to a good start, they are well worth the trouble.

The redbud tree often begins growing as multiple stems from a small, short trunk. Trimming off all but one center stem will make the redbud look more like a tree and will avoid the problem of narrow crotches that split from winds or ice. Other than early shaping of the tree and trimming off crossed or rubbing branches, the redbud will not need pruning.

Canker and Verticillium Wilt are the most important diseases of the redbud tree. Cankers begin as dark, sunken areas along the stems, and the area of limb beyond the canker will wilt and die. Canker areas should be pruned out; go at least one inch beyond the canker toward the trunk to make your cut and burn the pruned branch. Sterilize your pruning shears between each cut. Verticillium causes parts of the tree to suddenly wilt, or some branches may have leaves that turn yellow on the edges and then brown and die. There is no cure for Verticillium, but pruning off affected branches and fertilizing the tree may keep it alive for a few more years. Have the tree diagnosed by your county extension service before assuming it has Verticillium Wilt and removing it. Do not replant redbud trees where one has died from Verticillium Wilt as the disease remains in the soil for years.

Choosing varieties
The redbud Forest Pansy has purple leaves and rosy purple flowers. Alba has white flowers. Rubye Atkinson has flowers that are a gentle pink. Silver Cloud has leaves variegated with white. Hearts of Gold has golden leaves and pink flowers. Covey is a redbud with weeping branches. Avondale is a double-flowered Chinese redbud that grows more like a shrub. Hard-to-find Chinese redbud Cercis racemosa, or Chain Flowered Redbud, has flowers of silvery rose that hang from the branches in long chains. Some of these are less hardy than the common Eastern Redbud.

Using redbud trees
Redbud trees are used in the landscape as specimen trees or as shade trees for small spaces. They are also used in naturalized woodlands. The flowers of the redbud are edible and can be used in salads. Birds and other wildlife eat redbud seeds.

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