The pretty, early spring blooms of the Mexican redbud tree are a welcome sight for gardeners who have spent the long winter months looking forward to the first signs of spring. This tree is very striking with the foliage, flowers, and form, and this makes it a very versatile addition to your garden.
It grows naturally in a straight shape that many people find very appealing. You can train it to grow in different shapes if you like using ties and stakes when it’s young, as long as you do so when the tree goes dormant in winter and late fall. Doing so can help the Mexican redbud tree grow taller too. We’ll outline everything you need to know about this tree and how to keep it healthy and thriving below.
The Mexican redbud tree is a smaller shrub-like tree that produces dark green foliage and brilliant purple flowers.
Description of the Mexican Redbud Tree
Mexican redbud is a deciduous, woody, perennial tree or shrub that falls into the Fabaceae family. It can top out at 11 to 15 feet wide and 11 to 15 feet high. It has a very dense rounded crown, and it’s native to the northeastern portion of Mexico and southwest Texas. The genus name is Cercis, and this comes from the Greek word kerkis, and this means weaver’s shuffle. This name refers to the seed pod that has the shape and size of a weaver’s shuttle that was used to move the thread back and forth on a loom. The common name comes from the inner bark as it has a reddish color.
The Mexican redbud tree can grow in all types of soil, including rocky, shallow areas that have excellent drainage and occasionally dry out. It likes partial shade or full sun, and it’s recommended that you propagate it using stem cuttings or seeds.
There has been an ongoing debate over the difference between Cercis canadensis var. Texensis and Cercis canadensis var. Mexicana. The two types are very similar, morphologically speaking, and you can tell them apart based on where they are geographically. Generally speaking, the leaf blade you find on var. Mexicana has an undulate margin, and the leaf blade on var. Texensis is more flat.
Plant your Mexican redbud tree in an area of your yard or garden where the pea-like, showy flowers will get enjoyed all spring. It does very well planted in native, pollinator, butterfly, and drought-tolerant garden setups. It attracts birds, butterflies, and bees, so it blends well into different design themes.
Mexican Redbud Tree – Quick Guideline
|Average Mature Size||12 to 20 feet tall and wide, moderate growth rate|
|Bloom Time||Early spring|
|Botanical Pronunciation||SER-sis kan-a-DEN-sis meks-ih-KAY-nuh|
|Companion Plants||Autumn sage, Penstemon, Russian sage, and Spanish lavender|
|Deciduous or Evergreen||Deciduous|
|Light Needs||Partial sun to full sun|
|Lore||This plant has the redbud name because the inner bark is red-tinged. It was very valuable to Native American basket makers as a source of natural contrast and pattern without any dyes.|
|Special Features||Easy care, attracts butterflies, fall colors, benefits birds|
|Watering Needs||Low – Water when the top three inches of soil dry out|
The Mexican redbud tree responds well to general-purpose fertilizer applications in the spring before the flowers start to open. This will start the growth process off strong to ensure you get maximum flowers.
Fertilizing your Mexican redbud tree in the spring can give it a boost of energy to produce large flowers and healthy foliage.
Ideally, your Mexican redbud tree will go into a location that gets full sun for six or more hours of direct sunlight per day, or it can go in a spot that gets partial sunlight for two to six hours a day. You’ll get better flower production in full light.
Like most deciduous trees that bloom early in the spring months, the Mexican redbud tree needs soil that drains very well. When you plant it, make sure you add plenty of compost and some peat moss to the soil. Pick a good location as they don’t like be get transplanted once you put them in their place.
Temperature and Humidity
Since this plant originates in Mexico and Texas, it’s not a very cold-hardy specimen. It can survive temperatures as low as -5-degrees Fahrenheit with protection, but it prefers to have winter protection outside of zone five. Put a few inches of mulch on the ground around your tree, leaving a few inches of space between the trunk and mulch line before the snow flies or cold temperatures set in.
You’ll want to make a point to regularly water at the base of the tree, especially during dry spells. Since this tree is slightly short-lived, it’s not as resilient to extreme weather conditions and drought as their cousins, the oaks or maples are.
Mexican Redbud Tree – Cultural Conditions
|Available Spacing||6 to 12 feet apart|
|Region||Texas and Mexico|
|Soil Drainage||Good that dries out occasionally|
|Soil pH||Acidic, alkaline, to neutral (6.0 to 8.0)|
|Soil Texture||Loam, clay, shallow rocky, and sand|
|USDA Hardiness Zone||5|
How to Plant Mexican Redbud Trees
Your redbud will need a minimum of four hours of sunlight every day. Plant it in full sun for a more symmetrical and compact habitat or in light shade to get a more delicate, arching form. These small, adaptable trees will happily grow in most soil types as long as it’s not wet constantly. Plant them in cool spring or fall conditions to allow the tree to establish itself without huge water demands.
Growing From Seed
The Mexican redbud tree grows happily from seed, and they tend to grow very quickly when they’re young. If you give them plenty of water and fertilizer, it can get as high as seven feet in just five short years. Along with quickly filling space in your garden, it will also start to bloom in just two to four short years.
You’ll need to prepare the seeds before you plant them by scarifying them or scratching the seed coat to let water in. Then, you’ll have to do a cold treatment. Redbuds have adapted in a way that allows the seeds to survive cool winter weather and feeding on bt animals. These treatments mimic those natural processes to ensure they sprout.
Start the process by getting sandpaper or a nail file and gently scruffing a small section of the seed coat. Wrap the seeds up in a moist paper towel, fold it, and then place them in a sealed plastic bag. Put this bag in the crisper drawer in your refrigerator for 60 days before you want to plant them.
Instead of going through the trouble of seed treatments, a lot of people choose to allow established Mexican redbud trees to self-seed throughout the landscape. Any seedlings that appear the following season are ones you can dig up and plant in another spot. Some redbud trees have been bred specifically to produce a limited amount of seed pods, and this reduces how many trees they produce. Keep in mind that any variety that was bred for foliage, flower, or form usually won’t have the same traits as the parent plants.
Growing from seed is a much more involved process than growing from nursery-started plants, but this tree grows well from both methods.
Growing from Nursery Plants
If you have a container-grown Mexican redbud tree, use a planting knife, spade, or a hand saw to remove the circling roots from the outside of your root ball. Although this can seem very drastic, research suggests that once the roots start to circle, they will keep growing in this direction, even if you untangle them.
Remove some of your potting mix from the top of the container and locate the root flare or the spot where the roots come from the trunk. Nurseries like to bury trees slightly deeper in the pot to prevent them from blowing over with gusts of wind. You’ll want to plant your Mexican redbud tree so that the root flare and soil surface are even.
Lift the turf in your chosen area and dig a hole that is 1.5 times as wide as the root ball and the same depth of the container. Avoid digging a hole that is too wide or deep. Trees that get planted in holes that are too deep tend to sink, even if you initially backfill the soil. To encourage your roots to spread out and anchor into the soil, avoid digging a hole that is much wider than your container, and make sure that you use native soil without mixing in a lot of soil amendments. Water the area well when you get it planted and spread a healthy mulch layer to help conserve water and limit weed competition for nutrients.
Like almost all young trees, newly planted Mexican redbud trees will require a minimum of one inch of water every week. Slowly pour your water into the soil between the tree’s dripline, and allow the water to percolate into the soil before pouring more. Water it every two or three days during the first year, unless you get at least an inch of rainfall a week. After the first growing season, you can cut back to watering it as-needed in drought conditions.
Pruning the Mexican Redbud Tree
Remove any diseased, dead, crossing, or damaged branches to keep your Mexican redbud tree growing strong. You want to try not to leave a stub as they not only look bad, but they can also slow down your tree’s ability to heal after you prune them. You want to follow the branch all of the way back to the next offshoot and trim it just above the next branch.
Bigger branches will come with a raised, visible “collar” on the bark. Remove the branch just beyond this collar portion so that the collar stays on the tree. If you’re not sure exactly where this is, it’s best to be cautious and leave a small stub instead of cutting into the collar with a sterilized, sharp pair of pruning shears. Smaller branches that are up to ½ inch in diameter can get trimmed using hand pruners. Any shoots up to three inches in diameter should have loppers remove them. Any larger branches will most likely require a hand saw to remove. If you’re using a hand saw, start with an undercut to prevent the weight of the limb you’re removing from damaging the tree and ripping the bark.
The Mexican redbud tree has some health problems you should be aware of, just like any other tree or shrub. Knowing what they are, what to look for, and how to cure them can help you keep your tree healthy.
Treehoppers lay their eggs under the bark on twigs. The insect itself is something you most likely won’t see, but you’ll notice the sticky, white froth that covers the eggs. This usually isn’t a serious infestation to worry about, and you can get rid of them by using horticultural oil in a dormant spray dosage. You should apply the oil when the temperatures are between 35 and 85-degrees Fahrenheit.
Scale insects are non-mobile, small insects that attach themselves to the foliage and wood of your Mexican redbud tree. Scale is usually found on the tender, new woody growth on your tree. When an adult scale attaches, it usually looks like waxy or crusty bumps on your tree, and many people mistake it for the tree’s own growth. Scale insects suck the sap from the tree and cause the leaves to turn yellow and droop. You can usually find a sticky substance on the leaves or near the scale. This is a secretion from these insects called honeydew that acts like a growing source for sooty mold or as an ant attractant.
In mid-summer or spring, the small, virtually invisible nymphs come out from under the female shells and move to infect other areas of your Mexican redbud tree. This is the only time during its lifetime that it moves. To control scale and limit how much damage they do, you want to spray horticultural oil on your tree. This will suffocate both the eggs and scale, and you can douse the crawling nymphs with neem oil in spring or early summer to prevent them from infecting other areas of the tree.
Spider mites are a tiny pest, and they usually show up as specks on the underside of your tree’s leaves in shades of purple, red, or brown. Mites will infest the leaves and cause them to look like they’re speckled with yellow spots or curled and wilted. You can sometimes see a very fine, silk webbing on the underside of the foliage, and intense infestations of spider mites combined with dry, hot weather can cause the leaves to curl and drop from the tree.
To confirm if your Mexican redbud tree has a spider mite issue, take a very close look at the underside of the foliage for tiny insects that are the size of ground pepper. You may need to use a magnifying glass to see them. Another way to find spider mites is to take a sheet of paper, hold it under a group of leaves, and sharply tap the leaves a few times to shape some of them loose. You can easily see them against the white paper.
These are tiny pests that can quickly wreak havoc on your plants if you don’t catch an infestation and take steps to get rid of them.
Spider mites cause damage by sucking sap from the underside of your tree’s foliage. The bite marks look like a speckled yellow pattern on the bottom and top of the leaf. As the season goes on and the weather gets drier and hotter, the population of spider mites on your Mexican redbud tree will explode, and they can very rapidly defoliate a tree. This is especially true if your tree is having trouble getting water during these conditions. To control them, spray them with an insecticidal soap. Be sure to hit the underside of the leaves as well as the leaf crotches as this is where most of the eggs will be.
Along with pests, the Mexican redbud tree has issues with a few different diseases. Knowing what they are and how to get rid of them can help to save your tree.
Dieback or Cankers
This is the single most destructive disease to attack any type of redbud tree. You’ll see it first as your tree’s leaves start to turn brown and wilt. You can see cankers on the twigs and branches, and they can be visible cankers on the branch surface, or they can be sunken, dark areas with black centers.
The dieback or canker comes from a fungal infection that attacks over 50 types of shrubs and trees outside of the redbud. The disease will quickly spread throughout the tree, or from tree to tree by splashing rain or wind that quickly moves the fungus from diseased areas to healthy spots or plants. The fungus gets into the tree through dying branches or wounds, and it will gradually spread through the tree’s vascular system and eventually block it from allowing water and nutrients to get to the rest of the tree. This results in gradual dieback on the branches as it cuts off the flow of water and nutrients.
Currently, there is no effective chemical way to control dieback or cankers. If you identify a canker on your Mexican redbud tree, you should quickly prune it out and destroy infested areas and dead branches. Be sure to make your pruning cuts between three and four inches below the canker so that you cut into viable, healthy wood. After each cut, sterilize your pruning tools so that the fungus won’t get spread from infected tools to healthy areas on your tree.
You can get an effective sanitization and pruning process in place by using a fungicide spray. Spray both the diseased and healthy sections of your Mexican redbud tree with a product like Liquid Copper during and right after excessive rains. Using a fungicide like this product won’t get rid of the disease, but it can help slow how quickly it spreads to healthy trees.
Leaf spots are a problem during wetter weather. The spots will form small black or brown dots on your leaves. Since this is a rarely serious disease, you normally won’t need any chemical controls. However, if you have a severe case or you want to improve your Mexican redbud tree’s outlook, spray it with Liquid Copper. You should apply it when you first notice the leaf spots and a second time 14 to 21 days later.
The following spring, right after bud break, spray your tree again to ensure that no leaf spot disease managed to overwinter. Since this disease tends to overwinter very well on fallen leaves to reinfect the tree the following spring, it’s essential that you pick up all of the leaves in the autumn months before the snow flies and destroy them.
Verticillium wilt will attack and kill your Mexican redbud tree. This is a very common disease that attacks a huge range of trees, and a soil-inhibiting fungus causes it called Verticillium. There are many methods to spread this disease, including through the groundwater, soil, plant to plant, and by infected pruning equipment that you failed to sterilize properly. This disease usually enters your Mexican redbud tree through the soil, but a wound on the tree is also a perfect opening. Once it gets into the tree, this disease starts to spread using the tree’s vascular system. Eventually it’ll block it to prevent it from moving water and nutrients to the branches.
The first signs that you have a problem with this disease is the foliage starting to yellow and then turning brown at the ends of the branches. This will initially be a very spotty look, and it doesn’t follow a set pattern. As the fungus starts to block the vascular system, the browning will be much more wide-spread and serious. New leaves are usually yellowed, undersized, or non-existent. As the disease worsens, your tree can slowly die over several seasons, branch by branch. The severity and symptoms of this disease get worse in drought conditions.
There are no chemical controls for this disease, but there are a few steps you can take to help control how far it spreads, and you can also enhance your tree’s ability to contain or control this disease. Watering, fertilizing, and pruning are key components.
Prune and get all dead wood off the tree. You want to prune a few inches below the diseased area as this will help get rid of as much of the fungal concentrations as you can. When you prune it, don’t remove the branches that have wilted recently as they can reflush in a few weeks or in the following spring. You should sanitize your pruning shears thoroughly after each cut.
Fertilize your tree with a slow-release nitrogen formula. It’s also essential that you give your Mexican redbud tree a thorough watering twice a week if it has this disease. The point of this deep watering session is to ensure that water gets into the soil, up to 36 inches so it penetrates the tree’s root zone. The easiest way to water a larger tree to the deeper root area is to use a soaker hose or a sprinkler over the tree’s drip line and let it run for two hours. A deep root watering is a lot better than shallow watering sessions that don’t get water to the lower root system.
Verticillium wilt can devastate your Mexican redbud trees, and there is no chemical cure for it once it takes hold.
Reasons to Plant the Mexican Redbud Tree
The Mexican redbud tree features stunning purple flowers in the early spring months that are very hard to miss. This smaller tree works in a huge range of gardens and yards, and the best reasons to plant it include:
Drought Tolerant and Low-Maintenance
The Mexican redbud tree is a very drought-tolerant specimen. It has managed to adapt well to the dry and hot summers in Mexico and parts of Texas, and it does very well planted in well-drained soils. You won’t have to do much to keep it happy and thriving either.
Food for Insects and Wildlife
Many gardeners like to add plants to their gardens or yards that function as food for wildlife or insects. The blooms on this tree are a fantastic source of nectar for bees or other pollinators when other plants are still dormant for the year in the spring. It’s also a host for the Henry’s Elfin Butterfly, and it lays its eggs on the leaves. Birds like to eat the seeds during the winter months, and deer will browse the foliage. So, you have to make sure to protect young trees from pesky deer.
Vibrant Spring Colors
The showy purple flowers are one of the biggest attractions of the Mexican redbud tree. It starts to show the flowers early in the spring, usually in March and April. The flowers tend to bloom before the leaves open, and this makes them more noticeable and striking on the branches.
The flower color is one of the best features of this plant. However, spring isn’t the only time of year you can enjoy this tree. It gives you interest in each of the seasons. Summer offers dark green foliage that changes to a yellowish-gold in the fall before it drops from the trees. In winter, you’ll see purple-hued seed pods.
The Mexican redbud tree is a low-maintenance but pretty tree that fits well into warmer climates in yards and gardens. You’ll get dark foliage with pretty flowers and a spread that is up to 12 feet wide to fill in all of your gaps to give you a lush and full look.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.