How to Grow and Care for the Redbud Tree

A redbud tree is a reliable way to add color and structure to your landscape. As well as being an attractive ornamental plant, the redbud tree is also pleasingly easy to care for.

Native to many parts of North America, the redbud tree (Cercsis canadensis) is suitable for USDA planting zones 4 to 9. Also known as the Judas tree, this deciduous plant enjoys a lifespan of around 20 years. During early spring clusters of small buds form. These develop into showy pink or magenta blossoms which can last for up to 3 weeks before being quickly replaced by attractive, heart shaped leaves.

1 Easy to care for
An elegant and easy to care for plant, the redbud tree is an eye-catching plant that is suitable for most gardens. 

A member of the legume family the plant’s pea shaped blossoms are edible. They can be used on salads to add a citrusy taste. Unopened buds can also be pickled and used in place of capers.

Ideal for woodland and natural planting schemes. The compact nature of the redbud means that it is also ideal for planting in a border or as a specimen plant. This is your complete guide to growing your own redbud tree.

Different Varieties of Redbud Tree

Many garden stores sell redbud trees. If you want a more exotic or unusual cultivar you may need to purchase online from a specialist nursery.

Rising Sun is one of the most commonly grown redbud cultivars. It reliably produces fuschia colored flowers every spring. When the foliage first emerges it is a pleasing, soft apricot shade. This slowly turns to a vivid gold shade before finally becoming bright green.

2 Redbud tree varieities
Forest pansy, one of the most popular cultivars, is prized for its pink flowers. 

Forest Pansy is another popular cultivar. Producing eye catching pea-like pink flowers and burgundy foliage, in the warmest climates the foliage lightens to a green shade.

Appalachian Red is a reliable cultivar that produces fuschia pink colored blooms.

The deciduous Covey or Lavender Twist plant is a compact, weeping variety. It is commonly grown for its large, heart shaped leaves and lavender-pink flowers. Another weeping cultivar is Ruby Falls. Ideal for small spaces, this particular variety produces masses of deep purple blooms in early spring adding drama and interest to your garden.

Royal White is grown for its white flowers, as are Alba and Texas White. Both these cultivars produce bright white flowers and bright green foliage.  
3 Attractive long lasting foliage
The elegant heart shaped foliage of the plant provides interest long after the flowers have faded.

A compact plant, most varieties of the redbud tree achieve a height of 20 to 30 ft and a spread of 15 to 35 ft, depending on the growing conditions.

In small gardens the dwarf variety Ace of Hearts is a great choice. Reaching no more than 12 ft in height, it naturally maintains its shape meaning that no pruning is necessary.

Finally, the hybrid Merlot is a cross between Texas White and Forest Pansy. Merlot produces glossy, dark purple foliage and magenta-pink blooms. It is also pleasingly heat and drought tolerant.

When selecting your redbud cultivar, try to select the healthiest possible plant. This makes ongoing care a lot easier.

Choosing the Ideal Site

Choose your site carefully. The redbud tree doesn’t like to be transplanted.

Once established these plants can grow up to 2 ft a year. Make sure that your chosen position has plenty of room for your redbud to grow into.

Your chosen position should be about 8 ft from any existing structures such as garages or septic tanks. This helps to prevent often costly damage caused by root disturbance. While you should plant well away from larger structures, you can plant the tree closer to fences because these don’t have a deep foundation. Aim to leave a gap of about 3 ft between your plant and any fences .

4 Allow lots of space for growth
Choosing a favorable site helps to encourage this low maintenance plant even more abundantly. 

The plant also prefers a partial shade position. While the redbud tree can tolerate a lighter or full sun position, there should be some shade from the intense heat of the midday sun.

How to Plant

Redbuds can be planted during most parts of the year. However, you should avoid planting during the warmest summer months or during hard freezes.

The redbud tree does best in well draining soil. Working in organic material, such as compost, helps to improve drainage.

Before planting weed around the planting site. Aim to clear about 3 ft of soil around your chosen position.

If you don’t know your soil’s profile, this is also a good time to find out. A soil test kit is easy to use and tells you the exact makeup of your soil. While the redbud is capable of growing in a range of conditions, it does best in an alkaline soil. The ideal pH level is around 7.5. If your soil is overly acidic, a dolomitic or agricultural lime can be used to raise the pH level.

Planting Your Redbud Tree

Use a robust shovel to dig a large hole. This should be at least as 3 times as wide as the plant’s root ball. When positioned in the hole, the root ball should sit level with, or slightly above, ground level.

When you are happy with the size of the hole remove the redbud tree from its protective burlap wrap or container. If the root ball is compacted, gently rub the roots. This loosens and uncurls the outer roots.

Position the plant in the hole. Remember it should stand as straight as possible and the top of the root system should be level with, or slightly above, ground level.

After positioning your plant, begin to backfill the hole. You may need someone to hold the plant in place as you do this.

When the hole is about half full, water the soil well. Allow the water to drain away before continuing to fill the hole. Gently firm the soil down and water thoroughly.

Place a layer of mulch, roughly 3 inches thick, around the tree. The mulch should not touch the bark. Mulching helps the soil to retain moisture and also keeps the root system cool.

Planting is also the ideal time to install a stake or some form of support. This helps to prevent the plant from snapping in strong winds. Young plants in particular are prone to snapping in the wind. The Dalen Tree Stake Kit is not only robust enough to support a growing plant it is also easy to install.

If you are planting more than one redbud tree, space them about 12 ft apart.

Caring for a Redbud Tree

Once planted the redbud tree is pleasingly low maintenance.

Remember to regularly weed around the base of the plant. Fast growing weeds can harvest nutrients and moisture from the soil, stunting the growth of other plants.

Water and Fertilizer

After planting, as the redbud establishes itself, try to keep the soil evenly moist. Don’t over water or allow the soil to become waterlogged.

Once established you only need to water the plant during dry spells, if the soil is drying out.

Younger plants in particular benefit from an application of organic fertilizer such as manure or compost. Work it into the soil around the base of the trunk.

Established or older plants can be given an annual dose of granular fertilizer in late fall after all the leaves have fallen. Alternatively you can fertilize in early spring before the bud breaks open. A multi or general purpose 10-10-10 balanced fertilizer is ideal.

Liquid fertilizers can be applied three or four times a year from late April until mid July. A balanced 20-20-20 mix is ideal.

How to Prune

Lightly prune the redbud tree every fall. This helps the plant to maintain a natural growth habit.

To prune, simply remove any old, dead or damaged branches.

When pruning, aim to open up the tree as much as possible. This enables air to circulate freely through the plant, helping to keep it healthy. Pay particular attention to the center of the plant that can often become overly compacted with entangled branches.

Always use clean, sharp garden shears to prune your plants. Remember to clean the shears before and after use.

Prune away damaged branches as soon as you notice them. This helps to prevent problems such as fungi, dieback and verticillium wilt.

Pruning is usually done during the winter months. However, this can deter spring blooming. Prune straight after flowering has finished if you don’t want to impair the flowering display.

Common Problems

Regularly inspect the plant for signs of fungal disease such as canker or wilt. Canker can cause foliage to yellow and branches to wilt.

Verticillium wilt is also a common issue. Again this causes foliage to lose color and wilt. Should either of these issues occur, prune away affected areas. Particularly diseased plants will need to be lifted and destroyed.

Pests such as scale can also be problematic. Sucking the fluid from the foliage, scale can cause leaves to yellow, wilt and fall from the plant. An insecticidal soap or  horticultural oil can be used to cure infestations. Alternatively encourage or release natural predators onto your plants. Both predatory lacewings and parasitic wasps target scale bugs.

The redbud tree can also fall victim to rabbit or mouse damage. Covering the lower part of the trunk, from the ground to about 2 and a half foot high, with a cloth or mesh, such as Amagabeli Hardware Cloth protects it from most pests.

How to Propagate a Redbud Tree

The redbud tree can be easily propagated by seeds or cuttings.

Propagation via Cuttings

Cuttings are best taken from young plants or branches, known as softwood. Cuttings from mature trees are more difficult to root.

Take your cuttings in late spring or early summer after the flowers have faded and leaves have formed. Each cutting should be about 4 to 6 inches long. It should be free of buds or flowers. Use a sharp, clean garden scissors or knife to make clean cuts.

5 Take cuttings from softwood
Don’t take cuttings from the main stem. Instead, cuttings should be taken from young or softwood branches that are bud and flower free. 

Strip away leaves from the lower part of the cutting before coating it in rooting hormone. This encourages roots to emerge.

Fill a 6 inch pot with a mixture of equal parts milled peat and coarse sand or perlite. Wet the mixture and allow excess moisture to drain away. Make a hole in the center of the pot and insert the cutting. Firm the soil mix around the cutting to hold it in place.

Place the cuttings somewhere safe, like in a greenhouse. The temperature around the cuttings should average around 70 ℉ during the day. If daytime temperatures regularly fall below 65 ℉ place the cuttings in a heated propagator. Heated propagators, such as the Super Sprouter Propagation Kit, allow you to maintain the ideal temperature and humidity levels around seeds or cuttings.

Mist the cuttings twice a day to ensure that the stem and leaves don’t dry out.

Gently water the soil when the top 3 inches or so feels dry.

After about 4 weeks gently pull the cutting. If you feel resistance, this means that roots are forming. The cutting can now be transplanted into a 10 inch container filled with garden or general purpose potting soil

Slowly acclimatize the cuttings to their desired final position. Remember to provide shade during the warmest parts of the summer. During this period, don’t allow the soil to dry out. You may need to apply about 1 inch of water a week.

Once the hottest part of summer has passed the cuttings can be planted out as described above.

Growing from Seed

As the flowers fade, seed pods will emerge. These are similar in appearance to pea pods. The seed pods can either be eaten or harvested to grow a new redbud tree.

Each pod contains four to ten flat, round seeds. Mature seed pods are brown and papery. Once mature harvest the seed pods. This is usually done in the fall. However the pods can remain on the plant during the winter.

Store harvested seeds in a sealed jar in the refrigerator. Keep them in this condition until early to mid February.

Remove the seeds and rub them with a piece of sandpaper to remove the tough outer layer. This encourages germination. You can also soften the seeds by soaking them in warm water. Allow the seeds to soak for about 4 days.

Plant each seed about a quarter of an inch deep in a small pot filled with potting soil or moist sand.

Place the pots in a cool place, such as the refrigerator, unheated shed or garage for 5 to 8 weeks. This replicates the cold weather necessary for germination to occur. After 8 weeks place the seeds outside and allow them to germinate.

In colder areas there is no need for the artificial chill period. Simply sow the seeds and place the pots outside. If you are sowing the seeds outside, remember to protect them from seed loving pests.

Once the first set of heart shaped leaves has formed you can plant on in their permanent location.

6 Elegant and eyecatching
An elegant, eye-catching addition to any garden, the redbud tree is a popular and easy to care for ornamental plant. 

Elegant and attractive, the redbud tree is an ideal addition to the garden. Easy to care for and pleasingly adaptable, the plants require little regular maintenance making them a reliable addition to a shrubbery or floral border. They are also suited to smaller or compact spaces. This versatility means that almost anybody can enjoy the burst of early spring color that the redbud tree brings.

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