Redbud trees are a great way to add height, structure and color to the garden. During the spring and summer months redbud trees fill the garden with rich, heart-shaped foliage and brightly colored buds. An ideal way to bring color to the spring garden, for many redbud trees bursting into life are an indication that spring is on the way.
Most varieties of redbud trees (Cercis Canadensis) are native to Eastern and North America. A member of the Fabaceae (Leguminosae) family of flowering plants, also known as the bean or pea family, redbud trees are popular for their small pink flowers and large heart shaped foliage.
The bright flowers typically emerge on bare branches, before the heart-shaped foliage has developed.
The state tree of Oklahoma, redbuds are sometimes referred to as the Judas tree. This name is thought by some to reference the old belief that Judas Iscariot, one of Christ’s disciples, used a variety of the Cercis tree to hang himself. Further, it is also said that the flowers and seed pods of the tree hang down, imitating Judas’ final action. The flowers are supposedly pink in color because they are blushing with the shame of Judas’ felt after betraying Christ. It is more likely that the name Judas tree is derived from the French name for these colorful specimens, Arbre de Judee. Meaning Tree of Judea, the name refers to the part of modern day Israel where redbud trees were once a common sight.
Cercis plants belong to the Caesalpiniaceae family. The name Cercis is derived from the Greek word “kerkis” which means shuttle. Again this name refers to the flat seed pods, which bear similarities with the shuttle tool used by weavers, that develop during the fall months.
Originally there was only one variety of redbud trees. However, soon new cultivars were developed. This increased diversity has helped to increase the plant’s popularity.
This list of redbud trees is designed to highlight some of the most attractive varieties currently available. Many of the suggestions on our list are suitable for a range of planting schemes and situations. As well as highlighting some of the most attractive specimens, we will also provide you with some general care and planting tips, helping you to ensure that your chosen redbud trees are rich in color and health.
Caring for Redbud Trees
These attractive plants are largely low maintenance specimens. This easy going nature has added to their popularity. When planted in a favorable position and correctly cared for, most redbud trees last for around 20 years.
Most varieties are hardy in USDA Zones 4 to 8. While these are easy to care for specimens, if you want the trees to reach their full height and spread, and stay healthy, there are a few things that you can do to help them.
Firstly, always plant your chosen saplings in healthy, well draining soil.
Once established most varieties are drought tolerant. Be careful not to overwater the plants, this can cause diseases such as root rot to develop. While these specimens dislike overwatering, don’t allow the soil to get too dry. A SONKIR Soil Moisture Meter not only accurately measures how wet the soil is, enabling you to know exactly when to water your growing plants, it also monitors soil pH levels and how much light the plant is exposed to.
When planted in the right position, with just a little care your plant will flower profusely.
In the spring flowers, typically mauve-pink but some varieties of redbud trees can also produce purple or white blooms, start to emerge on bare branches. The flowers can last for 2 to 3 weeks. Once the flowers have opened foliage also begins to develop. Sitting on long stems that stretch away from the branches the leaves are typically heart shaped.
For a good floral display plant in full sun. This helps to bring out the color on the foliage as well as encouraging buds to set. You can also plant these specimens in partial shade but their color may not be as intense.
While these specimens are largely low maintenance and resilient, they are sensitive to herbicides. Exposure can stunt growth or deter flowering.
To plant your chosen sapling, dig a hole at least 3 times as wide as the root ball. When placed in the hole the top of the root ball should be even with the ground. Backfill the hole when you are happy with the position of the sapling and water well. A tree stake kit can also be installed to help keep the young plant upright. The Patio Eden Tree Stake Kit is a durable product that securely holds saplings and young trees in place.
After planting and watering, apply a layer of mulch in a circle roughly 3 inches around the tree. Don’t allow the mulch to touch the trunk, this can cause insect infestations or disease.
Prune your plants in the fall. This helps to keep the plant healthy and in a manageable shape. When pruning, cut away any diseased or damaged branches. You can also prune away any connecting or touching branches and open up congested areas. This helps to promote air flow, which in turn helps to keep the plant healthy and disease free. Taller specimens may need to be pruned with specialist equipment such as a pole saw. Despite being lightweight and easy to handle THANOS Anvil Loppers are durable loppers that can tackle most pruning situations with ease. They are also extendable, enabling you to easily keep even the tallest garden trees under control.
Diseases such as canker or pests such as tree borers can sometimes strike.
If you want to learn more about growing your own redbud trees, our redbud tree growing guide has all the information you need.
1 Forest Pansy
The first entry on our list of redbud trees is also one of the most popular. The Forest Pansy is primarily grown for its vibrant foliage. Adding scarlet-purple color to the landscape when in flower, the Forest Pansy is an Eastern Redbud cultivar. These attractive specimens are native to central and eastern parts of North America.
A large deciduous shrub, the Forest Pansy can also be cultivated as a multi-stemmed tree. However you choose to grow it, this specimen produces masses of pea-like pink flowers which sit in contrast against the plant’s purple or burgundy heart shaped foliage. This vibrant color lasts throughout the summer months. As the summer reaches its warmest temperatures the purple foliage deepens, becoming burgundy in color.
The pea-like, pink flowers are a key feature of Eastern cultivars.
Forest Pansy redbud trees can reach 20 to 30 ft tall in ideal conditions and achieve a canopy spread of 25 to 35 ft. Typically flowering from April until the fall it is best planted in well draining moderately fertile soil. Preferring full sun, which promotes growth and flowering, water your specimen regularly, particularly during dry spells.
A versatile plant, the Forest Pansy is a great choice for naturalized planting schemes as well as wildlife gardens. They can also be used to create a focal point in beds borders or open spaces.
Cover, or Lavender Twist is a small Eastern cultivar. A notable weeping habit makes this an attractive addition to the garden.
Typically reaching 4 to 10 ft tall, with a similar spread, the compact Covey is, like other redbud trees, deciduous. An ideal specimen plant in small areas, the colorful Covey maintains its interest during the bare winter months thanks to its twisting branches. In the spring and summer these attractive limbs are covered with large, heart-shaped leaves and lavender colored flowers.
Flowers set in early spring on bare branches.
As Covey ages it can start to resemble the Japanese maple. At its best in the spring when bright pink flowers stand out against the bare, dark branches Covey thrives if planted in full sun and evenly moist soil.
3 Silver Cloud
The next entry on our list of redbud trees, Silver Cloud is often described as an unusual variegated cultivar with an upright growth habit and modest canopy. Typically 10 ft tall and 12 ft wide Silver Cloud is certainly a compact specimen. Unlike many other types of redbud trees, Silver Cloud has a single-trunked growth habit.
Native to central North America, during the early spring months fuschia flowers, with silvery undertones cover the bare branches. After the flowers have set, the foliage begins to emerge in shades or mild or pale cream-pink. As it develops the foliage matures into a pure cream shade.
The changing color of the heart-shaped foliage continues to provide interest long after the flowers have faded.
Happy in well draining soil with a medium moisture content, like other types of redbud trees Silver Cloud does best in full sun or partial shade positions. An attractive addition to any ornamental garden, Silver Cloud looks particularly attractive when planted alongside similar colored flowering shrubs and plants such as chrome-leaved forsythia flowers.
4 Rising Sun
Another one of the deciduous redbud trees, the Rising Sun cultivar is popular for its rose-lavender or fuschia colored blooms that emerge in copious amounts during the early spring months. The foliage, heart-shaped like many other redbud trees, turns from green to shades of deep apricot, yellow, orange and even gold as the seasons change from summer to fall. This rainbow of colorful leaves is often present on the plant at the same time, giving the Rising Sun its distinctive sunrise-like appearance.
Colorful foliage emerges alongside flowers.
Also known as the Judas tree or Love tree, a Rising Sun specimen can reach between 12 and 15 ft in favorable conditions. With a spread of just 8 ft this is one of the smaller varieties highlighted on our list. This makes it ideal for smaller gardens and landscapes. As well as smaller areas, Rising Sun is ideal for an accent plant or mass planting. Rising Sun is best planted in moist soil and full or partial shade.
5 Western Redbud
Providing year round interest the Western Redbud trees produce masses of rose-purple or magenta flowers in the early spring. These are particularly popular with many types of pollinators including bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. The plant’s heart shaped leaves, smaller here than on other types of redbud trees, develop alongside the flowers, providing a light green backdrop which nicely showcases the colorful blooms.
As Western cultivars mature, during the summer months, the foliage begins to darken in color. Once the flowers fade and the leaves fall from the tree, the silver-gray branches become visible once again, providing winter interest to the garden.
Like other varieties, these are ornamental, deciduous plants that are typically cultivated as shrubs. They can reach between 6 and 20 ft in height depending on the growing conditions and spread between 10 and 15 ft. Native to the American Southwest, the Western cultivar is particularly common in California, Utah and Arizona.
Pollinators love the flowers of these attractive specimens.
A versatile specimen that is tolerant of a number of soil profiles, including alkaline and heavy clay types, the Western is also drought tolerant. Despite this versatility these trees do best in well draining soils and full sun or partial shade positions. An ideal ornamental choice for parks, gardens and wildlife areas you can also grow Westerns as specimen plants.
If you are looking for something completely different, Alba is a great choice. Also known as the White Redbud these trees are popular for their small white flowers that cover the plant during the early spring months. After flowering, bronze heart-shaped foliage emerges. This turns green during the summer months before yellowing in the fall, adding warmth to fading gardens.
Native to eastern and central parts of North America, Albas are commonly seen around the Great Lakes, Connecticut and Texas. In the wild Alba likes to grow in open woodland areas, thickets, limestone glades and alongside rocky streams. A great specimen plant it is also a distinctive choice for a native tree in a forest garden or natural planting scheme.
In addition to the white flowers, another notable feature of the Alba plant is the spreading, flat-topped crown. A versilite specimen, Alba prefers well draining moist soil. When planted in full sun or light shade they are low maintenance trees, typically reaching 15 to 20 ft tall in ideal conditions.
The distinctive pale pink or white flowering varieties are just as attractive as other specimens.
Another popular white flowering redbud tree is the Texas White. Native to north central Texas and Oklahoma, the Texas White reaches 20 ft tall and wide when mature. A low maintenance specimen, the white flowers contrast with the plant’s thick, glossy green leaves for dramatic effect. Capable of thriving in urban and inner city environments Texas White trees do best in sheltered spaces and well draining soil.
7 Hearts of Gold
As the name suggests, Hearts of Gold is known for its golden-yellow foliage that develops into a chartreuse shade as the plant matures. Interestingly, Hearts of Gold was the first of the Cercis cultivars to produce golden foliage.
A woody, deciduous tree, pea-like lavender-purple flower clusters emerge in spring on otherwise bare branches. These attractive flowers contrast nicely with the golden foliage that emerges soon after. As it matures the glossy foliage develops into a large, heart shaped leaf. The foliage of Hearts of Gold is pleasingly burn resistant even when planted in full sun.
Initially golden, as it ages the foliage becomes green and glossy.
Typically reaching 20 to 25 ft tall and spreading its canopy around 18 ft wide, Hearts of Gold is not only an attractive addition to the garden, the flowers are also popular with birds, bees and butterflies. The plant’s tight, compact growth habit makes it ideal for smaller gardens and planting schemes. The dense dome-shaped canopy can look particularly attractive as both a specimen plant or if incorporated into a hedge.
Like the other specimens on our list, Hearts of Gold’s flowers, which are early to emerge, are, for many, a sign that spring is arriving. This makes it a great choice if you are looking for early season interest.
8 Ace of Hearts
Considered to be a dwarf specimen, mature Ace of Hearts trees typically reach 12 ft tall and 15 ft wide. Ideal for small gardens, Ace of Hearts produces light pink-violet flowers against heart shaped foliage.
The vibrant colors and small growth habit have helped to make Ace of Hearts a popular choice. During the later summer and early fall months, the foliage changes to a warm yellow color. After shedding its foliage the silhouette and branches continue to provide interest.
Ace of Hearts is both heat and drought tolerant. It is also resistant to many common diseases and pests, which can plague other types of redbud trees. This resilience not only means that it enjoys a longer lifespan than other specimens but also enables Ace of Hearts to maintain its distinctive dome-shaped canopy year after year.
These versatile specimens add interest and color to a range of planting schemes.
Ace of Hearts is best planted in well draining soil and full or partial sun. To encourage an abundance of flowers to set, plant in a position that receives at least 6 hours of direct light every day.
One of the more interesting selections on our list, Merlot is actually a hybrid variety. A product of crossing the Texas White and Forest Pansy trees, Merlot boasts the best qualities of both these specimens. The name Merlot refers to the plant’s glossy, dark purple leaves, which are a similar shade to Merlot wine. The rich foliage contrasts nicely with Merlot’s magenta-pink flowers. This unique color combination has helped to make Merlot a popular plant with many gardeners.
Typically reaching 12 ft in height, when mature Merlot can spread around 15 ft. The plant’s semi-upright, vase-shaped growth habit means that it is suitable for smaller planting areas and gardens. While Merlot is one of the more compact types of redbud trees, you should still select your planting area carefully. Merlot has a quick growth habit and may smother or block other plants.
Richly colored blooms add drama to the early spring garden.
Capable of tolerating warmer planting zones, Merlot is best planted in well draining soil and full sun. This tree can also tolerate sandy, loamy or clay soil.
10 Mexican Redbud
One of the smaller types of redbud trees, the Mexican can reach between 5 and 12 ft. More drought tolerant than other types of trees, these are typically cultivated as multi-stemmed small trees or shrubs. As well as a smaller growth habit the foliage of the Mexican tends to be smaller and glossier than other types of Cercis cultivars. The leaves can develop a leathery appearance with wavy edges as they mature.
In the early spring rose-violet flowers emerge closely followed by the blue-green foliage. Like other Cercis cultivars, it is the contrast between the foliage and flowers that provides the main attraction. During the fall the foliage turns golden, making a showy spectacle in the garden.
A low maintenance choice the Mexican has few particular growing requirements. However, like other redbud trees, they do best in well draining soils.
Colorful, elegant and attractive, redbud trees provide year round interest.
Easy to grow and endlessly interesting redbud trees are a great way to add year round interest and structure to a range of different styles of garden. The specimens highlighted above have hopefully given you a taste for these spectacular trees.
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.