Growing Eastern Redbud - Cercis canadensis
Overview of the Eastern Redbud:
If you have ever seen a tree covered with pretty pink blooms (but not leaves) in winter, you may have met the eastern redbud. This tree is one of the first trees to flower each year. I love plants like this that give me hope that the winter world is about to become green and vibrant once more.
One aspect to consider is that this species tends to have a short lifespan (on average, up to 20 years but can be less depending on the particular specimen) because of... possible disease or pest attacks and other environmental factors. However, many (including myself) find that the beauty this tree provides makes it well worth planting.
The scientific name for this tree is Cercis canadensis. It shares a spot in the Fabaceae (pea) family with other species like the Kentucky coffee tree, wattles (Acacia spp.), powder puff tree (Albizia julibrissin) and wisteria (Wisteria sinensis.)
Eastern redbud is the standard common name for the genus. This can be referred to as simply redbud, though there are of course other species that use this name. Some also call it Judas tree, though this is more aptly applied to Cercis siliquastrum. The name came from a legend stating that this type of tree was the one where Judas Iscariot hung himself after betraying Jesus Christ.
Preferred USDA Hardiness Zones:
This tree can grow successfully in Zones 4-9. It originally comes from the midwestern and eastern United States.
Size & Shape of the Eastern Redbud:
This tree reaches 20-30' tall and 20-35' wide. It forms into a vase shape and is prone to forming multiple trunks.
If you have a site in mind that gets full sun or part shade, the eastern redbud will grow well. You get the optimum flowering potential if you have full sun.
Foliage/Flowers/Fruit of the Eastern Redbud:
The leaves are heart-shaped (cordate) and are approximately 3-5" across. They are green for most of the growing season, fading to a yellowish-green in the fall. As mentioned below, 'Forest Pansy' has purple leaves.
The flowers definitely announce that this is a member of the Fabaceae family and sport the familiar pea type flowers. These will appear in late winter or early spring, even before the leaf buds start unfurling. Most varieties are pink, though there are some that produce white flowers.
The fruit is also like those of its relatives. The blooms give way to green pods filled with black seeds. As the summer goes on, the pods turn brown and dry out.
This is considered to be a drought tolerant tree after a proper establishment period of one to two years.
If you prefer white flowers, look for the 'Alba', 'Royal White' and 'Dwarf White' varieties. 'Silver Cloud' features variegated leaves in shades of green and cream. 'Forest Pansy' has rich purple leaves. 'Flame' has double flowers. 'Convey' is a weeping variety.
If you like butterflies, the eastern redbud will bring them to your garden. You can also use it to attract hummingbirds.
This is a good tree to plant if you have a black walnut tree in your garden. It can tolerate the allelopathic nature of the tree and will tolerate the juglone toxin better than many plants.
The eastern redbud shows the best growth in moist sites. It does not like wet feet, though, so proper drainage is essential.
Both acidic and alkaline soils will be tolerated. It can also work if you have clay soil, though you will definitely need to make sure that it drains.
Prune this in winter before blooming starts. Start when young to create a strong structure and control multiple trunks if desired.
As with many Fabaceae species, this tree can harness nitrogen from the air through a process called nitrogen fixation. Unless symptoms and tests show otherwise, you should not need to fertilize it.
Pests & Diseases of the Eastern Redbud:
Diseases That May Appear:
- Botryosphaeria canker and dieback (Botryosphaeria dothidea)
- Verticillium wilt (Verticillium albo-atrum and V. dahliae)
Pests You May See:
- Japanese beetles (Popillia japonica)
- Leafhoppers (Tortricidae)
- Potato leafhopper (Empoasca fabae)
- Redbud leaffolder (Fascista cercerisella)
- Twomarked treehopper (Enchenopa binotata)
- Yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius)