If you've ever seen a multi-trunk tree covered with pretty pink blooms (but not leaves) in winter, you likely encountered the eastern redbud bush. It is one of the first trees to flower each year. The species tends to have a short lifespan (on average, up to 20 years) because of disease, pest attacks, and other environmental factors. Despite this drawback, many people find that the beauty of this tree 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 common name for the genus. It can be referred to as simply "redbud," but there are other species that use this name. Some also call it Judas tree, though this name is more aptly applied to Cercis siliquastrum.
The Eastern redbud tree reaches 20 to 30 feet high and 25 to 35 feet wide. It forms into a vase shape and is prone to growing multiple trunks. The leaves are heart-shaped (cordate) and are approximately 3 to 5 inches across. They are green for most of the growing season, fading to a yellowish-green in the fall. The pea-like flowers are characteristic of the Fabaceae family and appear in late winter or early spring, even before the leaf buds start unfurling. Most redbud trees have pink flowers, and there are some varieties with white flowers. The fruit of the tree is also like those of its relatives. The blooms give way to green pods filled with black seeds. As the summer progresses, the pods turn brown and dry out.
Redbud trees are typically planted in spring. They have a moderate growth rate; in favorable conditions, expect yours to grow about 7 to 10 feet in the first five or six years.
|Botanical Name||Cercis canadensis|
|Common Name||Eastern redbud, American redbud, American Judas tree|
|Plant Type||Deciduous tree|
|Mature Size||20 to 30 feet tall, 30 to 35 feet wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun, part shade|
|Soil pH||Neutral to slightly alkaline (6.6 to 7.8)|
|Hardiness Zones||4 to 8 (USDA)|
|Native Area||North America|
Eastern Redbud Care
The eastern redbud can grow successfully in zones 4 to 8. It originally comes from the midwestern and eastern United States. It is thought to be a drought-tolerant tree after a proper establishment period of one to two years. This is one of those plants that does not like to be transplanted, so choose its location carefully and do not move it. Its branches are susceptible to breaking, so try to plant it out of strong winds, if possible. Prune your redbud tree in winter before blooming starts. Commence pruning when the plant is young to create a strong structure and control multiple trunks, if desired.
Eastern redbuds attract hummingbirds and butterflies. They can be planted near black walnut trees, if you happen to have one on your property. The redbud can tolerate the allelopathic nature of the black walnut as well as its juglone toxin.
Eastern redbuds grow well in full sun to part shade. Full sun typically encourages optimal flowering, but providing some shade is recommended in hot climates.
This tree is not picky about soil type and will tolerate sandy and clay soils with a range of pH levels. The soil should remain consistently moist and does not need to be overly fertile; moderate fertility is fine. Most important, the soil must drain well.
Eastern redbuds typically need watering about once a week, whenever the soil is dry at a depth of 2 to 3 inches. You may have to water more frequently during dry spells.
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.
Eastern Redbud Varieties
Alba: A naturally occurring form with white flowers; smaller than species tree, reaching about 15 to 25 feet in height
'Ace of Hearts': A compact cultivar that grows only 12 feet high and has bright pink blooms
'Forest Pansy': Rich purple leaves, turning to bronze in the heat of summer; rose purple blooms come relatively late
'Pink Pom Poms': Dark-pink double flowers; glossy leaves; no seed pods, due to sterility
'Covey': A weeping variety, forms an umbrella shape and grows 5 to 6 feet high and 6 to 8 feet wide; leaves turn yellow in fall
Common Pests and Diseases
The rosebud may develop the following diseases:
- Anthracnose (leaf spots): Control with liquid copper fungicide spray.
- Botryosphaeria canker and dieback (Botryosphaeria ribis): Control by pruning 3 to 4 inches below each canker (sanitize your tool between cuts) and applying fungicide spray.
- Verticillium wilt (Verticillium albo-atrum and V. dahliae): Control with careful pruning (including sanitizing of pruning equipment), deep-root watering, and proper fertilization.
Rosebud flowers attracts these pests:
- Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica)
- Leafhopper (Tortricidae)
- Potato leafhopper (Empoasca fabae)
- Redbud leaf folder (Fascista cercerisella)
- Two-marked treehopper (Enchenopa binotata)
- Yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius)
You can take steps to prevent these pests from getting into your garden, such as barriers to keep large and small animals out and natural insect repellents to keep critters away.