If you have ever seen a 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 standard 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.
Preferred USDA Hardiness Zones
Gardeners consult hardiness zone maps to learn which locations are most suitable for plants. The eastern rosebud, for example, can grow successfully in zones 4 to 9. It originally comes from the midwestern and eastern United States.
Size and Shape
This tree reaches 20 to 30 inches tall and 20 to 35 inches wide. It forms into a vase shape and is prone to forming multiple trunks.
Flowers and Foliage
The leaves of the bush 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 make it obvious that this plant is a member of the Fabaceae family. The flowers 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 progresses, the pods turn brown and dry out.
If you have a site in mind that gets full sun or some shade, the eastern redbud will grow well there. You get the optimum flowering potential if you have full sun.
The rosebud is thought to be a drought-tolerant tree after a proper establishment period of one to two years.
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 as well. It can tolerate the allelopathic nature of the black walnut and will tolerate its 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. It tolerates both acidic and alkaline soils as well as clay, provided it drains.
Maintenance and Pruning
Prune this bush in winter before blooming starts. Start when the plant is 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.
If you prefer white flowers, look for the 'Alba,' 'Royal White,' or '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.
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 beetles (Popillia japonica)
- Leafhoppers (Tortricidae)
- Potato leafhopper (Empoasca fabae)
- Redbud leaf folder (Fascista cercerisella)
- Two-marked treehoppers (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.