A Brief Introduction To The Redbud Tree

Relatively unknown west of the Mississippi river, the Redbud tree (Cercis canadensis) can be found in most of the eastern part of North America from southeastern Canada down through the eastern part of Texas and into Mexico. It is the state tree of Oklahoma. The Redbud is also a popular tree in Virginia, and in fact was one of George Washington's favorite trees. Descendants of his Redbud trees can still be seen on his estate in Mount Vernon. The Redbud tree is a fairly small tree, rarely reaching a height of more than 30 feet. It is characterized by having a relatively short trunk and spreading branches. The Redbud is a favorite among landscapers on the east coast and in the Ohio Valley, where it is has been widely planted as a street tree. The main species of the tree has purple-pink flowers, but there is a cultivar, “alba”, whose blossoms are pure white. The tree has large, heart-shaped leaves. Some people like to clip off twigs or small branches of the Redbud tree in late winter (February) and bring them indoors, where they will soon burst into bloom. Blossoms can appear on the trunk of a Redbud tree as well as on its branches. The blossoms always appear before leaves begin to develop.

The primary reason the Redbud is not found in the west is due to its preference for relatively moist conditions, something often lacking once one crosses the Mississippi heading west. It will do well however in places like northern California or the Pacific Northwest, where moisture is plentiful. The tree is grown mostly for its ornamental value. Its seeds are considered edible, and are somewhat nutritious, as are the flowers. The tree is often sterile though, and does not produce seeds after flowering.

Where To Plant

The Redbud tree can be planted either in full sun or in partial shade. In the wild, the Redbud is often found in hardwood forests where it provides a lower level of vegetation, growing either as a small tree or as a shrub beneath the canopies of larger trees. This means a gardener has many options open as to where to plant a Redbud. A good choice would often be where one would consider planting a small ornamental dogwood. In fact, the Redbud and the dogwood are excellent companion trees. An ideal planting location would be where the tree will get morning sun, but will have partial shade in the late afternoon. Once established, the Redbud normally does not require a great deal of care, although giving the tree an occasional watering is advisable during extended hot, dry spells. The Redbud prefers moist soil. It will not tolerate standing water for very long, so make certain the chosen planting location has good drainage.

How To Plant

Planting a Redbud tree is really no different than is planting any other type of tree. Unless one is transplanting a sapling, the tree is likely to come from the nursery either in a pot or with its roots encased in burlap. The diameter of the planting hole should be roughly 3 times the diameter of the root ball. Once the root ball is placed in the planting hole, and the roots have been spread out, a mixture of one part compost to three parts ordinary soil should be used to surround the roots and fill in the hole.

The recommended method is to partially fill the planting hole, then soak the hole with water to let the soil-compost mixture settle. Add more soil and compost, and repeat the process once or twice until the hole is completely filled and the soil has been watered down and has settled. The soil around the tree should be kept moist, though not soaked, for 10 days to two weeks following planting. The newly transplanted tree should then be watered once a week. A layer of mulch can be added to keep the weeds down, but be careful not to let the much come into contact with the trunk of the tree.

Caring For The Redbud

The Redbud is an easy-maintenance tree once established. It will benefit from an annual application of fertilizer. The fertilizer should be a type designed for use on flowering trees, and should preferably be of the low-release type. This tree will also benefit if a top dressing of compost is placed around its base and watered in, after it has flowered in the spring. The compost should not be allowed to come into contact with the trunk to avoid the possibility of rot or disease.

The tree does not require much pruning, although it may sometimes be desirable to cut away a few low hanging branches. Pruning primarily consists of removing any dead or diseased branches. If any branches are found to be diseased they should be pruned off and disposed of some distance away from the tree.

As far as pests or diseases are concerned, the ones most often affecting a Redbud tree are the tree hopper, scale, spider mites, leaf spots and canker. Applying an appropriate spray will usually eliminate these problems.