March 19, 2015

Redbuds In Bloom: Spring Is Near - Photo by Jessica Walliser (HobbyFarms.com)

One of my favorite harbingers of spring is the redbud tree. Although we’re a few weeks away from seeing the blossoms of this beautiful native tree here in Pennsylvania, I’m already looking forward to it. To me, there is no surer sign of spring’s arrival than the rosy-pink flowers of the redbud.

The Eastern Redbud

The Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) is native to the Eastern U.S., growing from New England to Florida and west to Texas. It’s a lovely, small, understory tree, reaching only 20 to 30 feet tall with an equal width. The Eastern redbud is adaptable to both moist and dry soil conditions, and it thrive in soil with less-than-perfect fertility.

This redbud’s blooms cluster tightly against the bare twigs in early to mid-April. After they drop a few weeks later, 3-inch-long, heart-shaped leaves emerge. At first the foliage appears reddish-purple, but in the straight species, it eventually matures to a glossy green.

In late summer, 3-inch-long, flat seedpods arrive. This tree readily self-sows if the seedpods are left to mature and drop naturally from the branches. You can often find small, young redbud trees in the area around a mature specimen. Letting a few of these baby trees grow is never a bad idea as, in my experience, redbuds are relatively short-lived. Letting a youngster take over when the parent tree dies allows for a natural succession.

Eastern redbuds are very common in the nursery trade. They don’t like to be transplanted, so care should be taken in the planting and subsequent maintenance of this lovely tree. I have had better success growing younger potted specimens than I have had with more mature balled-and-burlapped trees. Because redbuds are an understory tree, they prefer a partially shaded site and often become stressed in full sun situations.

And just incase the straight species doesn’t strike your fancy, there are also several interesting cultivars on the market. Alba and Royal White have white flowers instead of pink, and Forest Pansy has burgundy-purple foliage. Hearts of Gold boasts pink flowers followed by chartreuse green foliage, The Rising Sun has orangey-yellow new foliage, and Merlot is a hybrid with increased heat and drought tolerance.

The Western Redbud

Another redbud species, the Western redbud (Cercis occidentalis), is a native of the western U.S., including California, Utah and Arizona. It, too, bears rosy-pink flowers in late winter or early spring and looks very much like its eastern counterpart in both leaf-shape and plant-form. However, this species does not survive extremely cold temperatures below about 15 degrees F, though it does need a chill period in order to go dormant and develop flower buds. It’s best for USDA hardiness zones 7 to 9.

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