Growing Redbuds: How to Plant and Care for These Spring Superstars (2024)

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For early spring blooms full of color, you can’t do better than growing redbuds. And with so many to choose from, chances are you can be growing redbuds no matter what your garden situation is.

There so low maintenance that once you plant one, it’s a sheer joy every spring to sit back and enjoy the color. Then, those elegant flowers give way to eye-catching heart-shaped foliage.

Native to North America, this wonderful tree will grow in a variety of conditions and climates. There are weeping forms, trees with pink leaves, and ones that bloom for weeks and weeks.

Let’s talk all about the wonderful redbud tree.

What Are Redbud Trees?

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Redbud trees (Cercis spp.) are actually a part of the bean family, believe it or not. There are multiple species, many of which are native to North America.

The most common is the eastern redbud (C. canadensis), but there’s also the Mexican redbud (C. mexicana), the western redbud (C. occidentalis), and the Oklahoma redbud (C. reniformis).

Outside of North America, you’ll find the Chinese redbud (C. chinensis) and the Judas tree (C. siliquastrum), which hails from the Mediterranean region.

There are many varieties that can be chosen for foliage, blooms, height, and warm or cold conditions, and some are weeping varieties.

Redbuds grow well in USDA Growing Zones 4 to 9, but keep an eye out in your area where others may grow varieties that suit.

16 of the Best Redbuds

Like we said, there are lots and lots to choose from when you’re growing redbuds. Here are just a few of the ones we like:

The Rising Sun

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Apart from the seriously cool name, this C. canadensis cultivar changes color as the season goes on. The blooms are fuchsia, but it’s the leaves that put on the real show. They start out apricot and then gold in the spring and then turn lime green in the heat of the summer.

Ace of Hearts

‘Ace of Hearts’ is a lovely dwarf eastern cultivar that is perfect for small areas or container growing. It grows no more than 12 feet in height, and you don’t even need to prune it to shape.

Forest Pansy

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If you’ve seen a striking redbud with burgundy leaves, it is likely C. canadensis ‘Forest Pansy.’ It’s a popular redbud, so you see it all over North America. After the fuchsia flowers fade, the scarlet-purple leaves come out. In cooler climates, the burgundy color deepens. In warmer areas, it fades to green.

Hearts of Gold

‘Hearts of Gold’ shows off in the spring with bright purple-red flowers, but the show continues into the summer. The foliage on this C. canadensis cultivar is bright yellow at first before transitioning to bright green in the summer.

Texas White

‘Texas White’ stands out from most other redbuds because it produces bright white flowers, followed by dark green foliage.

Merlot

This is a hybrid of ‘Texas White’ and the popular ‘Forest Pansy.’ It’s both heat and drought-tolerant. The leaves are dark purple, and the coloring stays true even in warmer climates. It’s really worth it if you can get your hands on a specimen.

Flame Thrower

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‘Flame Thrower’ puts on a striking show with gorgeous reddish-purple flowers followed by bright red foliage in the spring. Eventually, the leaves transition to yellow and then green as the season progresses, but not all leaves change at the same time.

The result is a tree with a riot of color all at once.

Floating Clouds

‘Floating Clouds’ stands out from other C. canadensis cultivars because of its white and green variegated foliage, which emerges after the fuchsia flowers fade in spring.

Tennessee Pink

This C. canadensis cultivar has truly pink flowers, rather than the reddish or fuchsia that most other redbuds have. It’s a beautiful alternative if you’re looking for something a bit softer in color.

Appalachian Red

The flowers on this C. canadensis beauty or bright red, covering the tree in the spring and making it look like it’s covered in smoldering red flames.

Oklahoma

‘Oklahoma’ is a cultivar of the texensis variety of eastern redbuds. It’s much more heat tolerant than the species. Formerly classified as its own species (C. reniformis), it’s native to southeastern areas of North America and has a shrubby growth habit.

Redbuds With a Weeping Form

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These days, breeders have created a few redbuds that have a beautiful weeping form. Here are a few to watch for:

  • Ruby Falls
  • Lavender Twist
  • Cascading Hearts
  • Varigated Weeper
  • Traveller

Propagating Redbud Trees

There are two easy ways to propagate redbud trees. For real ease, buy a tree from a reputable nursery. If you want to save money in the garden like me, try one of the methods below.

10 Steps to Take Redbud Cuttings

First, a word about the reliability of cuttings. You have to use a young tree, probably under five years of age. The older redbud is unreliable in forming roots on cuttings.

When you take cuttings from a young tree, make sure you take several as the majority won’t work.

  1. Wait until Spring or Summer before starting. The blooms should have faded, and the foliage starting to form.
  2. Place your containers ready to go. Fill them with a mixture of peat and perlite or sand.
  3. Cut 6-inch softwood cuttings. Take the cutting just below a set of leaves. Make sure there are no flowers or buds on the cuttings.
  4. Remove the leaves that are on the lower half of the cutting because you want to expose the nodes.
  5. Use rooting hormone powder to give the best chance of success.
  6. Plant the cutting into the growing medium. Half of the cutting should be covered.
  7. Place the cuttings where the pots will remain at temperatures at least 70ºF.
  8. The peat medium must be kept moist. Once the top inch is dry, water it so that the top two inches are moist again. Try not to let it dry out completely as peat is hard to moisten again once it’s dry.
  9. Check for roots after four weeks by gently pulling on the cutting to test for resistance. Two weeks after the formation of roots, replant in potting mix in a larger container.
  10. Provide partial shade to protect the cutting from the afternoon sun until you replant it in the garden.

Grow Redbud Trees From Seed

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Growing redbuds from seed is time-consuming but fun. Especially if enjoy starting the growing process with seeds as I do.

There are two things you must do to make the seeds viable.

  1. The outside of the seed is extremely hard, and you have to use hot water to break down the exterior and enable the seed to germinate.
  2. You have to break the natural dormancy of the seed by placing it in the fridge.

Here are the 8 steps:

  1. Collect the seeds when the pods are brown and dry in the fall.
  2. Remove the seeds and place them in boiling water for one minute.
  3. Mix 50/50 sand and peat moss in a plastic container suitable to go in the fridge.
  4. Fill it halfway with the peat moss and sand mixture.
  5. Place the seeds on the mixture, then cover with more of the mixture. Moisten with a spray bottle.
  6. Wrap tinfoil over the top of the container and punch a few small holes to allow everything to breathe.
  7. Place in the fridge for eight weeks to break dormancy. The ideal temperature is between 35ºF and 40ºF.
  8. Once this is completed, plant the seeds as normal in seed raising mix.

How to Care for Redbud Trees

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Redbuds grow well in USDA Growing Zones 4 to 9, but with the sheer amount of cultivars, there may be some that can grow where you are if you’re outside those zones. Check with your local nursery.

Provide at least four hours of sunshine a day, preferably more. Most can handle full sun.

Redbuds aren’t fussy when it comes to soil pH, but above 7.5 is preferred. As long as the soil is free draining, you’ll be okay. Even soils that are slightly deficient in nutrients are tolerated by redbud trees.

Water twice a week for the first month after planting. For months two and three, water once a week. After that, the rainfall should be sufficient, or water deeply once a month.

If the soil feels dry in the top three inches, it’s probably time to add water to care for your growing redbuds.

Fertilizing

Fertilize with a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer three to four times a year during the growing season.

Pruning

Part of what makes growing redbuds fun is that you don’t have to do much maintenance. Once in a while, you’ll need to do some pruning.

Prune away any damaged or diseased branches whenever you see them. You should also prune to shape when the trees are young.

To prune to shape:

  1. Prune damaged and diseased branches first. Then prune based on the shape of the tree and your desired shape.
  2. This should be completed in summer when all spring growth has stopped.
  3. Aim to create a ‘U’ shape or cup. Airflow is as important as shape.

Best Companion Plants for Growing Redbuds

  • Forsythia
  • Bluebells
  • Daffodils
  • Tulips
  • Moss Phlox
  • Evergreen Candytuft

Problems and Solutions for Growing Redbud Trees

When growing redbuds, if you provide them with the right conditions to start with, you rarely run into health problems. Having said that, there are some things you might experience, especially if your plants suffer from drought stress or poorly draining soil.

Cankers

Dieback and canker are caused by pathogens in the Botryosphaeria genus. Initially, you may see sunken areas in the bark. Over time, these expand to become black cankers with cracks in the center.

The canker girdles the branches, and anything behind it dies. Some varieties of redbud suffer badly from cankers and often die off.

Prune infected branches well beyond the canker and bark discoloration. Keep the tree as healthy as possible by feeding in the spring and making sure you water well to keep the tree as strong as possible.

When you’re growing redbuds, be careful not to damage the tree when pruning or mowing around it.

Leaf Spot

Although not a serious problem if it only impacts the tree over one season, over time, the tree can lose a lot of vigor if it’s infected with leaf spots (Mycosphaerella cercidicola). That leaves it vulnerable to other pests and problems.

At first, you will see rusty brown spots with a raised outer edge. As the disease progresses, the upper side of the leaf will be gray, and the underside brown.

Rake up all leaves that drop off and make sure the redbud tree is well watered and fertilized, so it is healthy.

Scale

There are several species of scale that might attack growing redbuds. Terrapin scale (Mesolecanium nigrofasciatum) are particularly common.

You will see these scale on the small twigs of redbud. There is usually one generation each year. They are reddish-brown with black mottling on a 1/8 of an inch oval body.

Eggs are generally laid around June each year. Redbuds are hardy, but big infestations can kill you tree.

Scale are sap suckers and cause the tree to lose vigor. They also defecate on the plant, leaving a sticky residue behind that attracts both ants and wasps.

Our guide to scale can help you get them under control.

Tent Caterpillar

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This distinctive caterpillar is easy to spot. It has a furry body that is reddish-brown with tufts of white hair. Even more obvious are the woven nests they make in the tree.

It munches on the leaves, and a big infestation can defoliate an entire redbud tree. Prune away any infested branches off and burn them if possible.

Otherwise, sweep them out of the tree and don’t worry too much. Tent caterpillars won’t usually kill a tree, and the tree will return to its normal self the following year. Tent caterpillars tend to only come in large numbers every few years, giving the tree time to recover.

White Marked Tussock Moth

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Unlike the terrapin scale, Orgyia leucostigma has two generations each year. They overwinter on the tree before hatching around May. The caterpillars mature in late June. The next generation matures about August.

The adults have brown and yellow stripes with a red spot behind the head. They eat the foliage, leaving behind the skeleton of the leaves. In small numbers, the tree won’t suffer. In large numbers, the tree suffers with vigor and the ability to photosynthesize.

Spray a product that contains Bacillus thuringiensis on and around the caterpillar’s nets. Follow the instructions on the pack.

Other common pests include:

  • Aphids
  • Spider Mites

Best Uses

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If you’re looking to draw in pollinators, you definitely should be growing redbuds. In the spring, the trees will be alive with the hum of bees and butterflies high up in the branches.

Depending on the size and shape of the tree you choose, they can grow in large containers, as a specimen to anchor your garden, or to provide shade for a picnic area.

You can also eat the young leaves and flowers, if you want to add something unique to your kitchen.

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Growing Redbuds: How to Plant and Care for These Spring Superstars (2024)

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