Icon - Arrow LeftAn icon we use to indicate a rightwards action. Icon - Arrow RightAn icon we use to indicate a leftwards action. Icon - External LinkAn icon we use to indicate a button link is external. Icon - MessageThe icon we use to represent an email action. Icon - Down ChevronUsed to indicate a dropdown. Icon - CloseUsed to indicate a close action. Icon - Dropdown ArrowUsed to indicate a dropdown. Icon - Location PinUsed to showcase a location on a map. Icon - Zoom OutUsed to indicate a zoom out action on a map. Icon - Zoom InUsed to indicate a zoom in action on a map. Icon - SearchUsed to indicate a search action. Icon - EmailUsed to indicate an emai action. Icon - FacebookFacebooks brand mark for use in social sharing icons. flipboard Icon - InstagramInstagrams brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - PinterestPinterests brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - TwitterTwitters brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - Check MarkA check mark for checkbox buttons.
You are reading

Gardening 101: Eastern Redbud Trees

Search

Gardening 101: Eastern Redbud Trees

April 15, 2019

Eastern Redbud, Cercis canadensis: “Pea Flowers”

In early spring the distinctive and profuse flowers of eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis), a small tree native to eastern and central North America, defy color-description. Are they pink? Rose? Purple? Lilac? We need a new redbud word. Clustered against the gray bark of their leafless branches, the darker buds (magenta?) open to a thick and pale pink pelt, giving the tree a psychedelic and slightly prehistoric appearance.

Read on to learn how to cultivate this native tree, and why.

Photography by Marie Viljoen, unless otherwise noted.

Above: Redbud is listed by the USDA as endangered in New Jersey and of “special concern” in Connecticut. This means that the tree is disappearing from what is left of its native habitat, as development eats away at natural areas. The good news is that planting native species such as redbud in our gardens has a buffering effect against this loss and also gives us the real pleasure that this striking spring performer unleashes in early spring.
The unique flowering habit of redbud makes it an effective showstopper, whether planted where it will contrast unapologetically with swaths of daffodils, or in a more restrained and indigenous garden.
Above: The unique flowering habit of redbud makes it an effective showstopper, whether planted where it will contrast unapologetically with swaths of daffodils, or in a more restrained and indigenous garden.
Redbud is a modest-size tree, making it a good choice for small and urban gardens where space is at a premium.
Above: Redbud is a modest-size tree, making it a good choice for small and urban gardens where space is at a premium.

Equally happy in sun or semi-shade, redbud is a natural understory tree which also adapts well to the high shade created by clusters of city buildings. Cold hardy redbud will grow in USDA zones 4 to 9. Its one steady requirement is ample moisture; this is not a tree for dry areas.

The famous pea-like flowers are not only pretty but edible. Add a handful to a salad or to summer rolls for a burst of crisp sweetness.

One cultivar offers eye-poppingly neon pink blossoms: &#8\2\16;Appalachian Red&#8\2\17; is not exactly red.
Above: One cultivar offers eye-poppingly neon pink blossoms: ‘Appalachian Red’ is not exactly red.
And if redbud pink is not your thing, choose cultivars such as &#8\2\16;Royal White&#8\2\17;, &#8\2\16;Texas White&#8\2\17;, and &#8\2\16;Alba&#8\2\17; for their cool and calm white blooms.
Above: And if redbud pink is not your thing, choose cultivars such as ‘Royal White’, ‘Texas White’, and ‘Alba’ for their cool and calm white blooms.

If you would like an alternative to green leaves, ‘Forest Pansy ‘ has deeply purple foliage.

Above: In late spring the trees leaf out and flowers are transformed into seedpods resembling snap peas.

The appealingly heart-shaped foliage rounds out the slender trees and creates deep shade beneath the branches. In fall the leaves turn a bright yellow.

Cheat Sheet

  • Some subspecies of Cercis canadensis will tolerate drier conditions: Ask for C. canadensis var. mexicana and C. canadensis var. texensis at native-plant nurseries.
  • Redbud is the state tree of Oklahoma.
  • Native Americans enjoyed the flowers as food.
  • George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew the tree in their gardens at Mount Vernon and Monticello.
Above: Photograph by MFDavis via Flickr.

Keep It Alive

  • Native to states with high annual rainfall, eastern redbud needs plenty of moisture and good drainage.
  • Apply a layer of mulch to conserve soil moisture (do not mound it around the trunk, or the tree will rot).
  • If planted in a container, choose one 24 inches or more in diameter, and monitor water closely (do not forget essential drainage holes).
  • Redbuds are very stressed by a brief drought; stress makes them prone to disease (just like humans).
  • If a branch is injured, prune it off cleanly: Injuries serve as portals for the fungi that cause dieback and Verticillium wilt in redbuds.
Photograph by Patrick Standish via Flickr.
Above: Photograph by Patrick Standish via Flickr.

See more of our favorite flowering trees in our curated design guide to Trees 101, including Apple Trees 101, Dogwood Trees 101, and Lemon Trees 101. For more inspiration, see:

Have a Question or Comment About This Post?

Join the conversation

v5.0