Redbuds are a favorite small tree in many parts of North America, and March and April are the months when you can see why. Masses of bright pink flowers open all over the branches, turning each tree into a jaw-dropping beauty. When viewed up close, the flowers look like pea flowers; from a distance, they’re a mass of color. Redbuds also have 5-inch, heart-shaped leaves that are tender green in summer and yellow in autumn. The flowers give way to fruits, which turn to small brown seed pods in autumn. The trees usually grow multiple trunks but can be pruned to one.
Common name: Eastern redbud
Botanical name: Cercis canadensis
Plant type: Deciduous tree or shrub
Zones: 5 to 9
Height: To 30 feet tall and wide
• Sun: Full sun to part shade.
• Soil: Rich in organic matter and well-drained.
• Moisture: Medium to moist. Water in times of drought.
• Mulch: A layer of mulch around the base of the plant will help keep weeds at bay and conserve moisture. Leave a 4-inch gap between the mulch and the tree’s trunk.
• Pruning: Because redbuds bloom early in spring, any pruning should be done shortly after flowering to ensure the trees flower well the following year.
• Fertilizer: None needed.
• By seed or cutting
Pests and diseases
• Weevils, whiteflies, scale insects, and leafhoppers can be problems.
• Trees may be infected by canker, leaf spots, verticillium wilt, and blights.
• Redbud flowers attract hummingbirds.
• For a stunning spring display, underplant your redbud tree with spring bulbs like daffodils, hyacinth, and tulips, and ephemerals like shooting stars, trillium, and bloodroot.
• Remember that redbud also has good fall color. Plant fall flowers like black-eyed Susans and asters underneath. Their foliage will also help hide the dying leaves of the spring bulbs.
• Cercis canadensis alba bears white flowers.
• Cercis canadensis ‘Appalachian Red’ has brighter pink flowers than the species.
• Cercis canadensis ‘Covey’ has a distinct weeping habit.
• Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ has deep, purple-red leaves that turn greenish purple in summer.
All in the family
• Cercis canadensis is in the pea or legume family, the third largest family of flowering plants.
• Other plants in this family include soybean, beans, alfalfa, peanuts, kudzu, and, of course, peas.
Where to buy
• Arbor Day Foundation, Nebraska City, NE, 888-448-7337, www.arborday.org
• Cold Stream Farm, Free Soil, MI, 231-464-5809, www.coldstreamfarm.net
• Nature Hills Nursery, Omaha, NE, 888-864-7663, www.naturehills.com
(Text by Mary Pestel, photo of Cercis canadensis ‘Appalachian Red’ courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden’s Kemper Center for Home Gardening.)