Redbud Q&A by extension agent

Published 12:28 am Sunday, September 21, 2008

Q: We are going to replace an older Bradford pear tree this fall and were thinking of using a Redbud. Do you think this would be a good yard tree…and can you tell us about it?

A: The Eastern Redbud, (Cercis Canadensis), is in my opinion a much better choice than the Bradford pear that you have now. A Redbud can be an attractive addition to your yard and is one of the best eastern and southeastern U. S. native plants used in our landscapes.

This flowering tree reaches heights of 20-35 feet with about that same footage of spread. It can be maintained with branches close to the ground and forms a rounded canopy. The Eastern Redbud is a fast grower with 1-2 feet per year expected when it is properly cared for.

Redbuds give quite a color display with their reddish purple buds that open up to purple blooms with a hint of rosy pink. Their flowers are attention getters with blooms clustered in groups of 4 to 8. After blooming, leaves come out reddish purple, but turn dark green very quickly. Even the stems of a Redbud can be an attractive feature as they are reddish-brown with a zigzag growth habit. Fall color is normally yellow-green to yellow.

Eastern Redbuds should be planted in moist well-drained soils. They are fairly adaptable to a wide range of soil pH but do not prefer poorly drained areas. They should be placed so they receive full sun to light shade. They are not unhealthy trees but can contract diseases such as canker or verticillium wilt. Weakened or stressed trees tend to be much more susceptible, so caring for them in the right way is very important. Avoiding mechanical damage to their trunks is also important.

The Eastern Redbud can be used in a variety of ways in the landscape. It can be used as a specimen tree or planted in attractive groupings. It works well with other plants in a border and can also fit right into a naturalized or woodland garden.

There are many cultivars with differing attributes, so before purchasing, you can do some homework and get one that matches what you are looking for. If you really want an unusual Redbud, you might try one of the weeping forms. These are great for a patio tree because of size. Varieties like ‘covey’ only get about 5-8 feet tall and 5-8 feet wide. Another variety called ‘traveller’ is even shorter and wider with darker green glossy leaves.

Redbud is an excellent choice for replacing your Bradford pear, and with some tender love and care, should be beautiful for years to come.