Redbud trees (Cercis spp.) are lauded for their clusters of pink, violet or white flowers in springtime before their leaves emerge. Even after blooming, the heart-shaped leaves are attractive and attain golden yellow tones in autumn. Choose a redbud species best suited for your climate and soils.
Redbud trees bloom before their foliage emerges in mid-spring. The flowers appear in clusters on the bark of branches and sometimes the trunk, ranging in color from lavender-pink to rose-violet, sometimes pure white. The foliage often unfurls with a pinkish or bronze hue before maturing to medium green to blue-green. Leaf blade shapes are heart-shaped or kidney-shaped, always visually attractive and interesting. In autumn the foliage attains shades of yellow and gold before falling off. Brown, dangling seed pods often persist into winter, drying and splitting open to release the seeds.
The eastern or American redbud (Cercis canadensis) is a spreading, upright small tree from southeastern North America. It reaches a mature maximum height of 25 to 30 feet. Grow it in USDA Hardiness Zones 6 through 9. Selection "Forest Pansy" has purple foliage and "Silver Cloud" has white and green variegated foliage. The naturally-occurring variety alba has white flowers.
Also a redbud but usually called Judas tree (Cercis siliquastrum) is a species that is native to southeastern Europe and westernmost Asia, including the Middle East. This deciduous tree matures to a height of 30 feet. Grow it in USDA Zones 6 through 9. The natural form albida bears white blossoms, and selection "Bodnant" bears dark purplish rose flowers.
A spreading, multi-stemmed small deciduous tree, the California redbud, or western redbud (Cercis occidentalis) is native to the American Southwest. This species reaches a mature height of 15 feet. Grow the California redbud in USDA Hardiness Zones 8 through 10.
Hailing from central China, the Chinese redbud (Cercis chinensis) is a small deciduous tree with many branches, being smaller and narrower in habit than the eastern redbud. It reaches a mature height of 16 to 20 feet. Grow this species in USDA Zones 6 or 7 through 9. Selection "Avondale" matures to only 10 feet in height and is known for an abundant display of deep violet-rose flowers.
The variety texensis of the American redbud (Cercis canadensis), sometimes called the Texas redbud (Cercis canadensis var. texensis), is heat- and drought-tolerant, reaching a smaller maturity of 15 feet. Texas redbud selection "Oklahoma" has deep red-wine flowers. It is best raised in USDA Zones 7 through 9.
Grow redbud flowering trees in full sun, over 8 hours of sunlight daily, to dappled shade in broken woodland settings. The soil should be deep and fertile, ideally acidic to slightly alkaline in pH (5.5 to 8.0). They grow best in loamy soils, although a sandy or clay-based soil is fine as long as drainage is good and ample organic matter is incorporated. Plant these trees in the location where they are to grow permanently, as seedlings or container-grown nursery stock. They do not cope well with root disturbance or being transplanted once established in the ground.
Redbud trees serve an ornamental purpose in gardens, especially as a feature in spring-centered designs. The yellow fall foliage attracts the eye, but pales in comparison to the floral color display in springtime. The wide array of species and varieties available allow gardeners to select a tree that meets the scale of their garden space as well as climatic and soil conditions. Larger-sized species may serve as a shade tree, but the leaf canopy is not as full or grand as those of a maple or oak. Dwarf or weeping varieties of redbud become accents in containers or mixed shrub borders.