Adaptable and dependable redbuds include some of our most charming native trees. In early spring, before leaf-out, a profusion of small, sweet pea–shaped, lavender-pink to rosy purple flowers appears on twigs, branches, and even the main trunk. Blossoms are followed by clusters of flat, beanlike pods that persist into winter and give rise to numerous seedlings around the tree. Handsome broad, rounded, or heart-shaped leaves may change to bright yellow in fall, but fall color is inconsistent.
Redbuds make fine lawn trees, look great in groupings, and have their place in shrub borders and even foundation plantings. In winter, the dark, leafless branches form an attractive silhouette, especially effective against a light-colored wall. Larger types make nice small shade trees for patios and courtyards. And you can’t miss when using redbuds in naturalized settings, such as at the edge of a woodland.
- Common Name: Redbud tree, Judas tree
- Botanical Name: Cercis spp.
- Family: Fabaceae (Leguminosae)
- Plant Type: Deciduous shrubs or trees
- Mature Size: Up to 30 ft. tall and 30 ft. wide, depending on species
- Sun Exposure: Full sun or light shade, except as noted
- Soil Type: Well-drained, average moisture
- Soil pH: Acidic, neutral, alkaline
- Bloom Time: Spring
- Flower Color: Pink, purple, white
- Hardiness Zones: 4–9 for Eastern redbud; 6–9 for most other types
- Native Area: North America, Central America, Asia, Europe
Redbuds will adapt to many conditions. Most varieties aren’t fussy about soil type as long as it has good drainage. Redbuds look their best in planted in full or partial sun and when provided with consistent moisture. These small flowering trees are most noticeable when blanketed with flower clusters in the spring; most redbuds will put on a better show in full sun, but the leaves can scald in very hot, dry areas. The green heart-shaped leaves make this an attractive shade tree, but you can also find varieties with more dramatic burgundy or gold leaves. Like many small trees, redbuds only live for about 20 years.
As a general rule, plant your redbud in a spot where it receives at least four hours of direct sunlight each day. If you live in a milder climate like the Upper South, planting in full sun (at least six hours of sun exposure) will result in more even growth and more flowers. If your tree will face severe heat in the summer, light afternoon shade can help prevent scalding.
Most redbuds will tolerate average soil of any type except for heavy clay. The trees can adapt to acidic, neutral, or alkaline soils, though Western redbuds (C. canadensis var. orbiculata) prefer alkaline soil. Redbuds do not do well in poorly drained or constantly wet soils. Most redbud trees appreciate consistent moisture, but there are exceptions for dryer areas discussed below.
The aforementioned subspecies commonly called Western redbud, Arizona redbud, or California redbud can handle occasionally dry soil, as can Texas redbud (C. canadensis var. texensis) and Mexican redbud (C. canadensis var. mexicana). These trees often grow in rocky, dry soils in their natural habitat.
But most redbud trees do best with consistent moisture and do not tolerate drought. As a general rule, water your tree regularly until it is established, and continue watering during dry spells thereafter. Apply 1-2 inches of wood mulch or 3-4 inches of pine straw to help preserve moisture (but don’t pile mulch against the trunk, which can lead to infestation and disease).
Temperature And Humidity
Hardy to Zone 9, redbud trees can be grown in most of the South. Provide afternoon shade if your garden endures very hot summers, such as in southern Alabama or northern Florida. Know that this tree is more likely to appreciate a humid climate over a dry one. Plant a Texas redbud like «Oklahoma» or «Texas White» if you live in a dry climate. If you live in Zone 5, try an Eastern redbud (C. canadensis) bred for colder climates.
Though redbud trees do not require fertilizing, they will benefit from an annual application of slow-release tree and shrub fertilizer in early spring (follow the instructions on the product label).
Types Of Redbuds
EASTERN REDBUD (C. canadensis): Zones US, MS, LS, CS; 4–9. Native to eastern U.S. The fastest growing and largest (to 25–35 ft. tall) of the redbuds, and the most apt to take tree form. Round-headed but with horizontally tiered branches in age. Leaves are usually rich green, 3–6 in. long, with pointed tips. Flowers are small (1/2 in. long), rosy pink or lavender. Needs some winter chill to flower profusely. Regular water.
Eastern redbud is valuable for bridging the color gap between the early-flowering fruit trees (flowering peach, flowering plum) and the crabapples and late-flowering dogwoods and cherries. Effective as a specimen or understory tree.
Available selections include the following:
- ‘Alba». White blossoms.
- ‘Appalachian Red» (‘Appalachia»). Flowers are deep pink—not a true red but close to it.
- ‘Covey». Dwarf weeping selection with unusual zigzagging, twisting branches. Lavender flowers; leaves slightly larger than those of the species. Original plant was only 4Í ft. high, 7 ft. wide at 40 years old.
- ‘Flame». Double pink blooms.
- ‘Forest Pansy». Foliage emerges a gaudy purple in spring, then gradually changes to dark green as summer heat increases. Rosy purple flowers. Nice color accent; benefits from afternoon shade in summer.
- ‘Rubye Atkinson». Pure pink flowers.
- ‘Silver Cloud». Leaves marbled with white.
- ‘Tennessee Pink». True pink flowers.
Among the deserving subspecies available are these two:
MEXICAN REDBUD (C. c. mexicana): Zones 6–9. From many areas of Mexico. The most typical form is single-trunked, to 15 ft. with leathery blue-green leaves and pinkish-purple flowers. Moderate water with occasional dryness.
WESTERN, CALIFORNIA, or TEXAS REDBUD (C. c. texensis): Zones 6-9. Native to the Southwest. To 15–25 ft. high and wide. Takes moderate water and is more drought-tolerant. ‘Oklahoma» has deep purple buds opening to rosy-purple flowers; ‘Texas White» bears pure white blossoms. Both have thick, leathery dark green leaves.
CHINESE REDBUD (C. chinensis): Zones 6–9. Native to China, Japan. Seen mostly as light, open shrub to 10–12 ft. tall, 10 ft. wide. Flower clusters are 3–5 in. long, deep rose, almost rosy purple. Leaves (to 5 in. long) are sometimes glossier and brighter green than those of C. canadensis, with a transparent line around the edge. ‘Avondale» is a superior form with profuse deep purple flowers. Full sun; regular water.
JUDAS TREE or MEDITERRANEAN REDBUD (C. siliquastrum): Zones 6–9. Native to Europe and western Asia. Typically a shrubby plant to 25 ft. tall and wide, but occasionally a taller, slender tree with a single trunk. Purplish rose, 1/2-in.-long flowers; 3- to 5-in. leaves, deeply heart-shaped at base, rounded or notched at tip. Performs best with some winter chill. Moderate to regular water, but in well-drained soil. «Alba» is a white-flowering form.
Diseased or damaged branches can be pruned from the tree anytime. Using sharp pruners or loppers, cut just before a healthy bud on the branch or just to the branch collar, the swollen area where it meets the trunk.
Many redbuds start as multi-stemmed plants. If you would your plant to grow as a single-stemmed tree, remove all but the straightest and strongest stem. You can also choose to retain the most attractive two or three stems and remove the others. Remove any suckers that sprout at the base of the tree or on a limb.
Redbuds are loaded down with seed pods every year, a handful of which may sprout around your garden. Unfortunately, the long taproot makes these trees difficult to transplant. Redbuds also are difficult to grow from cuttings. Instead, you can try germinating the seeds in a pot for planting later using the steps provided below.
Growing Redbuds From Seed
In order to germinate the seeds, you must break through the hard seed coat (scarification) and expose the seed to winter temperatures (cold stratification). The seedlings you grow likely won’t look the same as the mother plant. Follow these steps to propagate your redbud tree:
- Collect brown, dry pods in the fall and remove the seeds.
- Submerge your seeds in boiling water for one minute to break through the seed coat.
- Bury the seeds in a moist mixture of sand and peat moss in a small, plastic container. Cover with a lid that has one or two holes punched for a bit of airflow.
- Place the container in an environment that is between 35 to 41 degrees Fahrenheit for five to eight weeks—usually in your refrigerator.
- Remove the seeds and plant in potting soil 1/4 inch deep for germination. Place in a warm spot in your home. Water so that the soil stays moist.
Redbuds generally don’t need winter protection in the South. A couple of inches of mulch can help regulate moisture levels and soil temperature year round.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
Though most plant diseases only afflict redbuds for a season or two, two types of fungal infections can slowly kill your tree by blocking the vascular system so that the tree can’t drink. Verticillium wilt can enter your redbud from the soil or a wound, including from pruning cuts. Leaves begin to turn yellow and brown until branches begin to die off one by one. Always sanitize your pruning tools to prevent the spread of disease, and remove any dead branches. If the tree shows signs of infection, water the tree deeply and frequently during warm dry periods to keep it healthy. Fertilize the tree in spring.
Redbuds are also susceptible to canker from a Botryosphaeria fungus. Symptoms include wilting and browning leaves and cankers or dark sunken spots on the branches. The disease can be spread by splashing water and wind. Prune out infested branches when you find them, cutting at least 3 or 4 inches below each canker.
Keeping your tree healthy in the first place can help it resist infection. If you lose a tree to one of these fungal infections, don’t plant another redbud in that location.
Insects are to be expected on any tree, but if you notice widespread damage from a severe infestation of scales (oval, sometimes cottony leaf-sucking insects) or caterpillars, you can apply horticultural oil to keep the population under control.
Was this page helpful?
Thanks for your feedback!
Tell us why!