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The gardener’s guide to redbuds

Cercis canadensis

One in an occasional series of guides on growing popular plants. Other guides include lenten rose, peony, azalea, elephant ear, coleus, lantana, coneflower, savory calamint and rudbeckia.

The redbud is one of the most beautiful and useful trees in the garden and deserves more use. Of small to medium stature, it is perfectly sized for a number of domestic applications and settings. It shines in April and then steps back, but it never loses its presence and should be planted where it will be noticed.

It is one of the first trees to bloom in spring, when its charcoal gray bark is smothered in a haze of tiny rose-pink blossoms that emerge directly from the wood.


After 10 years, a redbud will be approximately 15 feet high and as much across, though sensitive pruning can control its spread while keeping its natural silhouette.

Use and placement

Redbud is well suited to small city gardens because of its size and its adaptability to shade. In larger gardens, it can be used as a specimen or as an understory tree beneath hardwoods, providing a valuable layer between low growing plants and the shade trees.

An eastern redbud tree in a Virginia backyard. (Shutterstock)

Redbud is adaptable to different soil types and pH but won’t grow in waterlogged conditions. It’s a tree for full sun or part shade and is hardy in Zones 5 to 9.

Planting and care

The planting hole should be a few inches wider than the diameter of the rootball and just deep enough so that the flare at the base of the trunk will be one or two inches above the surrounding soil level. Backfill with the soil dug from the hole. Make sure that the trunk is vertical from all angles. Soak the roots after planting to eliminate air pockets and backfill with soil as needed. Soil enrichment is not necessary but a light organic mulch will retain moisture and keep weeds back. Mulch must not contact the trunk.

Container grown trees may have congested roots that will need scoring and teasing apart. Prune out damaged roots. Larger sizes may be wrapped in burlap. The wire or ties at the top of the burlap ball must be cut away after planting. Take care to keep the rootball soil intact during planting. Any surface roots that are strangling the trunk should be removed at planting.

An annual top dressing of compost or leaf mold will help keep a redbud happy.


Many varieties of this native tree have been developed, some for different flower color, others for leaf coloration and others for growth habit. Appalachian Red has a deep pink bloom, Tennessee Pink is a lighter pink, and Royal White is one of the white flowering varieties. Of the purple-leafed varieties, Forest Pansy remains predominant, though newer maroon versions are available, including Black Pearl, said to hold its dark color better in summer heat. Golden yellow varieties are also available, notably Hearts of Gold.

A small, upright selection of the Chinese redbud, named Don Egolf, grows to just nine feet after 15 years and is a redbud for small gardens. It does not set the redbud’s distinctive (and perhaps undesirable) seed pods and is also more resistant to a canker disease that can afflict the native tree.

Leaves of a Hearts of Gold redbud tree. (Shutterstock)
Flowers on an Appalachian Red redbud tree. (Tom Incrocci/Missouri Botanical Garden)
Royal White redbud trees. (Tom Incrocci/Missouri Botanical Garden)
Forest Pansy redbud tree leaves. (Shutterstock)
TOP LEFT: Leaves of a Hearts of Gold redbud tree. (Shutterstock) TOP RIGHT: Flowers on an Appalachian Red redbud tree. (Tom Incrocci/Missouri Botanical Garden) BOTTOM LEFT: Royal White redbud trees. (Tom Incrocci/Missouri Botanical Garden) BOTTOM RIGHT: Forest Pansy redbud tree leaves. (Shutterstock)

Lead illustration by Washington Post Staff/Shutterstock/Tom Incrocci/Missouri Botanical Garden. Icon illustrations by Jeannie Phan.

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