Gardening

Looking for a cool, shady and natural place in your backyard? Consider planting an Eastern redbud tree.

Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) is an outstanding deciduous ornamental tree native to Texas. Redbuds always remain small, maturing at 20 to 30 feet in height and 15 to 35 feet in width. They generally grow as a small tree with a divided trunk close to the ground. The spreading crown is usually rounded to flat-topped. If not pruned, it can develop as a multi-trunk shrub.

I found conflicting information about their rate of growth. Some sites say redbuds grow at a moderate rate, about 7 to 10 feet in five to six years, but our Texas A&M Forest Service says they have a rapid rate of growth. They tend to be short-lived, often declining from disease after about 20 years.

The most appealing feature of this tree is the showy flower, which is magenta in bud but opens to lavender-pink before the leaves emerge early in spring. The flowers appear in clusters that nearly cover the bare branches of the tree. They remain for two to three weeks. They usually appear in early spring after the white flowers of serviceberry and wild plum and before (and during) the white and pink flowers of the flowering dogwood.

Although the flower of the species is lavender-pink, certain varieties and cultivars have white, magenta-pink or rosy, pink flowers. The heart-shaped leaves are reddish as they emerge and gradually turn dark green in summer. The fall color is yellow.

This tree is best used in a naturalized area, where the flowers are contrasted against evergreens or woodlands. I’ve seen it successfully grown as a specimen or in groupings in a shrub border.

Forest Pansy is one of the earliest and most popular cultivars of Redbuds. It has deep burgundy foliage that loses its intense color in the heat of summer, becoming almost bronze. Flowers are more rose purple than the species and open a little later. I recently saw a beautiful specimen in the backyard of my good friend Ann Blanton.

Although the redbud does well in most soil types, it prefers moist, well-drained sites. It does not tolerate wet, soggy soil. It tolerates both acid and alkaline soils. A redbud will grow well in full sun but prefers some shade in the heat of summer. In its natural state, you will often find redbud as an understory tree. Although it will grow in fairly dense shade, it blooms more heavily when exposed to sun. Redbuds can tolerate moderate dry spells, but appreciate irrigation in our typical hot, dry summer.

Trees and shrubs are best planted from pots during the fall and winter. If dug up and transplanted, transplant when very small and dormant in the middle of winter, as newly transplanted trees have difficulty surviving in more stressful parts of the year.

When located near a walkway or patio, low branches must be pruned for clearance beneath the canopy. It can be trained to grow with a single or multiple trunks. Prune out dead branches.

Apply mulch out as far as the drip line. While this large of an area may seem excessive, the roots will greatly benefit. Mulch will keep the soil cooler and more evenly moist in the summer. Water the plants well weekly. Fertilize them during the spring at six-week intervals with a slow-release tree and shrub fertilizer.

To aid tree health, prune out the diseased branches and dispose of the cuttings. This significantly helps reduce disease. Prune when the stems and foliage are dry. Cut the stem 6-8 inches below where any sunken, cracked or diseased area is and disinfest the pruners between cuts with a spray of rubbing alcohol on the pruners.

For more ideas and help choosing what trees would be best in your landscape, be sure to check out the Texas A&M Forest Service “Texas Tree Planting Guide” at texastreeplanting.tamu.edu. This easy-to-use website not only provides excellent information on selecting trees but has a number of planting tools for tree planting and care.