Redbuds come in several varieties in the United States but the most common is the Eastern Redbud. They are the delicately limbed trees growing naturally in the understory of larger tree stands along the roadways of America or the full-canopied tree gracing the landscapes of many homes, drenched in purplish-red buds in the early spring. Where ever you see them, redbuds are glorious trees that announce emphatically that spring is here. Understanding their growth can help you decide if one is right for your landscape and how to care for it.
About Redbud Trees
As many trees can live to be more than 100 years old, redbuds live a relatively short life span of no more than 30 years. To compensate for this, they do a lot growing in their early years. If they are planted in the open in full sun, they tend to develop a “V” shape and spread to about 15 feet. If they grow in the understory of other trees, their shape will adapt to reach the sun as best they can, giving them a disproportionate look.
Left to grow naturally, redbuds typically develop several trunks however with training and pruning, they can be groomed to grow on a single trunk. They tend to lean and grow wider as they age. Young trees exhibit a reddish brown to dark brown bark which changes as the tree matures. Older trees begin to shed their outer bark, revealing an orange inner bark which lends another feature of interest to the tree.
Leaves and Flowers
The most alluring feature of the redbud is its springtime blooms, tiny pinkish-purplish flowers that seemingly erupt from the very bark of the tree. Blooming does not usually happen until the tree is at least 7 years old. Once spring temperatures warm to a constant 50 degrees for about 30 days usually in late March to early April, tiny buds of pink or purple begin to emerge. The redbud’s flowers are bisexual and self-pollinating.
Redbuds are deciduous and shed their distinctive heart-shaped leaves every fall. These begin to emerge as the flowers are beginning to fade. To identify a redbud look for mature leaves of about 4 inches in length growing in a zigzag pattern along branches and twigs. Their autumn color is yellow.
Best Conditions for Redbuds
Redbuds require the same basic care most ornamental trees require. Provide nutrient rich soil that is well-drained. Most soil types can be tolerated. Redbuds are tolerant of shade, particularly in the early part of their lives but less so later on. Because it is a relatively small tree often with multiple trunks, the branches also tend to be small in diameter. This in conjunction with its tendency to spread widely can make it prone to damage from high winds. A location out of the wind can help preserve the tree. Annual pruning and seasonal checks for disease or insect problems are the only other maintenance required.
Sources: Department of Agriculture: Eastern Redbud
Ohio State University: Redbud, Eastern Redbud,
University of Connecticut: Eastern Redbud