Our Native Redbud Tree

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A redbud tree in full bloom grabs my attention like no other spring blooming tree.  They just light up suddenly, like a neon beacon in the edge of the tree line; transforming from non-descript to gorgeous in the space of a day.


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This North American native, Cercis canadensis, grows wild in our woods.  Although there are a few cultivars available, including a white variety, the species pleases me just fine.


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And unlike many of the spring blooming fruit trees which show visible buds for weeks, waiting for the winter to pass; the blossoms of a redbud tree simply break directly out of the bark, anywhere and everywhere.  It is an amazing sight to see in early spring.


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Never particularly large, these trees survive to an advanced age.  And as they age, they keep growing and blooming year to year despite all manner of scars, injuries, and chaotic growth.  They have that courageous spirit of perseverance which expresses the heart and soul of springtime’s beauty.


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The redbud remains a quintessentially American tree.  They grow from The Hudson Bay south to the Gulf coast in eastern North America.


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I’ve grown up loving them every spring of my life, save one when I was in Europe in April and missed them.  They bloom soon after the Forsythia each year, but several days before the Dogwood’s buds open.


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Their flowers appear days before their leaves.  They bloom when the forest remains mostly bare, with just a hint of green haze as the leaves of larger trees break bud.  Their flowers feed bees and other nectar loving insects in early spring when there are few flowers in bloom.


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Mature redbud trees may grow wider than they grow tall.  Never growing more than 20 to 30 feet, redbud remains an understory tree, growing in the partial shade of the forest’s edge and around homes.


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After their flowers fade, beautiful heart shaped leaves appear, followed by seed pods which look like Asian pea pods. The leaves turn gold in autumn before they fall.


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The redbud is a member of the pea, or Fabaceae family.  The flowers and seedpods are edible, and parts of the redbud tree were used by our Native Americans for food.  I’ve heard that their seedpods are good in salad, but can’t say I’ve tried them myself…

Every flower, once pollinated, forms a seed pod.  You can imagine that in a few months time the pods hang thickly from the branches.


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And every pod contains several seeds, tasty to wildlife.  So many seeds form, that many survive to germinate.  The trees grow very quickly.  They shoot up in just a few years to get their branches high enough to catch the sunlight through the surrounding growth.  Slowly, they begin to fill out their rounded canopies as the years go by.

Redbud trees also help improve the soil and nourish other plants.  As legumes, members of the pea family, they can fix nitrogen, taken from the air, in the soil around their roots.  Their fallen leaves and seed pods also feed the soil as they decompose each winter.


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We were happy to find several redbud trees in our garden here.  We have one very large old one in the back near the ravine, and several much younger ones along the street.  We spot a new one in bloom every year or so, and I’ve planted at least two over the past few years.  One was a seedling sprouted in the wrong place, which I moved.  The other was a gift, which I grew on in a pot for a few years, before putting it into the ground earlier this spring.  Now it has just come into bloom for the first time.


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Mid- April, when the redbuds are in full bloom, the Dogwoods are opening, and the Azalea buds have begun to swell, is one of my favorite times of the year.  The bare woody bones of winter burst into vivid flowers and cover themselves with tender green leaves.  What astounding beauty manifests all around us each April.


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Woodland Gnome 2015


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A Four Season Pot In the Springtime

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A Four Season Pot changes seasonally, remaining attractive throughout all four seasons of the year.

It requires a little thinking ahead to pull this together, but is well worth it.  I prefer to begin a Four Season Pot in the autumn, when spring bulbs come on the market.

Bulbs are an important part of this ever changing display.  Ephemeral spring bulbs keep the arrangement fresh and interesting from late winter through early summer as the bulbs develop, bloom, and then begin to fade.  when the foliage is finished and begins to brown, it can finally be removed as the pot settles into summer.

A Four Season Pot can be designed to last for several years with only minor changes.  Begin with a large pot, of at least 18 inches, in a material which may stay outside year round in all sorts of weather.

The primary element of the planting is a shrub or small tree.  This is where the design gets interesting. 

You may choose an evergreen or a deciduous shrub.  You may select for interesting foliage, flowers, or both.  This primary plant stays in the pot as annuals come and go throughout the next several seasons.

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The Four Season pot in autumn, very soon after it was planted. Notice the Heuchera leaves are a different color here than in the spring photos.

When the shrub outgrows the pot you may choose to prune it, pot up to a larger container, or plant the shrub out into the garden and begin again with a new shrub.

Within the potting philosophy of , “thriller, filler, spiller;”  your shrub will usually be the  “thriller” or largest and tallest element.

Although I’ve done this scheme with evergreen shrubs, I prefer to create a Four Season planting design using a deciduous, spring blooming shrub or small tree.

Bringing attention to a lovely shrub, up close to daily traffic, so it can be observed as it transforms itself season to season is far more interesting to me than watching geraniums bloom.

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New spring Heuchera leaves are touched with copper, as will be the new fronds of the Autumn Brilliance fern when new growth begins.

This little design, constructed last autumn, is built around a tiny hybrid Redbud tree , Cercis canadensis, which Jonathan Patton and Dustin  gave me at the end of the season last year.  Homestead  Garden Center was closing out its deciduous stock and they didn’t want to store this little shrub over the winter.  A tiny little shrub in a small pot,  with its golden fall leaves still clinging to its branches, it was perfect for my needs.

Underplanted with a combination of daffodil and grape hyacinth bulbs,  I filled the pot with a perennial Heuchera and annual Violas.  The Violas have bloomed all winter long, bringing color to the pot long after the Redbud’s leaves blew away.  The Heuchera also kept its color all winter, escaping the deer who found other Heuchera  plants around the winter garden.

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The only plant in the pot which has not yet filled in is the Autumn Brilliance fern planted from a tiny 2.5″ pot.  It didn’t get established before cold set in, and its few leaves are rather bedraggled from winter yet.   New fronds will unfurl any day now, and will grow perhaps as tall as 18″.

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So the total expenditure on plants for this pot was a little under $15.00. Constructed in late autumn, the pot has been  attractive for a little more than six months already.

The only plant I’ll remove and switch out will be the Viola, when the heat gets too much for it.

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I could replace it with an Ajuga division from the garden; a small annual like Ageratumn from a six-pack, or even a Caladium tuber or rooted cutting.  For a little or no additional investment, this pot will keep growing and changing throughout the remainder of the season.

My hope was to see the Redbud bloom this year before its leaves emerged.  It seems it is too young to bloom.  Even without blooms, its tiny chartruese heart shaped leaves are still a lovely addition to the pot.  This arrangement can survive at least one more winter in place.  The annual will get switched out for a fresh Viola next November, and this pot will continue growing in partial sun, with only regular watering and light feeding, into 2015 and beyond.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Eastern Redbud Tree

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In our region, springtime means rapid change in the landscape, at times, hour by hour.  Once our days, and nights, begin to warm, everything in the  garden visibly responds.

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The lawn grows shaggy and green, often brushed with the hues of magically appearing wild flowers.  (Note I call them flowers.  There are those who call them “weeds” and spray noxious chemicals to eradicate them.)

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Besides the greening lawns and most welcome beds of daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths, the most stunning transformation in springtime is our trees.

At first a hazy blur in the canopies as their buds begin to swell, suddenly the trees pop into color one by one.  Some soft green, others white or pink.  And on one magical day,  in early spring, the  Redbud trees burst into color.

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The native Eastern Redbud, Cercis canadensis, is one of the amazing trees the early European colonists discovered growing in the forests along the East Coast of North America, and sent home to gardeners back in England.

The native variety blooms in deep pink; almost magenta.  When the buds begin to show, it is curious to find them not only on the tips of twigs, as one expects to find apple or cherry blossoms, but also growing directly out of the trunk and larger brancehs!  The wood stems are just all of a sudden covered in these gorgeous pink buds.

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Native in the North Eastern Unite d States, and north into Canada, Cercis Canadensis lives in Zones 4-8.

Since it prefers moist soils, it doesn’t grow well west of Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas, unless it is irrigated during dry spells.

Growing in sun to partial shade, this small tree is most often found as an understory plant along the edges of forested areas, and now in  suburban yards.  Redbud grows to around 30′ at maturity, with a spread of perhaps 25′.

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The tree was considered a delicacy by the Native Americans.  They ate the flowers either raw or boiled.    Seeds, from the long pods which come along in summer, were roasted and enjoyed.

The tender green tips of new branches are still cooked with Venison and other wild meats today, in parts of Appalachia, as a seasoning.  One of the common names for this tree is, the “Spicewood Tree.”

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The Redbud tree has been hybridized in recent years to create many ornamental versions for the nursery trade.  Although the native form has beautiful heart shaped leaves of medium green, newer hybirds offer various leaf colors from plum to orange.

Hybrids offer various colors of spring flowers from white varieties, through every shade of pink and several shades of purple.

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An important early food source for bees, the Redbud also feeds squirrels and birds when its seeds ripen.  Its leaves are an important food source for various caterpillars.

Redbud trees readily naturalize from their abundant seed production.  Where there is one, there will often be many where the seedlings are allowed to grow undisturbed.

They have few pests or disease problems.  Because they grow relatively slowly, and remain small, they are a welcome addition to the garden.  They offer springtime color, summer shade, an easily managed growth habit, and benefits for wildlife.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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