In March, the namesake “red buds” burst open before the branches leaf out, revealing a jaw-dropping display of pale pink to deep reddish-purple flowers. The tree blooms continuously on bare wood as late as May before the flowers are replaced with green, heart-shaped foliage.
The color of the Eastern Redbud is spectacular on its own, but it is enhanced by the beautiful broad spread of the tree canopy. In the wild, redbuds are an understory species, meaning they grow beneath taller shade trees. The trees have adapted over time to grow relatively small—up to approximately 25 feet tall—but the canopy often spreads out up to twice that length. The long, reaching branches loaded with pink petals make this species a true sight to behold when in full bloom!
In the summer, the tree steps out of the spotlight as it focuses on producing flat, green seed pods, which gradually mature to brown.
In the fall, the Eastern Redbud puts on a final encore before shedding its leaves for the year. The foliage of the wild redbuds fade to a golden yellow color, but many cultivars feature gorgeous fall tones ranging from yellow and orange to red and burgundy—often all on the same tree!
Role of the Eastern Redbud in the Ecosystem
Like all native trees, Eastern Redbud is more than a pretty face. These native trees serve a vital role in the life cycles of many bird, mammal, and insect species.
The flowers are an important source of nectar for hummingbirds and Henry’s elfin butterfly (or Callophyrus henrici) while offering pollen for honey bees.
Meanwhile, the leaves and twigs are a food source for Whitetail deer throughout the spring, summer, and fall. The seeds, while not a primary food source, are often eaten by squirrels, quails, and songbirds when other food sources are scarce. Squirrels will often also munch on the buds and bark.
Caring for Eastern Redbud
The incredible spring color and benefits for pollinators and wildlife make the Eastern Redbud a highly desirable tree in the landscape. Here’s what you need to know before introducing one into your yard!
Eastern Redbuds prefer moist loam or sandy soils with a pH of 7.5 or higher. Plant in a south-facing location with partial shade for ideal performance.
Dig a hole three times the width of the root ball and plant so the trunk is level with the soil line. Backfill with native soil and water well to settle. Make sure the tree is standing straight before backfilling!
As a native tree, the redbud won’t rely too heavily on you to meet its needs. A layer of mulch above the rootball, but not touching the trunk, can help keep the roots cool, moist, and well-fed.
Since Redbuds grow quick quickly, early pruning will help encourage a healthier, more attractive branching pattern. After the spring bloom but before the tree begins leafing out, cut off any branches that cross over another branch with sterile pruners. Cut off branches with narrow junctions in favor of U-shaped junctions, which will better support the weight of the branches as they grow.
You’ll also want to remove any dead, diseased, or broken plant material, cutting at the first healthy-looking node below the damaged area.
Eastern Redbuds are a wonderful, compact, and colorful addition to the landscape, and they grow beautifully in a wide range of regions. You’ll love how their early blooms joyfully announce the first few days of spring—and the local pollinators will love to join the celebration!