The soft creep of green across the landscape has begun here in northeast Kansas. Along with it comes a flush of gentle colors among the trees and shrubs-the fluffy whites of flowering pear, American plum, and old fashioned spirea, the brilliant reds of quince, and the lavender hues of the redbud. Of all these, redbuds are the most well known and yet under-used landscape trees. These understory trees can be found growing wild across much of North America, from Canada to Mexico. Here in Kansas, our annual explosion of redbud blooms starts in March or April, depending on the weather in March. This year the blooms have begun early, with many trees fully open with flower and abuzz with bees by March 20th.
Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) is a small to medium sized tree found growing along roadsides, in ditches, near streams and ponds, and along the wooded areas of Kansas. Redbud prefers the leafy shade of large trees, such as oaks, hickories, and walnuts found in eastern Kansas. Redbuds flower and leaf our long before these gentle giants, catching the early spring sunlight and delights of insects searching for an early meal of nectar and pollen. While they do not prefer full sun, redbuds can handle up to 6 hours of bright sunlight with only minimal leaf scorching. They can handle drought once established, but may be more susceptible to scorch, tatter, and insects.
While scorch and tatter may be a problem for redbuds planted in full sun, trees planted in correct light and soil conditions have few insect and disease problems. Redbud leaffolders have larvae that feed on the leaves after rolling them with mucus. Canker diseases may be a problem in wetter years. And every few years when the fall webworms are bad, redbuds may have some of these insects infesting them.
There have been several introductions of redbud cultivars across the United States in recent years. Currently, here at Grimm’s Gardens, Doug Grimm is working on a white blooming selection from our little arboretum. It has pure white blooms and appears to be seedless. We also carry Minnesota strain redbuds with more cold hardiness, a twisty cultivar called ‘Lavender Twist’ and general eastern redbuds at all of our stores and online.
If you like to see the early spring blooms creeping across the Kansas landscape, be sure and look for that bit of pink to purple color of the redbuds.
Keep on planting!