Redbud trees are wonderful harbingers of springtime, as their gorgeous blooms begin to flower just as winter melts away.
There are many native cultivars, and all of them make wonderful yard trees. They're small, easy-to-maintain, adaptable species that provide beauty and a bit of shade wherever you may need it.
Redbuds are also easily propagated from cuttings or seedlings, which means you could soon have a landscape full of them.
We'll go over different varieties of redbud trees and their characteristics, as well as provide instructions for different kinds of redbud tree propagation.
Types of Redbud Trees
Eastern redbuds are some of the most popular native redbuds that you'll find in residential yards. Their quintessential light purplish-pink flowers are early bloomers that feed pollinators just when they really need it.
These are hardy trees that grow 20-30 feet both in height and width. They adapt to a variety of soils while also withstanding extreme temperatures more easily than other cultivars, including periods of drought and cold. Their blossoms are not only beautiful, they also offer a lovely spring fragrance.
Heart-shaped leaves change color with the seasons, so you aren't only getting a flower show in the springtime. Foliage turns from green in the summer to yellow in the autumn months. Plant in full sun or part shade in zones 4-9.
Forest Pansy Redbud
The forest pansy redbud is very similar looking to the Eastern redbud tree, boasting gorgeous light purple flowers in early spring and quickly growing to a similar height and width of around 20-30 feet.
The difference lies mainly in the color of its leaves, which are more wine-colored in the spring but then turn green in summer and a golden yellow in the fall. Flowers also turn a deep purple as the season progresses.
It's drought-tolerant, adaptable to different soils, and generally an easy-going tree that requires minimal maintenance. It won't handle as many extreme weather fluctuations as the Eastern Redbud. Plant in full sun or part shade in zones 5-9.
Oklahoma redbud trees deviate in trunk structure from the Eastern and forest pansy redbud trees and aren't as tolerant of cold weather. They still put out show-stopping spring color from rose-tinted purple blooms from a slightly more upright leader trunk.
Mature height and width are slightly smaller than the other two, with mature heights reaching 15-20 feet and width around 10-15 feet.
They are adaptable to various soils and are the most drought-tolerant variety, making them better choices for hot, arid climates. Plant in full sun or part shade in zones 6-9.
Rising Sun Redbud
Rising sun redbuds are one of the smallest cultivars reaching mature heights and widths of only 6-10 feet tops. What it lacks in size, it makes up for in all-season beauty!
This is the perfect tree to plant as a focal point as it boasts similar bright fuchsia flowers in early spring, and then lets the foliage take over the show.
Leaves are tri-colored with bright yellows and oranges that also give off a light orange blossom fragrance. Highly adaptable to different soils like other redbuds, it's also drought-tolerant and only needs supplemental watering during the hottest times of the year.
Plant in full sun for the best color results (though they can tolerate part shade) in zones 5-9.
Royal White Redbud
As the name suggests, the royal white redbud tree puts stunning white flowers on for its springtime display. This unique variety will cost a little more at the nursery, making it a great choice for propagation.
Structure and trunk shape looks similar to the Eastern redbud, and size is similar at 20-30 feet in height and width. As with other redbuds, this tree is adaptable to different soils, fairly drought-tolerant, and can be planted in full sun or part shade.
White flowers give way to green heart-shaped leaves in the summer. Good for zones 4-9.
Ruby Falls Redbud
The ruby falls redbud is one of the smallest of the bunch, reaching 6-10 feet in height with a width of only 5-6 feet. Its lovely blossoms are a light lavender color with dark green leaves in the summer that turn reddish-purple in the fall.
This dwarf redbud is a weeping variety, so limbs and leaves have a downward effect. Its compact size means you can grow them in containers and easily find a spot for them in crowded gardens.
Once again, these are drought-tolerant trees that are adaptable to many soils. Plant in full sun or part shade in zones 5-9.
Lavender Twist Redbud
This beautiful redbud is another dwarf tree with light pink and lavender blooms that form on twisted branches in the early spring. After the flower show, bright green foliage with the classic redbud heart-shape comes into focus, continuing the cascading look of the lavender twist variety.
This small tree only reaches 5-15 feet in height and 5-10 in width, so it makes for an excellent focal point or ornamental tree. It's adaptable to different soil types, and prefers weekly watering if any period of drought occurs.
Plant in full sun or part shade in zones 5-9.
Cuttings vs Seed Propagation
It's possible to propagate redbud trees from cuttings, but propagation by seed is more successful. Cuttings don't always root, but there are ways to ensure better results by taking cuttings from younger trees.
There's also more success with different species over others, but this depends on many factors, including your climate.
Growing redbuds from seeds has more success as long as the scarification and stratification methods are done properly and you have the patience for the process. Either way, growing a redbud tree from cutting or seed is free, so if you're up for the challenge, try both and see what happens.
Keep in mind that redbuds take around 3-5 years to start blooming. While this is considered very quick for most trees, if you want a display in the first year, you'll need to purchase a tree that's at least three years old.
Or, if you can wait for saplings to mature, redbuds grow around two feet a year, so even though you have to wait for them to bloom and provide seeds, you'll get satisfaction from their quick growth right from the start.
Propagate From Cuttings
1. Select and Make a Redbud Tree Cutting
The best time to take cuttings from your redbud is in spring or early summer when the tree is in an active growing state. Time it right after the flowers have stopped blooming and the leaves have begun their show.
Make sure the tree is healthy, and look for lateral branches that are around four inches thick. Take approximately five cuttings from the tree from separate branches. Remove leaves closest to the cut end so that it's at least 3-4 inches bare.
It's also important to make a cut in the right place, which is just above any junctions between branches, using a small, clean cut. Try not to make it on too much of an angle.
Clean the wound afterward with antifungal cleaner to prevent disease and infection from getting into the tree.
2. Prepare Containers
Depending on how many cuttings you took, prepare enough 6-inch pots filled with a good potting mix. You can make your own or buy some from the garden center.
Make sure the soil mix has been pre-watered and is moist but not soggy, and that there is good drainage at the bottom.
3. Prepare Cuttings
Divide the cutting into three sections that are each six inches long. Remove 1/2 inch of the bark at one tip of each section.
Treat the cut ends of the cutting with rooting hormone powder up to two inches.
Place the cut end that's been treated with the rooting hormone into the soil mixture so that half of the cutting is in the dirt. Make sure the soil is firm around it so that it stands straight on its own.
4. Keep Cuttings Warm and Moist
Keep the cuttings in a warm place around 68-72 degrees F for about a month. A greenhouse is a good place to store them or a warm area in the home.
Don't let them sit in direct sunlight; being partly shaded or in indirect light is recommended during the rooting period.
Cover the pots with clear plastic to keep in humidity while allowing light in. Don't use the cutting to prop up the bags—use other sticks instead.
Keep the soil moist and check on it every day. You can gently mist the cutting to keep moisture levels up, or if you see the soil has dried at all at the top, gently water the soil.
Best to do this from the bottom by adding water to a plate so that the soil can wick the water upwards, which won't disturb any young roots.
5. Check If Cuttings Have Roots
Wait the full four weeks before checking for roots, as you don't want to tug and disturb any new growth before the roots are strong enough.
After the month is up, you can gently tug at the base of the cutting to see if it feels "stuck." If so, your cutting has likely rooted. You can then transplant the cutting into a larger, 10-inch container with potting mix.
Wait another 2-4 weeks to allow them to develop strong root systems.
6. Plant Rooted Cuttings
Once the cutting has strong roots, it can be planted in the site you've chosen, but try to keep it from any hot sun during its first year. It can also be kept in a container so you're able to move it out of the heat when needed.
Best to acclimate young trees before planting them in their permanent site.
Water the tree well in its first year, as well, and give it moist but well-draining soil. Spread a 3-inch layer of mulch to help keep the soil moist and to prevent weeds.
Propagate Redbud From Seeds
1. Harvest Seeds
All redbud trees generate long bean-like seed pods which is the fruit of the tree. Collect the pods once they've gone from green to brown, usually in the fall or winter.
Take several from a tree that has plenty and remove the seeds from the pods. Look for the largest seeds as these have the best germination rates.
If you don't have a redbud tree to collect from, you can order seeds online or from a reputable nursery. Make sure the redbud seeds you purchase are for trees that are hardy in your area.
The best (and free!) option is to find them from a local tree or from a tree in the wild. Always get permission if the tree is not on your property.
2. Remove Seeds from Pods
While the seed pods will split open under finger pressure, the durable seed covers will not, so you need to "scarify" them.
Test the seeds for fertility by putting them in a glass of water before opening the covers. Those that float are infertile, so you can dispose of them.
Retain those that sank, and nick or slash the seed covers with a sharp knife, or rub them with coarse grade sandpaper to penetrate the covers.
Another option is to simply use boiling water. The heat will semi-open the seed cover and allow water to soak in, allowing you to skip step 3 in the process.
Alternatively, soak the seeds in a solution of sulfuric acid at a high concentration for 30 minutes. Do this in a well-vented space, or under a fume hood with the fan on high speed to protect yourself and anyone else.
Rinse the seeds under warm water and pat them dry with a lint-free towel.
3. Soak the Seeds
This is a simple but very important step. If you've scarified the seed with the nick, scuff, or sulfuric acid method, you then need to take the seeds and put them in a dish or pan where they can soak.
Use boiling water and pour in enough to fully immerse them. Allow them to soak in the water overnight, letting the water cool off.
If you've scarified the seed using the boiling water method, then this can all be done as one step. Just make sure that the seed covers have been pried open from the heat so that the overnight soaking will be successful.
4. Cold Stratification
Put the seeds in a sealable plastic bag or other container with some vermiculite or potting mix (not soil) and refrigerate at 35-40 degrees F until early spring (or 5-8 weeks).
The seeds need time in a cool moist environment to germinate successfully, which is called cold stratification.
You can also winter sow them by placing the containers outside during the cooler months, just as would happen with mother nature. If pots and containers are covered with a clear dome of some kind with a few holes poked in, they can remain there until temps reach 60 degrees F.
At that point, the dome can be removed, and the seedlings can emerge naturally. From there, the process is similar with the cuttings.
Winter sowing allows the young trees to acclimate easily, but if you've cold stratified in the fridge, then slowly move the containers to a warmer place and put them in larger pots.
Either process of redbud tree propagation can be successful, and while doing so with seeds brings greater success, you may want to experiment with each method to see what works best for you.
Try different redbud species as part of the experiment: the worst case scenario is you've wasted a few hours trying, but the best case scenario is you end up with several beautiful redbud cultivars to beautify your landscape with.