Beautiful redbuds awaken each spring


Old (left) and young redbuds growing down by the lake.

Once, in 2008, when referring to the redbuds blooming along the rural Oklahoma roads, I said my world was purple and gray.  Although it seemed much earlier that year, actually they didn’t start blooming until April, and it looks from the pictures as though everything else held off that spring.  Last year, they bloomed in March and were bitten by the late freeze.

Shining in the upper pasture next to an oak and an Eastern redcedar

Oh, but this year is the best bloom we’ve had in a long time, and they are just past their prime.  The rest of the Oklahoma landscape is turning green with them, and it’s this nice contrast of the two colors, spring green and vivid purple which makes them so popular.

My favorite redbud growing up by the chicken coop. I love its twisted trunk.

I’m often asked how to grow the native redbuds, Cercis canadensis ‘Oklahoma’, often from people who purchased a small tree in bloom, planted it, and watched it die that summer, or in a year or two.   Here’s the thing.  The little trees are a finicky lot; and not unlike some of our other native plants, they have very specific requirements.  If these aren’t met, they die.  By the way, I’m really good at killing natives so I feel your pain.

Small, but mighty blooms

I’ll also be the first to tell you I’ve never planted a redbud tree.  Like a free gift from God, mine grow wild all over the property, but I can give you a few hints for sucess.

  • Good drainage.  If you notice, most of the redbuds in our area of the state grow right around I-35 and further east.  The soil in this part of the state is mostly red sand with pockets of clay.  If you want to grow a redbud on the western side of Oklahoma City, or its suburbs, I suggest digging the hole very, very wide and throwing the clay away.  I would then replace that soil with something sandier as part of the backfill.  I might also use some garden soil and burm up an area of my yard as a separate garden.  Not too fertile though.  Our native soil is very lean, and this is a native tree.  I know this runs contrary to what we’re being told now about planting trees (and I’ll probably get some negative comments, but this is what I would do.)  The fact is, redbuds don’t like wet feet. Use the leftover clay to make bricks or something.
  • Partial shade.  Most redbuds grow in the partial shade of taller trees.  None of the trees in the middle part of the state would ever be called statuesque, but redbuds are understory trees.  All of mine come up where they get some shade from oaks.
  • Water your tree with drip irrigation once a week (or more if it is terribly hot) for the first year, and also in years of drought especially when they are young.  This can be as simple as a regular garden hose set to drip overnight.  One summer, I saved my peach and apple droughts this way.  I must credit my father for this method as he told me about it fifteen years ago.
  • Don’t expect them to live forever.  The average redbud lives about twenty years.  They are still worth planting for their spring bloom and heart-shaped leaves which clack together in the breeze.
  • They are hardy in USDA Zones 6b through 9a.
  • They seem to like fairly alkaline soil.

When I’m trying to decide what a plant wants from me in order to thrive, I always study how it likes to grow in its native habitat.  I hope this will give some of you confidence.  While I’m enjoying my state tree in all its royal splendor, I hope you find a place for redbuds in your heart too.


  1. Lots of redbuds here and they’re just now starting to bloom. We’ve had one for several years and it will bloom for the very first time this year! I had a redbud outside my bedroom window when I was growing up, so they’re a special tree for me in addition to loving their graceful beauty.

    I wanted to say I like your new template, Dee! Soooooo much easier to read! I have a hard time when there are dark backgrounds and light lettering. So thanks for the beautiful new look!
    .-= Kylee from Our Little Acre´s last blog ..Mia Gets an EarthBox® ! =-.

  2. Sweet Bay says:

    Our Redbuds just finished up blooming. I love them and here in central NC they’re not as picky as the dogwoods.

    The JC Raulston Arboretum had an Oklahoma Redbud that had shiny leaves and a color that was brighter and a bit more pink that the typical Eastern Redbud. The ones you’re picturing look like the ones here, with that same purple color. Is there much variation in OK, or perhaps the one at the Arboretum was a Mexican Redbud I wonder?
    .-= Sweet Bay´s last blog ..Pollen =-.

  3. Les says:

    We sell OK redbuds here as a more drought tolerant choice and smaller growing than the Eastern redbud. The color also seems to be a tad more vibrant.
    .-= Les´s last blog ..The Purple Curtain =-.

  4. Sandy says:

    Redbuds grow wild here in SW Missouri also, they are beautiful this year! We have only planted one, a whitebud, and it is doing fine! But like you, the rest of them are Nature planted. I just pull out the ones I don’t want and leave one or two every year! I think we have a dozen or so on our acre, I’ve never actually counted! Happy spring!
    .-= Sandy´s last blog ..Come take a walk in the Woods With Me =-.

  5. Was just thinking as I was driving back from a client today that the redbuds are lovely this year. With our heatwave last week all of the spring flowering trees are blooming at once…it’s quite a show.
    .-= Susan aka Miss R´s last blog ..What’s better than a Birthday present? =-.

  6. How lovely your Redbuds are this year! They are best admired from a distance as a haze of purple. Redbuds grow here in Zone 5a, but they are a hardier northern strain. I’m still waiting for my young redbud to bloom, but I don’t think it’s going to happen this year.
    .-= Mr. McGregor’s Daughter´s last blog ..Wordless Wednesday: Anemonella thalictroides =-.

    Barb, did you have a freeze which killed the buds? I’m so sorry. I wish you could walk with me and really see ours.~~Dee

  7. It’s never spring for me until the red buds and dogwoods bloom. Love your story. What a blessing to have always lived in a part of the country where there are these little spring blooming native trees.

    Thanks Patsy Bell. I wish we had more dogwoods, but that’s okay. I have one, but it doesn’t bloom much in the spring. I think it is in too much shade.~~Dee

  8. Christine B. says:

    No redbuds here that I’ve seen. I wish, wish, wish I could have one here, but they probably don’t enjoy zone 4. Drat!

    Christine in Alaska

    No, Christine, I bet you have ephemeral lovelies which I so enjoy seeing. Heading over to your blog now.~~Dee

  9. Jenny B says:

    The Redbuds are such beautiful trees. It is so lovely to drive around town and see clouds of purplish/ pink blossoms. I’ve just never understood why they are called Redbuds–why not Purplebuds?
    .-= Jenny B´s last blog ..Double Duty =-.

    You know what Jenny, I’ve wondered that too. I don’t know. Maybe someone else does. Anyone?~~Dee

  10. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    The redbuds are blooming here too. I thought you couldn’t kill them though.

    Lisa, only if you plant them yourself.~~Dee

  11. We have red buds but maybe they’re a different variety than yours. They grow well in our zone 5 garden. In town with some protection. The buds are just thinking of opening. I’m hoping to get some photos when they look great–probably this weekend.
    .-= Gardener on Sherlock Street´s last blog ..It’s Coming… =-.

    Yes, I’m sure it’s a different cultivar. We have ‘Oklahoma’ and C. canadensis var. texensis here. Glad you can grow them though. Such a harbinger of spring here.~~Dee

  12. Cyndy says:

    Oh lucky you with your God given redbuds! I’ve got one here I’ve kept alive in zone 5 for a few years, just lucky I think. One local nursery guy told me he won’t sell them – calls them dead buds 🙂
    .-= Cyndy´s last blog ..The English Garden =-.

    Cyndy, ha! Deadbuds, a funny phrase. I think some varieties can grow in up to Zone 5 with protection.~~Dee

  13. Gail says:

    It is a good year at RDR~~They are such lovely trees. You are so correct about the wheres and hows to plant them! Only one of the few I’ve planted have survived…so I have learned to accept their tree wisdom and plant around them or cut them down! Forget transplanting them, unless they are tiny seedlings. Gail
    .-= Gail´s last blog ..Wordless Wednesday~Sort Of =-.

    Gail, that is so true. Here, we just let most of them be except when they come up in the garden. I then pull them. There are some new cultivars on the market with much brighter and more purple blossoms. I have enough though.~~Dee

  14. Just drove the length of this country, Florida to Minnesota, the redbuds seem to be blooming in unison the entire way due to warmer temps up north. It was strikingly beautiful; a kind of redbud-a-palooza!
    .-= Rhonda Fleming Hayes´s last blog ..Florida Souvenir: Rosemary Worth Remembering =-.

    Lucky you Rhonda. That sounds like one beautiful drive. I love your words Redbud-a-palooza!~~Dee

  15. We have native Cercis canadensis in my state, too. They are just now starting to bloom, early it seems, but they like the exact conditions that you describe. One interesting thing to note about redbuds is they are sensitive to some of the herbicides used in lawns. The herbicide won’t kill them, but it causes the leaves to be kind of puckered.
    .-= Carol, May Dreams Gardens´s last blog ..The Clothed Ladies of Spring =-.

    Carol, I’m so glad you have them too. I didn’t know that about the herbicides. You are always teaching me new things my dear. Thanks.~~Dee

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