How to Grow Cercis canadensis Plants in your Garden

Gardener's HQ Guide to Growing Eastern Redbud

The Cercis canadensis tree is an early bloomer that carries attractive pea-like rose pink to purple flowers on its bare wooden branches, slender twigs, and trunk.

It makes an ideal plant to grow on an otherwise shaded south-facing slope. As a shrub or tree that is usually found beneath the main canopy of a woodland, it makes an ideal small ornamental tree to grow in shady or partially shaded areas of the garden.

This tree usually has multiple trunks with dark smooth bark. Plants typically reach about 20 to 30 feet (6 to 9 m) in height and carry showy flowers at the beginning of spring.

Many varieties are also grown for their attractive heart-shaped (cordate) alternate leaves. These can be very attractive in the autumn (with cultivars available that bring colour in the earlier months too. Cercis canadensis grows at a medium pace and many garden specimens can live for 50 or 60 years.


Eastern Redbud photograph by Michele Dorsey Walfred; CC.

Varieties and Cultivars

There are three main varieties of this plant: Cercis canadensis var. canadensis, var. texensis, and var. mexicana. Of these, the canadensis variety (Eastern Redbud), is the largest and thirstiest. The Texas Redbud differs from the Eastern in that it has smaller more glossy leaves. The Mexican Redbud has a shrubbier nature than the other two and has waxier and glossier leaves.

Cercis canadensis Cultivars include

'Pink Charm' / 'Pinkbud': Pink-lavender flowers. Leaves have a red tinge, turning green as the leaves mature. Flowers are pea-like.
'Purple Leaf' / - 'Forest Pansy': Heart shaped purple leaves when young; turn to a deep red, bronze or orange in the summer. Flowers are bright pink.
'Silver Cloud'- leaves are variegated with white; light purple flowers.
'Flame' - double flowers, 40 Plus petals, no seed pods; pink flowers, green foliage.
'Alba' - White flowers. Green leaves turning yellow-green in autumn.

Redbud is a great plant to grow for people living in Northern America who want to naturalize their gardens. Gardeners often use this tree to replace non-native invasive species such as the Mimosa tree / Pink Silk tree (Albizia julibrissin) and the Japanese Red Maple (Acer palmatum). It also has the advantage of attracting local bees and butterflies to the garden.

Quick Growing and Care Guide

  • Scientific Name: Cercis canadensis
  • Common Name (s): Eastern Redbud, American Redbud, American Judas Tree, Spicewood tree.
  • Growing Zone (USA / UK Hardiness): 4 to 8 / H5

Plant Details

  • Life Cycle / Plant Type: Deciduous shrub, Perennial, Small tree, Bushy habit
  • Plant Height: 16 to 30 feet (5 to 9 m); rounded crown.
  • Plant Spread: 20 to 35 feet (6 to 11 m)
  • Blooms: Early to mid spring
  • Flower Details: Showy. Pea-like. 1.5 cm (0.6 inches) long. Clusters. Magenta, pink. Grow on old growth: on trunk, branches, and twigs.
  • Leaf Foliages: Alternative. Cordate (heart-shaped). Wide (5 inches (12 cm). Great autumn colours: orange, bronze, reddish purple.
  • Other features: Short twisted trunk. Dark brown bark. Small round buds of red to brown.
  • Fruits: Flat Pods. Bean-like. Brown. Up to 2 inches (5 cm) in length. These produce flat brown seeds 1/4 inch (6 mm).

Growing Conditions

  • Best Light Conditions: Full sunlight or partial shade. South facing slopes for best results.
  • Suitable Soil Types: Well drained. Fertile. Loam or sandy.
  • Suitable Soil pH: Most soil acidities: 7.5 to 8 for best results.
  • Soil Soil Moisture: Moist.

  • Sowing, planting, and Propagation: Let the tree naturally set seed and transfer any small seedlings that appear.
    Alternatively, harvest seeds when they brown, air dry and store in an air-tight glass container. Scarify in sulfuric acid for 15 min. (or boiling water for 30 min), stratify for two months at 36 to 40°F (2 to 5°C) in moist sand, and sow outdoors at a depth of 0.2 inches (5 mm) in the spring or autumn. Be aware that the majority of seed will not germinate so sow out plenty of redbud seeds.
  • Care: Low maintenance plant. Prune to shape in dry weather; early summer. Water to prevent soil drying out. Winter mulch.

Further Information

  • Best used for: Architectural, Street tree, polluted areas, Ornamental tree, Shady areas, Early spring colour, Shrub borders, or as a Lawn tree.
  • Miscellaneous: State tree of Oklahoma. Attracts butterflies. Flowers have culinary use (Slight sour taste. Attracts Hummingbirds and long-tongued bees. Fire tolerant. Medicinal tincture made from boiled bark was traditionally used by Native Americans for the treatment of whooping cough; roots were used for fevers. Squirrels feed in bark, flower buds, and seed.
  • Family: Fabaceae / Leguminosae (Pea family). Closely related species and genera: Mung Beans; California Redbud; Judas tree; Sensitive plant; Grow Peas; and Chick Peas.
  • Further Reading and References used for this Cercis canadensis growing guide: USDA Fact Sheet; A Wandering Botanist.

I hope that you enjoyed this guide on how to grow Cercis canadensis plants. You may also enjoy the following Gardener's HQ growing guides: How to grow Sweetpea and Thermopsis plants.