Growing Redbud Trees from Seeds
Copyright © 2011 McGroarty Enterprises Inc.

After a long, cold and snowy winter, what is a more welcome sign of spring than a redbud tree with its branches covered in thousands of delicate lavender blooms. Redbud trees are one of the first trees to bloom in the spring and they are also quite easy to grow from seeds.

Eastern redbud trees are hardy to zones 4-9 and are found in the wild across much of the eastern United States and as far west as Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. The Latin name for this native tree is Cercis canadensis and it typically grows to be about twenty feet tall, although redbud trees that are out in the open will grow taller than those in the forest. Redbuds are understory trees, meaning they are adapted to living under the canopy of larger trees in the forest. But they will grow in either full sun or partial shade and they make excellent ornamental trees that require very little care.

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Redbud trees that are grown in full sun will produce even more of their glorious blossoms than those that grow in a shady area. Redbud trees are such prolific bloomers that they will even produce flowers on the trunk of the tree. The flowers are attractive to both butterflies and hummingbirds, often providing their first nectar meal of the season.

Redbud trees are in the same family as peas and beans, and the blossoms of redbuds look very similar to pea blossoms. Redbud blossoms are also edible and will add color and a nutty flavor to salads and even pancakes. Once the flowers have faded, the tree produces seedpods that look very similar to pea pods. While they are still green and tender, redbud seedpods can also be cooked and eaten. Serve redbud seed pods with butter, just like peas.

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Each redbud seedpod contains anywhere from four to ten flattened round seeds. As the seeds mature, the seedpods become brown and papery. The seeds may be collected in the fall before the pods drop from the tree, but often the pods remain on redbud trees into the winter. 

If you wish to try your hand at growing redbud trees from seed, collect the seeds from the pods and store them in a sealed jar within the refrigerator. Around Valentine’s Day, remove the seeds from the refrigerator and rub them a bit between two pieces of sandpaper. This process will begin to remove some of the tough outer layer of the seeds and will aid in germination. Once you see that some of the outer layer has been sanded off the seeds, they are ready for the next step. 

Boil some water in a pan, remove the pan from the heat and place the sanded seeds in the water. Allow them to soak in this water for three to four days. This step will further soften the seed coat and prepare the seeds for germination. 

Once the seeds have been treated, they can be planted a quarter inch deep in small containers of moist sand or potting soil. For the next five to eight weeks, the planted seeds should be kept cool in the refrigerator or an unheated garage. This chilling period acts as an imitation winter for the seeds. If you live in an area with cold winters, the seeds in their pots can be planted out in the garden, providing the soil is not yet frozen. If planting the pots outdoors, cover them with wire mesh so critters cannot dig them up for a snack.

After the five to eight week chilling period, the potted seeds may be placed outdoors and the seeds will begin to germinate when warm spring weather arrives. Once the seedlings have produced their first set of heart-shaped leaves, the little redbud trees may be planted in a permanent location in well draining soil.

Redbud trees grow rather quickly, up to one or two feet per year. So it won’t take long for your seedlings to reach their mature size. 

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Once redbud trees have been planted, they do not like to be transplanted. Choose a good spot for redbud trees when they are young, and leave them in that spot to keep the trees happy. Redbud trees prefer soil that is slightly moist, and they will appreciate some extra watering during times of drought. 

If redbud trees need to be pruned, the best time for this job is in the winter while the trees are dormant. However, winter pruning may sacrifice some blossoms in the spring. If you don’t want to miss out on the beautiful spring display, prune your redbud trees immediately after they are done blooming for the season.

If a particularly long winter has you itching for some spring color, it is possible to force branches of redbud trees to bloom indoors. In February, bring some pruned branches indoors and place them in a vase with water. The branches will begin to bloom after about ten days inside a warm house. 

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There are other varieties of redbud trees available that are a bit more fancy than the native Cercis canadensis. “Forest Pansy” is a cultivar that produces rosy pink flowers and scarlet leaves that turn burgundy as they mature. “Flame” is a cultivar with double pink flowers. Although most redbud trees bloom before the leaves appear in the spring, the leaves of “Flame” appear at the same time as the blossoms. “Silver Cloud” is a variety with leaves that are variegated pink and white. “Silver Cloud” is smaller than other redbuds, generally reaching only twelve feet tall and wide. “Lavender Twist” is a weeping variety of redbud that is hardy in zones 5-9 and grows four to ten feet tall. For more information and photos of “Lavender Twist”, go here: http://freeplants.com/lavender-twist.htm 

These cultivars are propagated by cuttings or grafting. Some will produce viable seeds, but seeds of cultivars most often do not grow true to the parent plant. Seeds from cultivars generally revert to the species and would most likely grow into ordinary, but still beautiful, Cercis canadensis Eastern Redbud trees.

 

by Michael J. McGroarty
© Copyright 2011