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I’ve never been one of those people who got overly excited about native plants. We do have some wonderful natives, but some of our southern favorites like evergreen azaleas, camellias, gardenias and crape myrtle have all been introduced from other parts of the world.
Redbud is a native small tree that’s flowering right now that makes a great addition to the garden. It’s distinctive, heart-shaped leaves and reddish-purple flowers make it easy to recognize. Forest Pansy has dark purple leaves when they first emerge. Traveller is an excellent weeping form. Texas White obviously boasts white flowers, but the one redbud I have in my own garden is the glossy-leafed selection called Oklahoma.
Redbuds aren’t too fussy about where they grow. They’ll tolerate a wide range of soil pH’s. The “book” suggests full sun is best but I’ve found a place that receives a bit of protection from the hottest mid-day and early afternoon summer sun is best in our area. This is especially true for Forest Pansy. Just stay away from areas where water stands for several days after a rain.
In small gardens like mine, use redbuds as single specimens. If you have lots of space, plant multiples of the same variety to create “drifts” of great spring color. Since most selections may reach 15-25 feet with a similar spread, plant your grouped redbuds about 20 feet apart.
Whether you choose to start your new redbud from a container or as a balled-and-burlapped, field-grown plant, water is critical to its survival during the first growing season. That doesn’t mean you should keep the soil completely saturated, but you will need to supplement Mother Nature if she continues to be stingy with the water this season. Once established, redbuds hang in there pretty well with our normal rainfall amounts.
Forest Pansy is the most popular selection of redbud available in the nursery trade. When you see a plant that has just leafed out, it’s easy to understand. The new foliage is a dark, glossy purple that really stands out. In a cooler climate, the purple persists well into the summer. Around these parts you’ll notice that the leaves turn green once temperatures rise.
Well-adapted weeping plants are hard to come by in southeastern North Carolina, but there are a couple of weeping forms of redbud. Covey, also sold as Lavender Twist, is more common but doesn’t grow as well as Traveller.
My favorite redbud is Oklahoma. Besides the glossy leaves that look almost like someone sprayed a “plant shine” product on them, you’ll find the darkest, reddish-purple flowers of any redbud. They’re still not anywhere close to red, but they are definitely much less lavender than most.
Redbuds don’t root well from cuttings, so growers have to graft them. That increases the cost and limits availability, but these interesting selections of this native tree are worth the extra cost and hassle.