Unseasonably warm temperatures and gorgeous blue skies inspired some spring planning. Just like before taking a vacation, anticipation and planning are not just precursors to the fun but rather part of the enjoyment.
Maybe it’s my personality, I like to settle into the thought process behind a big project. The thought of warm weather and flowers blooming is also a great distraction from gloomy current events.
My husband and I have been spending some warm weather days looking at trees on our property. He is intent on pulling young honeysuckle and multiflora rose shrubs. I am concerned about our Eastern redbud tree, a native tree to eastern North America.
Harbinger of spring
One of my longtime favorites, the Eastern redbud tree has delicate rosy pink to purple blooms in early spring. Often called a harbinger, redbud trees announce spring with their closely clustered blooms. An unusual feature is that the blooms can be on the trunk instead of the tips of branches. Like feather plumes blowing in the wind, redbuds have long-reaching branches which generally start lower to the ground than other trees.
Redbud trees in full sun can grow to be 25′ tall and equally as wide. Not only beautiful, they are also functional. The flowers attract pollinators and provide nectar. The flowers remain almost closed, but bees and other pollinators can open them. In the fall, the seeds feed wildlife like quail, pheasants, chickadees and cardinals.
Our 20-year-old tree has a large branch splitting off close to the ground. It happened last season and has since scarred over on the trunk, but the branch slants awkwardly away from the tree. If we would have caught it sooner when the wood was still wet, the break could have been bolted or wrapped together for the tree to heal itself.
Importance of pruning
I admit we haven’t kept up with pruning our tree. The split could’ve been prevented. Redbud trees sometimes have branches growing from narrowly angled junctions, called V-shaped branch crotches. These junctions are weak and cannot support much weight. Strong winds can cause a split like in our tree. One of the biggest causes of premature death in redbud trees is branch breakage.
Pruning can also prevent death caused by diseases. Botryosphaeria cankers start as sunken, diseased areas of bark. The bark will then become darker and rougher before peeling away. The canker will continue to grow until it girdles the branch, cutting off any chance of replenishment of water or nutrients. Branches with cankers need to be pruned back in early growth.
Verticillium wilt is another serious infection that causes death in redbud trees. Entering at the roots, the fungus attacks the xylem, essentially shutting down the highway that transports water and nutrients. Small, discolored leaves are indicators of wilt.
Fungicides are not effective in killing verticillium wilt. Diseased branches should be pruned out with disinfected tools. While pruning isn’t a cure, it slows down the disease.
Grafting and transplanting
If our redbud tree was like my houseplants, I would simply make the branch a graft and start a new tree. It’s not that simple.
Grafting is thought of as unreliable in Eastern redbud trees. There are two techniques used with a small success rate: T-budding and pot grafting. Neither is as simple as the cartoon-like process I have in mind of chopping the low-lying branch off and planting it.
An Eastern redbud tree has a fairly short lifespan of 50- 70 years with some people reporting even shorter. Young sprouts do pop up near the parent tree. Letting some of the sprouts grow provides a replacement for when the larger tree dies.
Transplanting young saplings is also possible. George Washington is noted for recording in his diary about the beauty of the Eastern redbud tree. He is known to have transplanted seedlings from the nearby forest into his garden at Mount Vernon.
Thomas Jefferson is also known for his affinity towards the Eastern redbud tree. He included it in his plans for Monticello, with actual plantings recorded in 1807.
After the banning of Callery pear trees in Ohio, I think Eastern redbud trees are the perfect native replacement. With a little TLC, the trees provide seasonal beauty and nectar for pollinators. The seeds continue to feed forest friends into the fall season.
Eastern redbud trees are a classic winner sure to bring color in the spring season. Just like the presidents, I have jotted about them in my garden notes.
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