Don't let today's cold and rain bother you. It won't be long before we'll be seeing the soft pink clouds of bloom that surround the Minnesota-hardy redbuds that are so popular here in the North. Redbud (Cercis canadensis) is a smallish ornamental tree (or large shrub) that can be shaped either on a single stem or on multiple stems.
Sometimes called the eastern redbud, the most useful type of redbud in northern gardeners is the 'Minnesota Strain', which was developed at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum to survive through our tough winters. Depending on the type of spring we have, redbuds can bloom as early as mid-April and as late as late May. They are usually one of the first trees to flower in the landscape, usually a bit before flowering crabapples and other fruit trees. The blooms linger for several weeks and a row of redbuds can be a sight to behold in the spring.
Redbuds grow 20 to 30 feet tall and can be shaped into vase-like shrubs or trees with an umbrella canopy. They are not particularly fussy. Redbud grows well in full to partial sun (in the wild, it is an understory tree), and can tolerate a variety of soil types. It does not tolerate salt well, so you may want to plant your redbud closer to the house and not near the street where salt spray occurs. It likes well-drained soil of average moisture.
The Minnesota Strain of redbud was developed when species redbud trees where planted at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. These trees are normally hardy to USDA Zone 5 (think Chicago or Des Moines), but the arboretum staff selected out the trees that survived best and used seed from that "strain" to plant more redbuds. Descendants of these trees are sold as the Minnesota strain.
In the past, when winters were a bit more rigorous than they are now, bloom from redbuds was not guaranteed. But more recently, that cloud of fuchsia has been more reliable, and it is always welcome. The University of Minnesota Extension Service has several informative articles about redbuds.
What is your favorite spring-flowering tree?