The Q&A Archives: Which Redbud Is Best?

Question: I keep getting different opinions on the Western, Eastern, and Forest Pansy versions of the Redbud - which is best for the coastal Huntington Beach area? I am planting it between a ficus tree and a bower vine to provide a color interest and provide a screen in the backyard. The forest pansies seem to be presented as more of a bush than a tree and I want a tree shape. Some nurseries do not carry either the Eastern or Western claiming they need more cool temps to get the proper blooms. Can you just prune the Forest Pansy to look like a tree and cut off the lower stems?

Any thoughts? Thanks for your help.

Answer: Let's see if we can clear up some of the confusion for you. Cercis canadensis, the Eastern Redbud, is adapted to cold winter regions. It grows 20-30' in height and has a 20-25' spread. It's a (comparatively) small tree with the trunk divided close to the ground forming a spreading, flat-topped to rounded crown. When the new leaves emerge they're reddish purple, changing to a dark green in summer. Flowers develop from reddish-purple buds and open to a rosy-pink with purplish tinge. 'Forest Pansy' is a cultivar of C. canadensis. It's considered to be a very handsome purple leaf tree, with new foliage emerging in a bright, shimmering red-purple, then changing into a more subdued purple as the season progresses. The flowers are a rose-purple.

Cercis chinensis, the Western redbud, is native to China. This tree has heart-shaped dark green leaves. It flowers earlier than C. canadensis and the flowers are a true pink. This tree has a more upright growth habit and a more tree-like form than C. canadensis. It is hardy to your gardening region, but is not as cold hardy (22F) as the Eastern redbud. It should bloom wonderfully, even in your mild-winter climate.

'Forest Pansy' may start out as a single trunked plant but its natural habit is to eventually develop multiple trunks. You may not be able to stop this from happening, even with pruning. I'm always concerned that excessive pruning could compromise the health of a plant - and you may have to prune excessively to change the natural growth habit of 'Forest Pansy'.

If it's a tree you're looking for, the Western redbud would be the most suitable choice for your garden.

Hope this information clarifies things for you.

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