Cercis occidentalis (Western Redbud)
Grown as either a large shrub or a small, multi-trunked tree, a blooming western redbud is one of the most dramatic of California natives.
Although spring blossoms are the most standout feature of the western redbud, its foliage and overall aspect are equally welcoming.
- In early spring, masses of deep magenta flower clusters similar to small sweet pea blossoms appear to hug branches.
- A white-flowering cultivar, Cercis occidentalis ‘Alba,’ has the same growth characteristics as the species, except that branches are coated with snowy white flowers in spring.
- Heart-shaped, bluish-green, 3-in. leaves become the main attraction throughout summer.
- In autumn, foliage combines shades of red and yellow before dropping.
- Long, maroon, flattened seed pods persist on branches after leaves fall, a unique decoration in the late-season garden.
- Pods may be knocked from the tree and swept up if they appear unattractive.
Western redbud is well-adapted to our California Mediterranean climate, unlike many other small, ornamental flowering trees. Although Cercis canadensis, the eastern redbud, and its several varieties are widely planted, they typically do not fare as well in our western gardens and show much less tolerance of our soils and dry summers than does C. occidentalis.
- Western redbud is a thrifty water-user but withstands occasional or moderate waterings during the dry season as long as the soil is well-drained.
- In the hottest inland areas, regular irrigation can be halted once the plant is established and replaced with a good soaking every few weeks during the summer and autumn months.
- Western redbud thrives in full sun, though it can take a bit of shade and will tolerate most soils, especially if, like most California natives, it has good drainage.
Making a Selection
Cercis occidentalis may be grown either as a single- or multi-trunked tree or as a multi-stemmed shrub. All are suitable as specimens or for incorporating into mixed garden plantings.
- To avoid the need for excessive pruning, purchase either as a tree or as a shrub to satisfy your garden design.
- Left unchecked, trees eventually grow to approximately 12-20 ft. high and wide.
- To plant as a tree, purchase either bare root or in a nursery can; select an upright form with 1-3 stems, depending on your preference.
- Lower limbs can be removed once the tree begins to mature.
- Tree forms are suitable near a patio; there will be blossom drop in late spring and leaf drop in fall.
Planting as a Shrub
- For planting as a 4-6 ft. shrub, purchase a plant, bare root or in a nursery can, with 4 or more stems; the greater number of stems, the denser the shrub.
- As stems grow, shrubs assume a fairly rounded shape that needs little or no attention.
- Individual stems can be pruned to stimulate new growth, or the entire plant may be cut to the ground to rejuvenate.
- Shrubs of any size make dynamic specimens when showing off the full impact of spring bloom, especially in the smaller garden.