Eastern Redbud die-back

mtlockmanMay 4, 2009

Approx 3 years ago, we purchased an Eastern Redbud from a local Lowes and planted it in a sunny location near a shallow swale in our backyard. It survived the first winter and bloomed the following spring. We had a drought that summer, but kept it watered and it seemed healthy. Following the next winter, it did not bloom or sprout leaves. Instead, in late May, it sprouted new shoots from the trunk about 1-2 inches above the soil line. Shoots grew rapidly throughout summer with leafy green foliage. This spring, same thing. The old shoots died back and it is sprouting anew from the trunk.

We are in northern Illinois and see plenty of redbuds in full bloom in late April/early May, so I know the type can survive here. We bought the tree primarily for it's spring color, but with it dying back each winter, the new shoots do not flower, and it looks kind of stupid having a dead-looking tree in the yard when all the others are leafing out. Is this tree diseased? Not hardy enough? Any advice appreciated.

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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

My guess is that the spot where you planted it gets too cold. Northern Illinois is on the lower end of this tree's range. It can easily get five or ten degrees colder in a dip than in surrounding areas. It sounds like there's a good chance that the microclimate isn't suitable for your tree. There are other possiblities, including disease, but my money's on the cold.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2009 at 11:32AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

my z5 just went thru a z4 winter.. and the redbuds are going nuts ... i doubt its a zone issue ... regardless.. what is your zone ...

i would prefer you explain how you insured it was properly watered... and what your soil type is ...

in suburbia.. i had one that did exactly as you described for 3 years running.. dieing back to snow cover each year.. and then finally getting established.. and moving on with a rather regular life ...

something is interfering with getting 'established' .... and i cant think of anything beyond improper water.. improper mulch.. or improper planting ...

how about some more facts ...


    Bookmark   May 4, 2009 at 4:04PM
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mainegrower(Z5b ME)

There are some very hardy redbud varieties - those sold as Minnesota strain for instance, but those available at the big box stores are most likely grown from seed. This means that they could come from trees not at all adapted to northern conditions. If the swale is below where the tree is planted this could actually moderate temperatures by draining away cold air; if the tree is in a low spot, the reverse is true as brandon7 noted.

The truth is, though, that if you're going to grow redbud in Z5, you've got to be careful to plant only varieties from proven northern seed sources or those propagated vegetatively.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2009 at 4:06PM
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I'm with Ken on clarification regarding 'kept it watered'. Too much? How often did you water? How much each time?

Cercis doesn't like bad drainage, is is also, too close to the bottom of the swayle?

Because the trouble started after the drought, you had a good year prior to that. It is re-sprouting, so growing in the region is not the problem, they're growing nearby, as you say.

Here is a link that might be useful: info

    Bookmark   May 4, 2009 at 9:30PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

"It is re-sprouting, so growing in the region is not the problem..."

That statement simply ignores the very basics of what happens when the top of a tree is damaged by cold exposure! The fact that it is resprouting is one of the best indicators that that may very well be what happened!

    Bookmark   May 4, 2009 at 9:57PM
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I planted (2) Eastern Redbuds (obtained from Lowes) which died after typical zone 5 winters. One died after about (3) years of wonderful growth. The other died after its first winter. I watered these trees faithfully.

I think that the first might have died from verticilium wilt. It has grown back from the roots.

I think that the second one may have died either from the winter ... or the same disease that killed the other.

At the same time, I have a "Forest Pansy" cultivar of the Eastern Redbud which has grown successfully for (5) years or so.

I just supposed that my (2) dead Redbuds were just too tender for my micro-climates.

Like you, we have Redbuds growing all around us, but of course those are Indiana natives.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2009 at 10:06PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

I considered verticillium wilt also. The one reason I relegated it to "other possibilities, including disease" is because of the relatively quick manifestation of severe symptoms that Mtlockman describes. If verticillium wilt is the culprit, an examination of the trunk could probably diagnose this problem.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2009 at 10:24PM
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I realize that now, I'm sure brandon's correct on the cold issue.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2009 at 10:16PM
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While it *could* be an issue of winter-damage on 'Southern'-origin stock, after years of growing and transplanting these critters, I've reached the conclusion that it's just what redbuds do.
I've encountered the same issue with both 'store-bought' containerized redbuds(provenance unknown) and transplanted 'volunteer' seedlings(local biotype).
In an open 'yard' type of setting, they just seem to want to be a multistemmed specimen, and it requires constant, diligent attention to keep new shoots/suckers that pop up next to the main trunk pruned back - if you want a single-stem specimen.

I've had bareroot redbud transplants shrug off being moved with nary a shudder, but have also had some languish for a year or two, die back to the ground, and spring forth with multiple vigorous shoots.
I can attest, as others have indicated, that they do not like 'wet feet'.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2009 at 11:25PM
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dan32(6b PA/NJ)

For what it's worth, I lost a 12yo redbud this spring. I am going against the popular opinion and figuring it is borer damage. I lost a Sourwood last year to borer damage. In both cases, the trees were fine in the fall - dead in the spring with telltale raised bark close to the base which when scratched away shows somebody has been eating away at the trunk. Supposedly, the stumps will shoot new growth lower than the borer, although my Sourwood never did. I will see if the redbud regenerates itself.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2009 at 3:12AM
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