Eastern Redbud: leggy, needs severe pruning - how much and when?

wynswrld98(z7 WA)August 6, 2009

I bought an Eastern Redbud about 2 years ago, was dormant at the time, the past two summers it leafs out nicely in the top 1/3 and the bottom 2/3 is totally bare. It's in dappled sun, on drip, soil not too wet or too dry, no indication of pest problems.

I strongly dislike the leggy look of it, want to do a harsh pruning on it so it hopefully has some growth coming up from the bottom. How harsh can I prune back an Eastern Redbud? could I cut it down to 1/3 its size? And when is the right or wrong time to prune it?


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Can you post photos? Young redbuds do respond well to pollarding but this is quite different than reducing a tree to 1/3 its current height. And pollarding will not encourage growth from the base.....it will only maintain the tree at a specific height. It is also not a one-time process but will need to be repeated on a regular basis.

The question to pursue is why the tree is not producing growth on the lower branches. Eastern redbuds tend not to be great selections for the NW - they are prone to dieback, verticillium and are generally rather short lived. The western native redbud, Cercis occidentalis, may be a better choice or Cercis chinensis 'Avondale', which is a very showy bloomer and more shrub-like in habit and does well in this climate.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2009 at 10:13PM
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wynswrld98(z7 WA)

I've tried to figure out how to post pictures on here and have never figured it out.

My description really tells the story though, top 1/3 has growth on it looks very healthy, bottom 2/3 bare. Tree is about 7' tall (forgot to mention that in original post).

I can't stand leggy ANYTHING so I'm willing to hack it down as low as I can to try and encourage lower growth even if it means killing it because to me it's ugly as it is. But if those versed in redbuds can give an idea how harshly I can prune it and have a reasonable chance of it surviving I'd love to hear that (plus when are good times of year to prune it).

I have some Western Redbud as well but the issue is only with this Eastern Redbud I need to figure out what to do with.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2009 at 10:23PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

I'm not sure a good answer is really as simple as you want, but I will answer this way...

At the proper time of year, a healthy Eastern Redbud can be cut just above the root collar and will then sprout back.


As for posting a picture on Gardenweb, maybe I can help you there. I think it would really be beneficial, in this case, to have pics.

One of the easiest ways to provide your photo to be embedded into a post is to upload it onto an image hosting site such as Photobucket, Flickr, etc.

Once your picture has been uploaded, find its web address by right clicking on the image and copying the image location. Some sites may provide the address in a text box below the photo for your convenience.

Let's say the address of the picture you want to post is http://somepicturesite.com/yourpicture.jpg

To embed the picture into a post, use the command
img src="http://somepicturesite.com/yourpicture.jpg">;

    Bookmark   August 7, 2009 at 8:35AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

i dont understand.. why you planted a TREE .... and insist it be a shrub .... not that it cant be done ... but it ALWAYS will want to be a tree ....

the simplest solution is to cut it down to within 6 inches of the soil ... at the proper time of year ... and it will resprout with multiple leaders ...

i had one once that refused to be a tree.. so we kept doing that until it got itself sorted out to its treeness ...


yes there are methods to grow trees as shrubs .. but it will take multiple prunings per year .... FOREVER ... and that will have an impact on how it flowers ... if at all ...

frankly.. if it were me.. i would let it be the small tree it wants to be .... and i would plant proper shrubs under it .... it would be much simpler.. and less work ... and if you did this.. you would prune it higher.. for the garden beneath ....

the term to research .. as noted above is 'pollarding' ... its a pain in the behind... and i gave up on it long ago ...

it is easier to admit the purchasing mistake.. rather than force it into what it refuses to be ... or you are the type who likes the challenge.. i respect that..

good luck


Here is a link that might be useful: http://www.google.com/search?q=pollarding&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a

    Bookmark   August 7, 2009 at 8:55AM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

When I read wynswrld98's original post, I don't see anything about wanting a shrub. Not wanting a lanky/leggy tree is not necessarily wanting a shrub. But, if a shrub is desired, there are Eastern Redbud cultivars that do assume a shrub form.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2009 at 9:36AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Yet another redbud with problems. If you do some searching numerous posts come up complaining of dieback, gauntness etc. - from all over, not just in this region. These hot climate trees definitely appear to have a somewhat restricted range of site requirements that apparently often fails to be met in garden plantings, and/or are overly prone to other foibles. Fully established specimens near me have looked pretty good for some years, only to suddenly start producing a thinnish canopy of under-sized leaves. It's as though a slowly developing pathogen has finally gotten the upper hand, or arrived some time after planting and manifested. Or there was a weather event the trees didn't come through very well.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2009 at 1:43PM
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wynswrld98(z7 WA)

Perhaps it's my misunderstanding of what this tree really is. It has multiple trunks coming up from the ground and to me looks very unattractive with the bottom 2/3 of each trunk completely bare and only foliage on top 1/3. I guess I'm not used to multi-trunked TREES, to me the multi-trunking makes it look like it should have more foliage lower.

I'm getting advice not to have Eastern Redbud here in PNW which is fine, I certainly won't be buying another, but I have this one which to me looks unhealthy due to it looking so leggy (if it had a single trunk it would look like a normal tree to me but with multiple trunks it looks ugly to me -- kind of looks like a crape myrtle with 2/3 of the lower area with nothing on it).

I see comments of pruning 'at right time', what is the right time? I have no clue.

I'll try to post some pics.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2009 at 2:06PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

The best time to do major pruning, and especially stooling, is late winter/early spring just before sap rise. Minor pruning and pruning to remove dead, diseased, or crossing branches should be done at your earliest convenience.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2009 at 2:31PM
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Limbs that don't produce leaves are dead. Unless the buds got nipped by late spring freeze, and even though most tree will rebud. And since it is the same 2 summers in a row, the limb is dead. Do the scratch test, scratch back the bark with a knife and see if it is green or brown. Grab the end of a twig and try to snap it off. A live twig will be limber, a dead one will break off. Start at the end of end limb and start working backwards, until you find the place where the limb is still alive. More than likely it will be at the trunk. Cut it off on the dead side, careful not to cut the living tissue. This can be done at anytime of the year. Dead limbs don't come back to life, cut them off and let the tree grow. Redbuds will fill out. They just need a little time.

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

"Limbs that don't produce leaves are dead."

Is this the issue in this case? My understanding of the initial post was that each branch was topped with foliage (leggy).

    Bookmark   August 7, 2009 at 4:53PM
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wynswrld98(z7 WA)

None of the limbs are dead, brandon7 is correct, foliage at the top of ALL limbs. All of the limbs start at the ground, no cross limbs at all.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2009 at 5:09PM
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It sounds like it is growing just the way it's supposed to!

Multitrunked trees will grow and look just the same way as single trunked specimens of the same species, so the branching and foliage is carried at the top of the tree, as it would/should be with a single trunked Eastern redbud. The term "tree" generally is used to refer to a woody plant that generates a clear, bare trunk(s) for at least some height before the branching and leaf canopy develops.

Posting a photo would still help for visualization, but it may be just a matter of your accepting what the tree looks like rather than a need to prune. Nothing is stopping you from pruning if you wish, with the understanding that the result will then be truly a shrubby form and no longer tree-like.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2009 at 9:09PM
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