Cercis occidentalis question

JoonBJune 16, 2013

I have 2 Western Redbud that are just beautiful- I love the leaves and the branch formation.

However, I have a problem with one of my trees. I am not an expert like many of you so please accept what may seem like a totally silly question.

It seems like the branches have leaves only at the ends of the branch. And they are not totally young branches (3 years old). So I don't understand how this is possible. Is the branch dead? Why would there be only leaves at the ends and not in the middle?

Suggestions and insight are welcome!!

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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

First, how much water are your trees getting? More water might help. These are river-bed or river-side trees in nature that can get flooded in spring for a period of time; despite a reputation for drought-tolerance, they will use the water they can get. The Cercis do have a natural tendency to have empty branches nearer the trunk, but should have more foliage than just on the tips.

Second, how big were they when you planted them, and what did the root system look like. I just removed my six Cercis and did plant-autopsies, so to speak. Believe me, taking out six trees myself gave me plenty of time to inspect and think about why they were unsatisfactory.

Five of mine had what you described, leaves only at the end of bare branches. They had root systems that were wound around and around, circled roots in other words. The landscapers who installed them used old stock, that was pot-bound, and the trees were never able to develop healthy root systems that spread outwards. These were from 24" boxes. Very expensive mistake!

I had one Cercis that was fully foliaged and much better looking, healthier, and larger than the other trees, and on digging it up, I found a root system that spread outwards and had no circled roots. This tree was the only one that was from a five-gallon pot. It was a replacement for a 24" box that died, and it caught up and surpassed the others within about 18 months.

BIG lesson learned for me: personally inspect the root system of any tree I buy and reject old stock with circled root systems. I replaced the Cercis with 'Dynamite' Lagerstroemias from 5 gallon pots that were super fresh with root systems just creating a firm root ball in their containers but not to the point of creating a surface of roots on the inside of the pots. They are thriving and bursting with vigor and beauty (and yes, foliage) and have tripled in size (no fertilizer given). I'm so happy I got rid of the Cercis!

    Bookmark   June 17, 2013 at 4:25PM
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Hi Hoovb-
Thanks so much for responding! I unfortunately also purchased 24" boxes. At the time I did not inspect the root system (my landscape artist/master gardner) was there to help with the installation.

I was thinking I was overwatering- doing my innocent research- read it could be root rot (too much water?) But I don't think we overwatered.

Thanks for your insight!

    Bookmark   June 17, 2013 at 4:54PM
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Because I have had exactly the experience that hoovb described too many times, I now routinely root-prune trees and shrubs before I plant them unless it's a plant that I know has a fragile root system. I also don't purchase dicots in larger than 5 gallon containers (it's not uncommon to find a plant that was badly root-bound when it was potted on to a five gallon and then allowed to become root-bound again before potting on to a fifteen gallon).

Root pruning significantly increases transplant shock, but once the plant grows out of it, it's much happier than otherwise. So far, I haven't had any losses.


    Bookmark   June 21, 2013 at 5:37PM
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