Synonym: Siliquastrum occidentale, Cercis arizonica
Cercis occidentalis Torr. ex Gray, western redbud, is a leguminous shrub that grows from 7 to 20 feet tall with a dense rounded crown that almost reaches the ground. Western redbud, also known as California redbud, is currently recognized as Cercis canadensis L. var. texensis (S. Wats.) M. Hopkins. The leaves are simple, thick, round or reniform, and cordate at the base, and have from 7 to 9 prominent veins. They are winter deciduous; their autumn display of yellow turning to red and brown rivaling that of some eastern hardwoods.
Western redbud is a good soil stabilizer along streams, and can withstand periodic flooding. The flowers provide nectar to bees and the young shoots, leaves, and seedpods are browsed by goats, and to a limited extent by deer, sheep, and cattle. The browse rating for sheep and cattle is poor. Horticulturists have planted redbud in informal and formal gardens and landscapes since 1886 and it has been called one of California's most attractive flowering shrubs in gardeners' manuals and horticultural guides. Western redbud is highly valued by native American basket weavers in California for their young, wine-red branches, harvested and used in the designs of baskets.
Periodic pruning of redbud, after it has reached the minimum age of 5 years, can be accomplished to remove dead or dying branches that might harbor diseases or insects. Pruning should take place in the fall, winter, or early spring, after leaf drop and during the dormant period. Contemporary Native American weavers practice two types of pruning. One technique is coppicing, where the whole plant is cut to within several inches of the ground. Redbud vigorously resprouts from the coppice stool, sending up young straight shoots with a beautiful red pigment. This can bring added color to gardens and also these shoots are highly valued for basket weaving. Coppicing, however, should only be done on mature shrubs--at least a decade old. Flowering will be lost, until the young sprouts are two to three years old and shed the red pigment and form true bark. The other technique is selective pruning within the canopy to direct the growth of the plant. This pruning leaves some older flowering branches, important for bees and butterflies.
Plant the treated seed in the fall in flats, spacing the seeds approximately 1 to 2 inches apart. Use a slow-release fertilizer in the planting mix. Cover with about 1/4 inch of soil (approximately 3 to 4 times the width of the seed). To reduce the possibility of damping off, keep the flats outdoors in a protected area with partial shade and little wind. Water the flats through the winter and then let the plants grow 1 full year before planting them out. The seedlings will be about 3 inches to 1 foot tall by the following fall. Plant the seedlings in a sunny location with good drainage. If gophers are a problem, plant redbud seedlings in cages. Watering is not necessary until the following summer, in a normal rainfall year. Give the young plants summer water for the first 3 years in the ground. This amounts to once every 2 weeks in a hot climate and less in a coastal climate. Do not overwater, as redbud will not tolerate summer water in the root crown area (at the soil level) and will suffer crown rot (Phytophthora sp.) if watered too frequently. When redbud leaves first emerge in the spring, use a liquid fertilizer to boost its growth.