I bought a 4-foot tall redbud and it has not grown at all. It leafs out, blooms for spring, then it looks dead by mid-August. Maybe it has verticillium wilt? Does this come back every year? If so, how do I prevent it?
Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) is highly valued in the urban landscape for its pink spring flowers and its smaller, manageable size. As an understory tree, it prefers moist, well-drained, deep soils. It tolerates various soil types, except those that are permanently wet, and adapts to full sun or light shade. Regular watering and fertilizing are keys to keeping it vigorous. Unfortunately, it suffers dramatically from lack of water, too much water, or mechanical injury.
Since your redbud does bloom and leaf out in spring, but looks dead by mid-August, your tree may be responding to inconsistent water patterns. There is plenty of moisture available in spring, from snowmelt and rain. By the apex of summer heat, the redbud may be packing all its energy into saving moisture for survival by dropping leaves and going dormant. This is not the typical pattern of a tree suffering from the soil-borne fungus verticillium wilt, which is incurable and progresses over time until the tree is dead.
Before assuming your redbud has this disease, consider the soil conditions where you planted it and your maintenance practices. Is the tree in the middle of lawn, competing with turf up to its trunk for moisture and nutrients? Is it subject to potential mowing damage? Has it ever received a slow-release granular fertilizer beyond its nursery container? Does it get regular deep watering during periods of no rain? With conscientious adjustments to maintenance and amendments, you strengthen your redbud’s ability to withstand such diseases as verticillium wilt, canker, and even insect pests.
With the new growing season upon us, re-examine your plant maintenance routine and strategize a consistent watering program as well as a spring and fall granular fertilizer application. If your tree is sited in lawn, remove the turf away from the trunk out to the tree’s drip line so the root zone has an equal chance for water. The redbud likes moist (not soggy) soil that is well-drained and rich, medium sunlight, and fertilizer to replenish what was used from its original container. Be observant about the tree’s progress through the season, and you may get to enjoy your redbud’s lovely yellow fall display.