Can you successfully plant a Redbud tree in the fall?


I’d like to put in a Redbud tree. The tree in question is now in a large pot, but the branches are devoid of leaves. I’ve always understood autumn is a great time to plant perennial shrubs and small trees. So… is it too late to plant this tree – there is a week of above freezing temps predicted. Or is the tree already dormant, and so we should NOT plant this tree now? The nursery plans to winter over this (5 ft) tree outdoors and in a large pot. What’s your opinion?


Liz Stanley, Horticulture Community Education Assistant

Yes, planting trees in the fall can be successful, though there are a few species like Eastern Hemlock that transplant best in the spring. Redbud does not like to be transplanted, so be sure the site is right and you handle the roots carefully.

Eastern Redbud grows well in average, medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. It’s tolerant to a wide range of soils and pH but grows best in soils rated neutral to mildly alkaline (pH 6.6-7.8). Maine soils tend to be on the acid side, so a soil test might be a good thing to do next spring.

This tree does best with regular and consistent moisture, but avoid wet or poorly drained sites. Redbud is on the edge of hardiness here in Maine, so it’s helpful to plant it where it is protected from desiccating winds and where ice might break its brittle limbs. Like birches, it likes cool roots, so avoid planting in a hot part of your lawn.

General planting: Dig a hole that’s two or three times as wide as the pot but only as deep as the root ball. The tree should be planted so the root flare is above the soil line. If you plan to amend the soil, add no more than 20% well aged bagged compost (not manure) by volume. (Peat may be too acidic for redbud, which prefers a more alkaline soil.) Be careful not to knock it out of the beginning of its dormancy by using fertilizer. (Never fertilize woody plants after mid-summer.)

Gently loosen the roots with your hands. Redbud is in the pea family and is sometimes very pot bound. Place the tree in the hole so some of the roots can be teased out to be horizontal (if possible, depending on the state of the roots). If the hole is too deep, lift the plant back up and add a mound of soil at the bottom. Backfill carefully, mixing soil with compost (if any). Water well, but not every day as roots need oxygen. In the first year, a 3″ layer of bark mulch or wood chips can insulate the roots and protect it from heaving. Don’t allow any mulch to touch the trunk. More on Selecting, Planting and Caring for Trees and Shrubs in the Maine Landscape.

If you choose to winter the tree over in its pot, place it in a protected location that doesn’t get flooded. You can either mound bark mulch or wood chips around the pot, or bury the pot with about 3″ of the pot above the soil line in a well-drained location like your vegetable garden.

I hope this is helpful and your new redbud thrives in the coming seasons.