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The Daily Guide - Waynesville, MO
  • Gardening to distraction: A sweetheart of a tree

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  • This little tree gets over-shadowed by its white dogwood cousin but I think it deserves equal accolades.
    According to tree expert Michael Dirr, it's "a breath of fresh air after a long winter" and no less than "one of our most beautiful native trees."
    Redbuds grow like weeds in my one acre garden, literally in the middle of woods on a limestone hill. With good reason. This under story tree, native to most of the eastern US, likes the level of native alkaline soil and almost soil-less conditions.
    The tap root, if it's lucky, will grow deep through limestone crevices, making transplanting bigger saplings a bit of a wrestling match. Not that I would personally know anything about that.
    When I moved my garage door around to the side of my house, where I could get a much gentler grade than the original, slolum-like slope from the street.
    The Bobcat creating my new driveway excavated several large redbuds.
    As they were getting moved over to a refuse pile, I dragged them back to my old driveway and plunked them into existing holes, trying to simulate nature's casual layout. If nothing else, they wouldn't take out the garage door sliding down an icy driveway on a wintery day.
    Not that I would know anything about that, either.
    Within 2 years, the redbuds had nicely settled into their new home and completed a circle of redbuds I had pruned surrounding my house. They are so prevalent, it seemed a shame not to embrace them, especially since they are so pretty blooming with daffodils and other spring flowers.
    Redbuds are quite hardy, without any diseases or insects. Some I tie up with twine for a couple of years to help them grow straight; others I prune in early spring so branches don't grow long and straggly but for the most part, these charming, shade-tolerant trees require little maintenance.
    Redbuds are known as Judas-tree. According to legend, Judas Iscariot hanged himself from a branch of the European species.
    Early folk healers used the grey bark to treat common illnesses like dysentery. Native Americans chose a redbud cousin, the California redbud, for wood for their bows. Early settlers found the blossoms a delicious addition to meals.
    These deciduous trees also nicely mark changing seasons; in summer, heart-shaped leaves turn a pretty green, then a bright fall yellow. The gray bark is striking against a wintery landscape, and the seeds are popular with birds, deer and squirrels.
    I was also delighted to read flowers of the tree are regarded as important to honeybees, but I could have told you that just from watching how my honeybees enjoy visiting the tiny pink spring flowers.
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