Our Eastern Redbud is Dying

Only a third of the tree has leaves. It was a birthday present from Brandon in 2008, and I wanted to see it grow to full-size. So sad!

Brandon thinks it can be saved, but I’m less hopeful. There are deep fissures on the trunk in several places. The neighbor said that I should just chop off the dead parts and keep the rest of the tree, but I think that would look awful. No more awful than the jungle of weeds beneath the tree, but theoretically I can get rid of those. You know, if I actually had time these days to garden.

Maybe it caught some sort of tree disease from my other neighbor’s dying redbud? She has one against the fence that used to shade my egg chair.

The Backyard, 2008

It hasn’t been doing very well for the last couple of years. (The bush next to the egg chair however, that is thriving. Along with more weeds.)

The Backyard, 2011 (The egg chair's cushions are in the wash.)

Do you think we can save it? I want to replace it with a different tree as soon as possible if it’s a lost cause.

Sources & Paint ColorsNeed design help? Let's work together.

You Might Also Like...

  • elizabeth
    June 1, 2011 at 11:12 am

    i hate when you put time and energy into a plant and then it gives up on you and you have to start over. like when we chopped our “forever summer” hydrangeas down to the ground like you do with other varieties. i guess you don’t do that with these. now we’re back to square one with them. that’s how you learn. good luck.

  • Karrie
    June 1, 2011 at 11:25 am

    Bummer. I know how sad this is–we’ve had to chop down two dogwood trees in our yard due to fungus. I would say you could try chopping off the branches with the fissures and see how it looks but if the neighbors tree is diseased then there’s a chance that it’ll keep killing your tree. Do you know what the neighbor is planning on doing with their tree?

    • Making it Lovely
      June 1, 2011 at 11:31 am

      I haven’t asked her. She’s elderly, and her late husband planted the tree right before he passed. I know it makes her sad to see it dying.

  • michelle
    June 1, 2011 at 11:28 am

    Could be canker, best bet is to trim all the dead and split branches. If it doesn’t look better next year might be a lost cause. Other possibility – Redbuds are soft woods so they split easily. We had a really rough winter so it may split from the freeze/thaw process.

  • Lisa
    June 1, 2011 at 11:34 am

    I don’t know where you live, so I’m not familiar with your climate, soil or creatures. Could you have grubworms or something else living in the soil that is eating the roots on that side of the tree? If so, there are pesticides to kill them. Our edible garden is organic, but I am not afraid to use pesticides to kill destructive bugs in our decorative front yard. Cut some pieces from the tree (both healthy & dead) and bring them to a local nursery who knows their stuff (not Home Depot or Lowes garden centers unless you know someone there who is very knowledgeable). Someone should be able to tell you what’s going on. You should dig through the dirt right there also to see if you find grubworms or anything else living there. If you do, put them in a jar & bring them to the nursery as well. If a portion of the tree is dead from freeze or shock, you do not need to remove it. Just cut off the dead parts. Yes, I see that it is one side of the tree and may look funny, but only for a few seasons. You can trim up the healthy side as well. A tree can be trained to the shape you want! You can definitely train it to look like a ‘normal’ tree again, lol. The sooner you do it, the better. Don’t keep making the poor tree use it’s energy trying to revive parts of it that are obviously not going to come back. Get rid of those parts, so it can thrive. Good luck!

  • Brigitte
    June 1, 2011 at 11:34 am

    If the split isn’t caused by disease, it’s possible that by chopping of the dead parts, new growth will replace the parts you remove.

    So sad to see a tree like this take a bad turn.

  • Melissa
    June 1, 2011 at 11:35 am

    I hate it when trees die. We had a lot of fruit trees growing up (13, to be exact) & a lot of them ended up getting sick & dying. My mom’s favorite peach tree, however, was massacred by a careless construction worker when they were re-landscaping. It was so tragic. Those were the best peaches ever.

  • merlin513
    June 1, 2011 at 11:37 am

    That really looks like freeze/thaw damage. I’d trim off the split/dead portions and see if the remainder will recover. I’ve lost several dogwoods this year, figure due to the ice-storm damage 3 years ago. Or, the more expensive route, get a tree-doctor in to look at it. He could probably patch the splits in the live portions and treat it with fertilizers and such. Good Luck with it whatever you choose to do!

  • Andrea
    June 1, 2011 at 11:52 am

    The best thing to do is to call an Arborist. TCIA has a list of certified Arborists and accredited tree care companies that would be happy to diagnose and treat your redbud.


    Plants are like children; we nurture them and expect them to thrive. I feel your pain!

  • Sarah Hettervik
    June 1, 2011 at 11:55 am

    Gardening can bring so much joy, but also break your heart when things die like this. I’m hopeful you can save it, but I have to admit it looks pretty pitiful. Good luck =)

    – Sarah

  • Bre
    June 1, 2011 at 11:57 am

    I would google like crazy and try whatever ideas I could find. I saved a tree with some sort of plant food so I know it can be done. Maybe you can offer to help your neighbor with her tree as well. Just tell her you think both your tree and hers are sick and you would love to try and help her tree get better along with hers. It sound like the tree is special to her as well. I hope you’re able to save it!

  • Rosie
    June 1, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    You might have tree borers. Our dogwood started to exhibit some dead limbs and I and I just trimmed them thinking it was just some normal pruning. By the following year it was all dying. I called an arborits finally and unfortunately too late. While the tree was still alive if we had treated it, it would have lived. I would call an arborist to diagnose. If it is borers and you want to save it, you can treat it now and in the fall and it should survive.

  • Emily
    June 1, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    What tree, I’m too obsessed with your egg chair to notice!;)

  • Beth
    June 1, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    I would trim the dead parts, get rid of the weeds beneath and give it a good layer of compost and then mulch. If it doesn’t rally by next spring, take it down.

  • Ann Wilson
    June 1, 2011 at 2:46 pm

    An arborist would know exactly what to do. If you don’t want to go that route, the extension office of the University of Illinois agriculture program could help. Photos, and leaves could do the trick. The poor tree is in stress. You might need to bandage up the split to keep bugs out and give the inner part a rest. Try to water it once in a while. Try to break off a part of the non leafy branches. If they snap, that part is dead. If it is bendy, it is still alive, but not healthy. Either way, it would benefit from a good pruning. Look closely at the leaves, especially underneath to see if there is any tiny mold, or spider mites, etc. The tree might need hormones also. Good luck, and report back to us, okay? Ann

  • birdie blue
    June 1, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    we lost a redbud last summer, to a similar problem. i took it out and replaced it with a couple of good sized river birches. i think that part of our garden was a little too wet for a red bud.

    our arborist, from the ‘care of trees’, thought i should go with a tree that likes ‘wet feet’. an interesting phrase, no?

    not sure if ‘care of trees’ has an office near oak park. you might want to check. i have them out twice a year to root feed all of the trees, front and back, an organic ‘compost’ tea (their name for fertilizing san chemicals).


  • Cyndia
    June 1, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    I’m a Master Gardener, so I’ll share with you what I know. What you have looks like stress damage, most likely from wind. Redbuds are fast growing trees, but do not usually have a life span more than 20 years if kept healthy. There is nothing you can/should do to try and save this tree. It’s time to be ruthless and cut it down. I know, this is hard. I had a gorgeous one that was almost ten years old, then it started to die. We think that one was due to the “landscaper” who did the lawn next door, spraying Round-up on it. He was an evil person.

    Next, when deciding to plant a tree to replace that one, find out all you can about the tree. How/when to prune, fertilize, water, etc. Late spring/summer is not the time to plant. Best to wait until fall. Water deeply at least once a week, and that means deeply. I noticed from your picture that you had allowed the tree to sucker; allowing secondary shoots to emerge from the crotches of branches and letting them turn into branches. Don’t do that. You can pinch them out easily when they’re just starting, so make sure to do that.
    For more information on trees that are good for your area, check with your County Extension office. Do not count on nurseries having the right tree for your area. They often don’t.

  • Jaimie
    June 1, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    Honestly, that’s looking pretty far gone, especially those fissures. You’ll have to cut off all the dead branches regardless if you try to save it and that’s going to affect the overall shape long term. It might just be better to plant a new tree, one that isn’t going to get diseased from other neighbors’ trees.

  • Ashley
    June 1, 2011 at 6:55 pm

    Give the tree a chance! After speaking to an arborist or an employee at a reputable nursery, if the tree isn’t diseased, you’ll probably have to trim the dead limbs. Give it a couple seasons to mend itself before giving up on it. Every time you wince at the sight of your lopsided Charlie Brown of a redbud, remind yourself that trees can flourish after major losses of limbs. Just look at the 9-11 Survivor Tree!

  • Cherie
    June 1, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    Tell your neighbor you would like to replace your redbud, and would she like a new tree at the same time? If you are
    willing to pay for two trees you can bless your neighbor, honor her husband’s memory, and enjoy the shade at the same time. If you choose the right fruit trees they will pollinate one another. Or start over with two healthy redbuds. They are beautiful trees.
    All the best.

  • LisainIllinois
    June 1, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    We have something similar with our 2 plum trees. Our tree ‘dr.’ said our trees are splitting and dying on one side due to a ‘ring of death’ meaning the mulch was piled too high on the trees. She gave them a special injection of antifungal something or other and will do some pruning next Fall. If that doesn’t bring the entire tree back to life next Spring we are going to cut them down and invest new trees… :(

  • elizabeth
    June 1, 2011 at 8:29 pm

    I think its death of major roots at planting time. The cold and icy winter has accelerated the visible damage. I think you should talk to a local arborist about if its salvageable.

  • Shannon
    June 1, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    My husband and I are foresters and we both agreed it looks like a frost crack. Is the crack on the south side of the tree? The heat from the sun in combination with a quick freeze will cause similar looking damage. If this is the case, there is very little that can be done to repair what is there now; however, this does not mean the tree will die. Good luck!

  • Bonnie
    June 1, 2011 at 9:13 pm

    The same thing happened to ours. We replaced it with a multi-trunked serviceberry and are quite happy with the choice for our Chicago-area bungalow. They seem to thrive in this area.


  • Julie Anne
    June 1, 2011 at 10:39 pm

    I’m sad for you and your redbud, but unfortunately have no knowledge of tree husbandry in the Midwest.

    I think someone already suggested it, but the Master Gardeners county extension program through whichever of your state universities is the land grant (Agriculture) school, is a really good bet.

    The whole reason for being of the county extension offices is to help home gardeners out with stuff like your unwell tree. I’d google ’em with either “master gardiners chicago” or “master gardiners cook”

  • Julie Anne
    June 1, 2011 at 10:42 pm

    gardeners, not gardiners.

    I’m apparently trying to speak both French and English simultaneously. Urgh.

  • Carol
    June 2, 2011 at 1:32 am

    http://www.wildflower.org under the ‘explore plants’ button has TONS of information on Redbuds and many other plants. You can also “Ask Mr. Smarty Plants” on the same site. He should be able to help out.

    Redbuds are one of my favorite trees. Losing something that has such beautiful blooms is sooo sad.

  • WES
    June 2, 2011 at 7:41 am

    I would call an arborist, to look at the tree. I called one and figured that it would be a lot of money. I had him take care of a peach tree, 3 pear trees and some unruly grapevines, and grind down a stump that was left in the yard for a very reasonable price.

    The arborist can tell you if it is disease or just freezing/thaw damage. And it if is just damage they can help you trim the tree to keep it healthy and looking the best that it can.

  • Madeline
    June 2, 2011 at 11:10 am

    Whoa. My husband gave ME a redbud in 2002 in MY backyard. I understand the special-ness of it.

    My redbud had a few troubled years, but it kept on going and now it’s doing just fine. Not huge, but growing and healthy. Or healthy enough.

    I cut off the dead, and didn’t fret the funky new haircut. It all worked out. GOOD LUCK.

  • susan
    June 2, 2011 at 11:39 am

    I don’t know, that looks pretty damaged. Have you had a tree expert come and look at it? It would be a shame to get rid of it if it can be saved.

  • Evelyn
    June 2, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    It looks like frost crack, I would consult an arborist.

  • Making it Lovely
    June 2, 2011 at 10:31 pm

    An arborist will be coming Monday morning. I fear it will be bad news, but it’s worth a shot.

  • Honor Roll | Making it Lovely
    June 3, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    […] wish I had a big tree in the backyard to hang this wooden swing from, but since ours seems to be dying, I don’t think it’s going to […]

  • Sarah
    June 3, 2011 at 6:46 pm

    Good call on the arborist. It may not be completely fatal– at least it’s not an ash. I’m in Michigan, and we’re building a house. My friend did our landscape plan & I wanted a few redbuds. She suggested having them professionally planted (and thereby warrantied) because they are so picky. I never knew.

  • Alicia
    June 4, 2011 at 10:25 pm

    I asked my father-in-law, who is a horticulturalist and has owned and operates garden centers and a seed company for over forty years. He believes based on the information you provided that it might be something called southwest injury that occurred during the winter.

    This is when the sun heats up the cells on the southwest side of the tree, causing water to build up. When the sun sets, the sudden change in temperature causes the water to freeze and split the cells, which eventually causes the fissures you are seeing in the bark. Redbuds are not a very hardy tree and he believes all of the dead branches are winter damage, as others have suggested. He recommended starting over as well.

    You can cut off the dead parts but it is unlikely that the rest of the tree will survive through the next winter. Hope all goes well with the arborist!

  • Hannah
    June 6, 2011 at 4:08 am


    My parents live in a place where it gets really cold in the winter and some trees show that same damage when all the ice thaws.

    I don’t know where he found it, but my dad uses a plaster that he puts in the cracks and then “bandages” it with natural fiber thread. Apparently, the plaster acts as some sort of cement as well as nutrient for the tree. I guess it’s like when you have a wound and put ointment on it so it heals.

    Talk to the people at your local nursery, they may have something similar. Don’t give up hope just yet! And may your trees grow as nicely as your kids!

  • Making it Lovely
    June 6, 2011 at 10:20 am

    I met with the arborist today. He thinks our tree can be saved! He thinks the damage was weather-related, not a tree disease. It will look funny for a few years because we’ll have to cut all of the dead wood off, so it will be skinny and lopsided until new growth fills in. We’ll also be doing a fertilizing treatment this year and next.

  • Rachael
    February 27, 2012 at 10:36 am

    I’m very late to this party, but I wanted to leave a comment and say how sorry I am to see your redbud tree dying. (And it may have recovered by now, or you may have cut it down. I’ll read further and see…)

    My crabapple tree did something similar four years ago before finally dying outright. Looking back, I think it finally got to the point where it couldn’t compete with the extensive oak roots on either side. The crabapple had plenty of direct sun and was 50′ from the nearest oak; however, 80-year-old oak trees have very large root systems. My azaleas have also suffered similar die-back due to oak roots. The large trees are the best thing about my yard, so I’ll just plant more shallow-rooted shrubs until they’re gone.