Plant of the month: Judas tree

April is the time for spring flowers and lots of blossom and one plant that catches the eye at this time of year and is slightly unusual is the Judas tree

Cercis siliquastumAlso known as Cercis siliquastrum, this small tree reaches around 10m in height and spread and is often grown as a multi-stemmed plant when it forms a very attractive rounded shape. It also has very attractive pale blue-green leaves which are distinctly kidney shaped or resemble an inverted heart.

When the leaves first emerge in the spring they are a rich bronze-red in colour - this gradually fades as the leaves mature and they then turn a gentle shade of yellow in the autumn. This small tree particularly stands out in the spring when it emerges into flower. It bears clusters of very bright pink-magenta flowers in clusters of 3-6, either on small spurs and very unusually they are borne along the bare branches and trunk. These bright flowers create a stunning effect as they smoother the branches for a few weeks - and they usually emerge just as the new leaves are also breaking through, which creates a breathtaking sight.

Where to plant Judas trees

Cercis like to be grown in fertile, deep, moisture-retentive soil that is well drained, and ideally loamy. They also prefer full sun or part shade and they resent very hot conditions or poorly-drained soil. Choose the site for your plant carefully as Cercis resent being moved once they've been planted, so consider the final size carefully. They also require little pruning and once established make very attractive small trees which are ideally suited to a small/medium-size garden where you will benefit from its richly-coloured new foliage and autumn colour as well as its beautiful flowers in the spring.
At RHS Garden Hyde Hall, three Cercis have recently been planted in the Robinson Garden where they are starting to form an attractive group and there is a more mature specimen in the Queen Mother’s Garden. There is plenty of spring colour in the Robinson Garden that combines well with the Cercis, including Amelanchier with its racemes of white flowers as well as drifts of Camassia whose blue flower spikes emerge towards the end of April and perennials such as Thermopsis villosa and T. chinensis with their heads of bright yellow flowers and Euphorbia cornigera with its bold heads of lime-green flowers. In other gardens Cercis would work well with lower growing perennials such as geraniums and bergernias which will form a carpet underneath the canopy of the tree.

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