The first North American native trees to leaf out in spring, red buckeyes are surprisingly tolerant of late frosts. Here are some simple tips to help you grow red buckeye trees at home.
A quick introduction to red buckeyes
- Since red buckeyes produce leaves so early, a defense is necessary to protect the foliage from hungry herbivores. Red buckeyes have a toxic sap that deters pests from munching the star-shaped, deeply veined, reddish leaves.
- In nature, buckeyes become squat, round-topped, understory trees in moist forests. But in the home landscape they are valued as 7.5-metre-tall (25-foot-tall) shade trees that produce clusters of red flowers in late spring; hence the common name of red or scarlet buckeye.
- The variety ‘Atrosanguinea’ has even deeper red flowers. Clusters of trumpet-shaped flowers attract bees and hummingbirds in large numbers.
- More curious than beautiful, the clusters of large nuts that develop in late summer eventually drop to the ground. The nuts are toxic if eaten.
- Red buckeyes like moist, shady conditions and will even tolerate occasional flooding, but their shallow roots cause them to be easily droughtstressed.
- Planting in a shady location helps, but red buckeyes will also grow in sun if soil moisture is adequate. In such a location, the trees’ dense growth and spectacular red flowers make a terrific display.
- Red buckeyes are at their best when grown beside stately trees that stand bolt upright.
Growing red buckeye
- Red buckeyes and their near relatives should be transplanted carefully, keeping the soil ball intact, to avoid damaging roots, in very early spring.
- Set them at the same depth they occupied in their nursery pots or in the ground, fill the hole around the root ball with soil and water well.
- The trees often drop their leaves by summer’s end, but if they receive ample moisture through summer they will retain their foliage later into fall. This characteristic can be used to advantage by planting red buckeyes where their early dormancy will reveal the fall colours of companion trees.
- Buckeyes form a broad, many-branched shape, so prune only to remove dead wood.
- The fungal disease rust, which deposits a brownish powdery residue on leaves, occasionally troubles buckeyes. The disease weakens trees and slows their growth but does not kill them. To interrupt the disease cycle, rake up and dispose of fallen leaves.
Other care-free buckeyes
- California buckeye (A. californica) is a West Coast native with a multistemmed trunk and fragrant white to pink flowers that reaches 6 to 12 metres (20 to 40 feet) tall. It is hardy in Zone 8 and tolerates dry, hot conditions.
- Yellow buckeye (A. flava), with yellow flowers and colourful fall foliage, is a larger tree that is native to the Southeast and is hardy from Zone 4.
Red buckeyes are easy to maintain and last several decades. Get started today with these simple tips.