Maintaining redbud trees

We have a 12-foot, three-year-old redbud (Cercis canadensis) in our very sheltered backyard. Last spring, it was covered in blossoms but over the summer, the leader and most of the branches were broken off. We suspect gargantuan raccoons playing Cirque du Soleil at night. Is this a particularly brittle tree? Should we cut it right back or give up and substitute something more pliable (and thorny)? We?re in Zone 5.

?Beth Stacey, Kingston, ON

I had exactly the same thing happen to my redbud and it wasn?t raccoons. Most young redbuds need structural pruning to ensure that they are strong and attractively shaped at maturity. Long lateral branches growing from weak crotches (V-shaped instead of U-shaped) tend to break off, and can lead to the loss of the tree. I suggest you get an certified arborist in to have a look and show you how to prune it properly. Always take out any dead or crossing branches, and then shorten some of the heavier lateral branches. This is best done immediately after flowering. It is such a gorgeous tree it is definitely worth the effort. Hope that helps,

?Marjorie Harris, Editor at Large