The dogwood’s profuse blooms appear between late March and mid-May and linger for weeks, giving way to green leaves in the summer. Photo by: Mark Turner.

Dogwood trees and shrubs, some of the most popular in the country, offer an unmatched four-season display of beauty. The main attraction is the appearance of the showy white or pink flowers (actually bracts) that herald the arrival of spring. Unfussy in its care requirements, the dogwood readily thrives in the home landscape and grows quickly.

On this page: The Basics | Planting | Dogwood Care & Pruning | Pictures | All-Season Beauty | Dogwood Facts | Places to See Flowering Dogwoods

On this page:

BASICS

Types:

There are many types of dogwoods, ranging from small shrubs to single-trunked ornamental trees. Following is a list of some common types, some of which are American natives and others that come from Asia and Europe.

  • Cornus florida: Flowering dogwood, North American native, tree
  • Cornus kousa: Kousa dogwood, Asian native, tree
  • Cornus alternifolia: Pagoda dogwood, North American native, large shrub or small tree
  • Cornus mas: Cornelian cherry dogwood, European & Asian native, large shrub or small tree
  • Cornus nuttallii: Pacific dogwood, North American native, large shrub or small tree
  • Cornus sanguinea: Bloodtwig dogwood, European & Asian native, shrub
  • Cornus amomum spp. obliqua: Swamp dogwood, North American native, shrub
  • Cornus stolonifera: Red osier dogwood, North American native, shrub

Zones:

2-9, depending on variety

Size:

Shrubs 3 to 5 feet tall and wide; trees from 10 to 25 feet tall with a trunk diameter of 6 to 12 inches.

Exposure:

Full sun to partial or full shade, depending on variety.

Bloom time:

Mid-March through May, depending on variety.

Growth rate:

Most dogwood shrubs and trees grow quickly, with a fast rate of over a foot a year. Trees will reach full size in about a decade.

Flower color:

White is the usual color of the dogwood’s petal-like bracts, but some are pink or even pale red, such as C. florida ‘Rubra’.

Foliage:

Like other deciduous trees and shrubs, the leaves of a dogwood are green during summer and change to an attractive reddish-purple during the fall, before dropping to the ground.

Form:

Trees are rounded with horizontal branching. Dogwood bushes have an upright habit.

Are dogwoods deer resistant?

Deer resistance varies slightly between types, but for most, Rutgers rates them as seldom to occasionally damaged by deer.

PLANTING DOGWOODS

When to plant:

Plant dogwoods in the spring, before tree growth starts and when the soil is moist.

Where to plant:

Dogwoods thrive in both sun and shade, making it a great understory tree or shrub.

Soil:

Dogwoods do best in moist, well-drained, slightly acidic soil that contains organic matter.

Planting tips:

  • Dig an extra-wide hole to ensure the roots have room to grow outwards
  • Don’t plant too deeply, the root flare should be above ground level
  • For container grown dogwoods, loosen the root ball with a soil knife to prevent the roots from continuing to grow in the circular shape of the pot
  • For bare root dogwoods, soak the roots in a bucket of water prior to planting
  • Create a berm of soil around the outer edge of the root ball to hold water

Companion plants:

Plant with witch hazel, redbud and oakleaf hydrangea.

DOGWOOD CARE & PRUNING

Pruning:

Dogwood trees and shrubs have a naturally attractive shape, so they require little pruning unless needed for aesthetic reasons or to improve their vigor. The best time to prune is in the late winter (when the tree is dormant) to early spring, before new folige emerges.

Watering:

Water your dogwood on a regular basis until it is established. Then, provide additional water during hot dry spells and mulch to help retain moisture. Keep the mulch pulled back a few inches from the tree trunk. Dogwood trees prefer moist soils, with many tolerating boggy conditions, so they aren't necessarily drought tolerant.

Fertilizing:

Be careful when fertilizing a young dogwood shrub or tree—many newly planted trees are killed by applying too much fertilizer. For this reason it is often safest to hold off on fertilizing until your tree is in its second season. If you have an established dogwood that you feel would benefit from fertilization, have your soil tested to determine the best course of action. Additionally, fertilizer applied too late in the season can stimulate new growth that is vulnerable to winter damage.

Diseases:

Dogwoods are subject to anthracnose, a fungal disease that causes leaf spotting and twig dieback. Preventive measures include providing good air circulation to keep foliage dry, and watering in the summer during periods of drought. Any diseased twigs and branches should be pruned off.

Pests:

The most common insect pest is the dogwood borer, whose larvae burrow under the bark of the trunk and limbs. Because newly hatched larvae enter the tree through wounds or broken bark, avoid damage to the bark when doing lawn maintenance and don't prune from April to June when borers are most active. Infected trees can be treated by spraying with an insecticide.

DOGWOOD PICTURES

Swipe to view slides

Photo by: Proven Winners

Arctic Sun® bloodtwig dogwood
C. sanguinea

Type: Shrub
Zones: 4-7
Exposure: Part sun to sun
Height/Spread: 3 to 4 feet tall & wide
Flower color & bloom time: White flowers bloom late spring.

Yellow-green leaves emerge in spring, turning golden orange in the fall. But the main attraction of this dogwood is the unique yellow, orange, and coral-colored stems that brighten winter gardens and make colorful additions to winter arrangements and containers.

Photo by: Proven Winners

Arctic Fire® Red red osier dogwood
C. stolonifera

Type: Shrub
Zones: 2-7
Exposure: Part sun to sun
Height/Spread: 3 to 5 feet tall & wide
Flower color & bloom time: White flowers bloom late spring.

A dwarf variety, smaller than other red-twig dogwoods and also very shade tolerant. The beautiful red stems glow in winter sunlight. Use winter stems in seasonal arrangements.
Also: Arctic Fire® Yellow

Photo by: Proven Winners

Pucker Up!® red twig dogwood
C. stolonifera

Type: Shrub
Zones: 3-8
Exposure: Part sun to sun
Height/Spread: 3 to 4 feet tall & wide
Flower color & bloom time: White flowers bloom in spring.

The uniquely textured foliage has a quilted effect and will show some coloration in fall. This slow grower rarely needs pruning.

Photo by: Proven Winners

Red Rover® silky dogwood
C. obliqua

Type: Shrub
Zones: 4-8
Exposure: Part sun to sun
Height/Spread: 4 to 5 feet tall & wide
Flower color & bloom time: White flowers bloom in late spring; may lightly rebloom in fall.

The exceptional fall color on this native plant is its highlight. A good choice for boggy areas or rain gardens due to its tolerance of damp to even wet soils.

Photo by: Proven Winners

Golden Shadows® pagoda dogwood
C. alternifolia

Type: Tree
Zones: 3-8
Exposure: Partial to full shade
Height/Spread: 10 to 12 feet tall & wide
Flower color & bloom time: White flowers bloom in spring.

Distinctive horizontal branching gives this small tree an elegant look. Bright yellow and emerald green variegated leaves add color to shady corners.

Photo by: Spring Hill Nurseries.

'Summer Gold' kousa dogwood
C. kousa

Type: Tree
Zones: 5-8
Exposure: Partial shade to full sun
Height: 8 feet tall
Flower color & bloom time: White flowers bloom in late spring to early summer.

A compact tree with multi-season interest. In spring, expect golden-edged leaves; in summer, creamy white flowers appear and the foliage begins to blush, eventually turning vivid red in fall.

Photo by: RWI Fine Art Photography / Alamy Stock Photo

'Cloud 9' flowering dogwood
C. florida

Type: Tree
Zones: 5-9
Exposure: Partial shade to full sun
Height/Spread: 15 feet tall, 10 feet wide
Flower color & bloom time: Large white flowers bloom in spring.

This ornamental tree produces an abundant display of large, pure-white flower bracts even at an early age.

Photo by: Holmes Garden Photos / Alamy Stock Photo

'Cherokee Sunset' flowering dogwood
C. florida

Type: Tree
Zones: 5-8
Exposure: Partial shade to full sun
Height/Spread: 20 feet tall and wide
Flower color & bloom time: Pink to light red flowers bloom mid-to-late spring.

Variegated yellow-green foliage turns red in the fall. It is the only variegated dogwood with red flower bracts.

Other popular flowering dogwoods: 'Cherokee Chief', 'Rubra' and white dogwood

Photo by: Jon Lindstrom / Millette Photomedia

Cornelian cherry dogwood
C. mas

Type: Shrub or tree
Zones: 4-8
Exposure: Partial shade to full sun
Height/Spread: 20 to 25 feet tall, 15 to 20 feet wide
Flower color & bloom time: Yellow flowers bloom in early spring.

Can be grown as a large deciduous shrub or trained as a small tree.

Photo by: Kevin Schafer / Alamy Stock Photo

Pacific dogwood
C. nuttallii

Type: Shrub or tree
Zones: 7-9
Exposure: Partial to full sun
Height/Spread: 15 to 40 feet tall, 10 to 25 feet wide
Flower color & bloom time: Purple-green flower clusters surrounded by large white bracts, bloom in spring.

Can be grown as a large medium-size tree or tall shrub and is the western version of the flowering dogwood. Foliage will turn yellow, orange, and red in fall.

Photo by: Sergey Rogalsky / Shutterstock

Tatarian dogwood
C. alba 'Argenteomarginata'

Type: Shrub
Zones: 3-7
Exposure: Partial to full sun
Height/Spread: 8 to 10 feet tall and wide
Flower color & bloom time: White flowers bloom in late spring.

Best stem color occurs on younger stems. Removing 1/4 of the stems in late winter to early spring will promote new growth for more color.

Many dogwood shrubs and trees are available for purchase online. You can expect to pay approximately $20 to $100 or more depending on the size and variety.

ALL-SEASON BEAUTY

Although the dogwood is a relatively small tree — its magnificent all-season beauty makes a big impact in the residential garden.

Photos by: Nikolay Kurzenko / Shutterstock & Proven Winners.

SPRING

Blooms appear on both trees and shrubs between late March and mid-May and often last as long as three or four weeks.

Trees (left): Flowers on trees tend to be single and larger.

Shrubs (right): Flowers on shrubs are smaller and form in clusters.

Photo by: islavicek / Shutterstock.

SUMMER

Blossoms give way to glossy green leaves, some with striking white or yellow variegation. Foliage is similar on trees and shrubs.

Photo by: Jan Johnsen & Proven Winners.

AUTUMN

Berries follow the flowers and attract birds, providing food through fall and winter. Berry color varies depending on the variety.

Trees (left): As with the flowers, berries are single and larger on trees.

Shrubs (right): Clusters of small berries follow the flowers on shrubs.

Get ideas for an alluring autumn garden.

See more trees and shrubs with colorful berries.

Photos by: J. Paul Moore & Proven Winners.

WINTER

Trees (left): After the leaves drop, the dogwood’s graceful horizontal branches and scale-like bark take center stage. If you’re lucky, the scarlet berries will linger into winter, enhancing the unique beauty of the textured bark.

Shrubs (right): Many dogwood shrubs display colorful stems in the winter in shades of yellow, red, coral, and orange. (Pictured: Arctic Sun® dogwood)

See eight more trees with distinctive bark.

DOGWOOD TREE FACTS

  • Americans’ love for the dogwood was inspired by two of our founding fathers. George Washington planted dogwoods at Mount Vernon, obtaining many of his trees from the surrounding forest. Thomas Jefferson planted dogwoods at Monticello in the late 1770s, which inspired Virginia lawmakers to select the American Dogwood as the state flower in 1918.
  • At least 36 different species of birds feast on the dogwood’s fleshy red berries, including northern cardinals, tufted titmice, bluebirds, juncos, and waxwings. Robins, northern mockingbirds, and sparrows will also build nests on the dogwood’s horizontal branches.
  • Although dogwoods have been around for centuries, they were first labeled with the term “dogtree” in 1548, derived from the word “dagwood” because the slender stems were used for making daggers, arrows, and skewers. In 1614, the name changed to “dogwood.”
  • The dogwood was among the top choices for America’s National Tree in a nationwide vote hosted by the Arbor Day Foundation, ranking third behind the oak and redwood.

BEST PLACES TO SEE FLOWERING DOGWOODS

In anticipation of dogwoods bursting into bloom each spring, many states hold festivals to celebrate the event, some lasting as long as a month.

  • The Atlanta Dogwood Festival is one of the oldest and has been an annual tradition since 1936.
  • The Dogwood Trails Celebration in Palestine, Texas, takes place over three weekends in late March through early April, and includes a parade, barbecue cook-off, and dogwood brunch train on the Texas State Railroad.
  • The Dogwood Trail Celebration in Paducah, Kentucky, can be enjoyed both day and night, with a lighted 10-mile trail that casts a luminescent glow on the white flowers after dark.

Enjoy garden travel? Check out our local self-guided day trips and other travel destinations. Sign up for our Garden Travel Newsletter to be alerted when new travel opportunities are available!

Last updated: June 23, 2021

Related:

The Best Flowering Trees for Residential Gardens
Top Trees for Colorful Fall Foliage

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