Flowering Dogwood TreesAmerica’s most popular native flowering tree thrives in the home garden
The dogwood, one of the most popular trees in the country, offers 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.
The dogwood’s profuse blooms appear between late March and mid-May and linger for weeks, giving way to glossy green leaves in the summer. Photo by: Mark Turner.
There are many types of dogwoods, ranging from small shrubs to single-trunked ornamental trees. Following is a list of the most common tree types, some of which are American natives and some of which come from Asia and Europe.
- Cornus florida (flowering dogwood)
- Cornus kousa (kousa dogwood)
- Cornus alternifolia (pagoda dogwood)
- Cornus mas (cornelian cherry dogwood)
- Cornus nuttallii (mountain dogwood)
- Cornus controversa (giant dogwood)
10 to 25 feet tall with a trunk diameter of 6 to 12 inches.
Prefers partial shade, but can tolerate full sun when well-watered.
Mid-March through May.
Dogwood trees grow quickly, with a fast rate of over a foot a year. A tree planted this year will reach full-size in about a decade.
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’.
Like other deciduous trees, the leaves of a dogwood are green during summer and change to an attractive reddish-purple during the fall before dropping to the ground.
Rounded with horizontal branching.
When to plant:
Plant dogwoods in the spring, before tree growth starts and when the soil is moist.
Where to plant:
Native to the eastern U.S., the flowering dogwood thrives in both sun and shade, making it a great understory tree.
Dogwoods do best in moist, well-drained, slightly acidic soil that contains organic matter.
- 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
Dogwood trees have a naturally attractive rounded 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 fall or winter while the tree is dormant.
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.
Be careful when fertilizing a young dogwood 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, making the tree vulnerable to winter damage.
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.
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 or pruning. Infected trees can be treated by spraying with an insecticide.
Although the dogwood is a relatively small tree — its magnificent all-season beauty makes a big impact in the residential garden.
Large, fragrant blooms appear between late March and mid-May and often last as long as three or four weeks.
Blossoms give way to glossy green leaves, some with striking white or yellow variegation.
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.
See eight more trees with distinctive bark.
Cornus florida 'Cloud Nine’ is the most cold-hardy variety and produces an abundant display of extra -large, pure white flower bracts in the spring, even at an early age.
Cornus florida ‘Cherokee Sunset' has deep pink to light red flowers and variegated yellow-green foliage that turns red in the fall. It is the only variegated dogwood with red flower bracts.
Japanese dogwood (Cornus kousa) is very similar to the native dogwood but is more drought-tolerant, can handle more sun, and has better disease resistance. This exotic species also blooms later in June after its leaves have emerged, forming large star-shaped flowers.
Cornus florida ‘Rubra’ has pink to reddish petal-like bracts that open flat, giving the appearance of a single, large-diameter, four-petaled flower.
Cornus alternifolia ‘Pagoda’ dogwood has distinctive layered horizontal branches and blooms with small, yellowish to white, fragrant flowers that give way to dark fruit on red stalks. The foliage turns red in fall.
Cornus ‘Rutgan’ Stellar Pink dogwood is a small deciduous tree with large-bracted flowers that bloom profusely. This is a sterile variety and does not produce fruit.
Cornelian cherry dogwood (Cornus mas) has small yellow flowers that bloom early in spring before the leaves appear, and can be grown as a large deciduous shrub or trained as a small tree.
Cornus Venus dogwood is a hybrid variety crossed from C. kousa and C. nuttallii, noted for its large-bracted white flowers and disease resistance.
Pacific or mountain dogwood (Cornus nuttallii) can be grown as a medium-size tree or tall shrub and is the western version of flowering dogwood (Cornus florida). Pacific dogwoods have tiny purple-green flower clusters surrounded by large white bracts. Foliage will turn yellow, orange, and red in the fall.
Not pictured: ‘Welchii’ has white bracts and is distinguished by its attractive variegated pink, cream, and green leaves.
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.” For more dogwood lore, see Dogwood Trees: History, Facts, and Growing Tips.
- 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. The Charlottesville Dogwood Festival, celebrated throughout the month of April, features a dogwood tree sale, grand parade, and the crowning and coronation of a Dogwood Queen.
Last updated: August 17, 2018