Tips on Growing Flowering Dogwood

Updated on December 24, 2017
Jeanne Grunert profile image

Jeanne Grunert is a Virginia Master Gardener, gardening magazine columnist, and book author. She is a full-time freelance writer.

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Flowering Dogwood Tree

With their showers of pink, white, or red petals in the spring, colorful fall foliage, and red berries, flowering dogwood trees are a delightful addition to the garden. The genus "Cornus" (dogwoods) encompasses 30 to 60 species hailing from China, Japan, the southeastern United States, and parts of Europe. They're a forest tree often found in the understory canopy. Here in southern Virginia, Cornus florida grows abundantly, and it is the state flower of Virginia. The woods are dotted with white blossoms and light green leaves each spring and lush bronze-red color in the fall thanks to Cornus florida. They are great for small yards and for wildlife gardens or attracting birds to the garden.

Growing flowering dogwood trees successfully in the eastern portion of the United States is fairly easy since they're native to the area. They're well-suited to most temperate gardens. However, they do need good-quality soil and proper planting in order to flourish. These tips for growing flowering dogwoods should help you establish your new dogwood tree for years of seasonal enjoyment.

Choosing a Dogwood Tree

You can plant either a container-grown or field-grown, balled and burlap covered dogwood tree. Both can do fine in the garden but choose a healthy specimen. Healthy dogwood trees have sturdy stems without nicks, cuts or damage.

When planting a container-grown tree, look for trees with a good network of white roots once they're removed from the pot. If planting a B & B (balled and burlapped) tree, remove the twine and burlap from the root ball prior to planting. While the materials will disintegrate over time, removing them helps the tree establish its roots more quickly.

Which Dogwood Tree Should I Choose?

Tree Name
Color of Flowers (Brachts)
Cornus florida
White
Cherokee Princess
White
Cherokee Chief
Red/Pink
American Beauty Red
Red/Pink
Cherokee Sunset
Red/Pink
Common flowering dogwood trees and flower colors for the United States, especially southeastern United States.
Cornus florida (native dogwood)
Cornus florida (native dogwood) | Source

Site Selection and Preparation

Because dogwood trees grow under the canopy of other trees in a large forested area, they prefer shade or semi-shade. Choose your location with care and leave plenty of room between the tree and any existing buildings. Many people make the mistake of planting trees too close to their homes, sheds or garages, thinking that the tiny tree looks "funny" all by itself in the landscape. Remember that in a few short years, the little tree will grow and fill in the space adequately.

Soils

Dogwood trees need rich, well-drained soils. Forests naturally provide the soil they like - rich in decaying leaves and other materials. You can improve your garden soil in preparation for planting a dogwood tree by adding organic matter to the soil. Compost added to the soil and plenty of mulch layer around the newly planted tree will mimic the forest conditions and add to your chances of planting success.

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Planting Instructions

Once you've chosen your location and found the perfect tree, it's time to plant your flowering dogwood tree.

  1. Dig the planting hole twice as wide and as deep as the container or root ball of the tree.
  2. Place a tarp on the ground and add the soil from the hole to the tarp.
  3. Add compost onto the soil and mix it together.
  4. Remove the tree from the container or carefully cut open the burlap and twine on the root ball.
  5. Place some of the soil and compost mixture into the planting hole.
  6. Set the tree in the hole. Make sure the top of the root ball is level with the planting hole. In other words, the tree should be planted at about the same level in the ground as it was in the pot.
  7. Fill in the space around the tree's roots with the soil and compost mixture.
  8. Tap it down gently.
  9. Water well.
  10. Add mulch.

Be sure to water your newly planted tree periodically through the growing season, especially during its first year. This will help it establish a good root system and thrive.

Fertilizer

The Georgia Cooperative Extension website recommends lightly fertilizing dogwood trees with a fertilizer of 16-4-8 (high in nitrogen) or 12-4-8. But avoid over-fertilizing young dogwood trees, as too much fertilizer can harm them or even kill them. Follow the package directions on your fertilizer carefully.

Adding compost or watering the tree with compost tea is almost always safe, and provides a rich source of natural nutrients and microbes that build up the soil while feeding the young tree.

Pests and Diseases

In the United States, two common problems often strike dogwood trees.

  • Dogwood borer: This is an insect that bores into the trunk of young trees or into the branches of older trees. Areas where the insects tunnel through will die off. Trees damaged by lawn mowers or weed whackers are more likely to be affected since the cuts in the bark offer the insect an easy entry point. Consult with your local garden center or Cooperative Extension office for the proper insecticide to use. Typically, larvae enter in spring, around May, which is when pesticides are recommended for use, but do consult a professional.
  • Dogwood anthracnose: This is a fungal diseases that starts as spots on the leaves. The spots are large and purple with a noticeable border. The disease tends to spread rapidly during wet, rainy weather. The fungus infection is confirmed by a plant pathologist using a microscopic examination of a specimen, so if you think your tree is infected, bring a sample to your local county Cooperative Extension office and let them examine it. Chemical sprays may be recommended to treat infected dogwoods. Cornus kousa is resistant to the disease naturally.

Landscape Uses

Dogwood trees are ideal for suburban backyards. They can grow 20 to 30 feet, offering shade throughout the summer and colorful foliage and berries in the fall. During the winter months, they make idea bird areas, and you can easily hang a feeder from the lower branches. Use a dogwood in the landscape as a specimen tree, as a focal point for a woodland garden, or as an accent tree for a front yard.

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    • wqaindia profile image

      Ashok Goyal 

      5 years ago from 448 Dalima Vihar Rajpura 140401 Punjab India

      Jeanne : I am learning the ways I can pass time after my retirement. I stop at places which look beautiful, talk beautiful and tell beautiful. I really found it interesting and beautiful as well.

    • Jeanne Grunert profile imageAUTHOR

      Jeanne Grunert 

      5 years ago from Virginia

      Larry - bad puns welcome. They're the best kind!

    • Larry Fields profile image

      Larry Fields 

      5 years ago from Northern California

      Hi Jeanne,

      I'm a compleat idiot about horticulture. and have two purple thumbs to prove it. But I loved your beautiful photos.

      Nearby Sacramento is noted for its zillions of different kinds of trees. And that includes some dogwoods. (Many hundreds of years ago, the only trees there were oaks.)

      For whatever it's worth, one thing that I'd like to add: Don't plant dogwoods near cattails. :)

      Bad pun! Bad Larry! *slaps self on wrist*

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      5 years ago from England

      Hi jeanne, this was so interesting, I don't think I have ever heard of flowering Dogwood before, yet I recognise them if you see what I mean! lol! I am not one for remembering the name of plants and trees but it is really beautiful, and the info was great, voted up and shared, nell

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