Dogwood trees make an excellent landscape choice for all four seasons. They’re available in an extensive range of colors, sizes, and shapes, and provide structure and color to the landscape throughout the majority of the year.
They bloom earlier than many other flowering trees, making them one of the first signs of spring. Even in small yards, the Dogwood’s manageable height of about 25 feet makes it an excellent choice for enhancing property value.
The white dogwood tree (Cornus florida) is a particular favorite amongst gardeners. It features stunning four-petal white blooms from spring to summer that turn into breathtaking red-purple foliage by fall.
It’s then followed by a stunning flash of color in the form of glossy red fruits that attract winter songbirds during winter for the enjoyment of all. It also makes a nice contrast when placed with pink or red dogwoods and larger evergreens in the background.
If you live in zones 3 – 8, this is the perfect tree for you since it requires moist air and part shade to thrive. On the dogwood tree, what many people mistake for flowers are actually beautiful structures called bracts, which range in color from delicate white to deep pink.
The actual blossoms of dogwood trees are held in a spherical cluster in the center of each bract, which remains attached to the branches much longer than real blooms.
Botanical Name: Cornus genus
Common Name: Dogwood tree
Plant Type: Shrub, tree
Hardiness Zones: 3 – 8 (USDA)
Sun Exposure: Full sun, part shade
Soil Type: Loamy, well-drained soil
Soil pH: 5.6 – 6.5
Height: Up to 40 feet (depending on species)
Bloom Time: Spring (April – May)
Flower Color: White, pink, red
Quick Guide: Planting, Growing & Caring for Dogwood Tree
- Dogwoods have a rich history in the United States, from lore to wildlife value and the flowering dogwood tree is the most commonly associated with this iconic tree.
- These are understory trees that typically thrive in the shade, and prefer fertile, well-draining soil rich in organic matter.
- Dogwood tree has shallow roots, so you should water them twice weekly, or more frequently if the weather is especially dry.
- Avoid over-fertilizing when first planting dogwood, as this can be harmful to young trees.
- Dogwood trees typically don’t require much upkeep, however, pruning may be necessary to shape the plant on occasion.
Dogwood Tree History and Lore
There is quite a lot of history and lore surrounding the dogwood tree in the US, specifically the flowering dogwood tree (Cornus florida) specie. This is the specie that’s commonly seen around the US and what we most commonly associate with dogwood trees in America.
It’s a native from Massachusetts all the way south to Florida and west to Texas. It was first cultivated here in 1731. It has been a favorite in this country for centuries, with both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson planting it on their plantations.
It also served many medicinal uses. Early Native Americans would use it to make medicinal teas from its bark, while desperate Civil War doctors used this tea as a quinine substitute.
The wood itself also has many uses since it’s extremely hard. It has been used to make weaver’s shuttles, chisel and maul handles, golf club heads, and even yokes.
Wildlife Value of Dogwood Tree
The uses and history of dogwood trees aren’t only limited to humans, since even wildlife has benefited from the tree. The seeds, fruits, flowers, twigs, bark, and leaves have all been used as food by various animals.
More than 36 different species of birds eat its fruit, including bobwhite quail, wild turkeys, and even ruffed grouse. Other mammals that have it include foxes, chipmunks, skunks, squirrels, deer, beaver, and black bear. It’s twigs and foliage are also heavily browsed by rabbits and deer.
Dogwood Tree Care
Dogwood trees are understory trees that typically thrive in the shade. They flourish in a partial shade area with some morning sun in a residential landscape. Plant a dogwood tree in fertile, well-draining soil rich in organic matter for it to thrive.
We recommend planting a dogwood tree where you can see it and enjoy the lovely blooms it produces in the early spring. Many different species of birds eat its fruit, while its pollen is particularly attractive to bees and other pollinators. The leaves of the tree decay faster than those of other trees, adding organic matter to the soil.
Depending on the species of dogwood tree being grown, different care is required. In the winter, when there isn’t much else to eat, leave some fruit on the plant for wildlife to enjoy. When it comes to growth rate, this tree grows at a medium rate and increases in height by 13 to 24 inches per year.
Some dogwood trees can withstand the full sun. However, the majority prefer dappled sunlight, with mainly partial shade and protection from the full sun provided by larger trees.
Dogwood trees prefer slightly acidic, well-drained soil. The trees should be kept moist, although once established, they can tolerate intermittent dry periods.
Many species prefer organic soil, which could require the use of compost. These plants benefit from thick mulch to survive the winter chill and the summer heat.
Dogwood tree has shallow roots, so you should water them twice weekly, or more frequently if the weather is especially dry. Water thoroughly. If the leaves become pale green or grow dry, water more frequently. Reduce watering if the leaves appear droopy or gray.
Temperature and Humidity
Dogwood trees are cold-tolerant and can withstand winter freezes. Dogwood prefers colder to warmer temperatures, and when cultivated in drier climates, it requires more regular shade and frequent waterings than when grown in cooler climates.
In such situations, apply a layer of mulch to help retain moisture and regulate soil temperature.
Avoid over-fertilizing when first planting dogwood, as this can be harmful to young trees. In the beginning, use a nitrogen product as directed by the manufacturer. Use an organic mix for acidic soil once your tree has established itself, but only fertilize if the soil isn’t already nutrient-rich.
Dogwood trees typically don’t require much upkeep, however, pruning may be necessary to shape the plant on occasion. The best time to prune is in the summer because the plant produces a lot of sap in the winter and spring.
Common Types of Dogwood Trees
The dogwood tree (genus Cornus) is a popular choice for landscapes due to its beautiful flowers, attractive foliage, and vibrant fall colors. While there are several species and cultivars of dogwood trees, here are seven of the most common ones:
- Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida): The flowering dogwood is one of the most well-known dogwood species, native to eastern North America. It features showy, four-petaled flowers in shades of white, pink, or red. The flowering dogwood is prized for its ornamental value and is the state tree of Missouri and Virginia.
- Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa): Native to East Asia, the Kousa dogwood is another widely planted dogwood species. It produces slightly smaller flowers than the flowering dogwood, but they are borne in abundance, creating a stunning display. The Kousa dogwood also features attractive exfoliating bark and edible strawberry-like fruits.
- Pacific Dogwood (Cornus nuttallii): The Pacific dogwood is a native species found in the western regions of North America. It has large, white flowers and glossy green leaves. While it shares similarities with the flowering dogwood, the Pacific dogwood generally has larger and fewer flowers.
- Cornelian Cherry Dogwood (Cornus mas): The Cornelian cherry dogwood is known for its early spring blooms, bearing clusters of small yellow flowers. It is native to Europe and western Asia. The tree also produces cherry-like fruits that are edible and can be used for making preserves or syrups.
- Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea): The red osier dogwood is a deciduous shrub that can sometimes grow into a small tree. It is native to North America and is valued for its vibrant red or yellowish stems, which provide a striking winter interest. It also produces clusters of white flowers and white berries. It’s also known as red twig dogwood.
- Pagoda Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia): The pagoda dogwood is a small tree or large shrub native to eastern North America. It is named for its distinctive tiered branching structure resembling a pagoda. This dogwood species produces clusters of creamy white flowers followed by bluish-black berries loved by birds.
- Evergreen Dogwood (Cornus capitata): Cornus capitata, also known as evergreen dogwood or Himalayan strawberry tree, is native to parts of Asia. It is notable for its broad, glossy green leaves and clusters of small yellow flowers. The tree also bears strawberry-like fruits that turn red when ripe.
How to Plant and Grow Dogwood Tree
Where to Plant Dogwood Tree
Dogwood trees are typically found in shaded areas of understory forests. In the residential landscape, they thrive in a location that receives partial shade and some morning sun. Plant a dogwood tree in fertile, well-draining soil rich in organic matter.
Although we recommend planting in the early spring or fall, before or after the risk of frost, you can proceed as long as the ground is not frozen and extreme temperature variations can be avoided.
Plant the dogwood tree where you can see and admire its gorgeous blooms in early spring. Many different species of birds eat its fruit, while its pollen is extremely alluring to bees and other pollinators. The leaves of the tree decompose faster than most others, adding organic matter to the soil.
How and When to Plant Dogwood Trees
The best time to plant a bare-root dogwood sapling is in the spring before the tree begins to grow. Remove any damaged roots, then submerge the remaining roots in water for approximately four hours. Prepare the planting site as they soak.
The soil needs to be fertile and well-draining. Dig in organic matter or compost if necessary. Dig a hole at least a foot wider and as deep as the root system.
Make a mound of soil in the hole’s middle. Spread the roots of the tree carefully so they point downward before placing it in the hole at the top of the mound. Backfill approximately two-thirds of the cavity with amended soil and compact it by hand to remove air pockets.
Give the tree plenty of water. Fill up the remaining hole, ensuring sure the tree is somewhat higher than it was in the nursery container. The rootball’s top should be barely visible. Don’t pour dirt up over the top of the rootball.
The old soil line is indicated by a visible line on the sapling above the root system. To send water to the roots of the sapling, create a water berm of mulch or topsoil about 5 inches away.
Gardeners planting nursery trees that have leafed out or cuttings that have grown into saplings should amend the soil and follow the same technique as when planting bare-root saplings, but dig a hole two to three times the width of the root ball.
How to Propagate Dogwood Tree
It is relatively simple to propagate dogwood. Remove branches measuring between three and five inches in length. Remove the leaves from the bottom of the branches, dip them in rooting hormone, and put them in the soil, being careful not to let any leaves touch the dirt.
Put a plastic bag over the potted stem. Pull on the stem to check for roots after about six weeks. Put the pot in a sunny location after removing the bag. Water on a regular basis and use a half-strength liquid fertilizer every two weeks.
You can either plant it outside or move it to a bigger container after it outgrows its pot.
How to Pot or Repot Dogwood Tree
Growing dogwood in a pot is tricky. It requires well-draining soil and regular watering to keep the soil moist due to its dense, shallow roots.
Get the biggest pot you can fit if you wish to plant dogwood in a pot or indoors, and be sure to water them frequently. You’ll need to relocate it somewhere chilly because it has to go dormant in the winter.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases for Dogwood Tree
Dogwood may get powdery mildew, but if it’s late in the season, the leaves will fall off and it won’t be a problem. Dogwoods are susceptible to leaf spots, which can be treated by removing the affected leaves from the tree and the ground or, in some cases, by applying the proper fungicide.
Dogwood borers and scales are two insects that might cause problems.
Other Tree Guides from Planet Natural:
Ash Tree Guide: What Is It + 15 Common Species of Ash Trees
How to Plant, Grow & Care for Ficus Tree (Indoors + Outdoors)
Melissa Pino is a biologist, master gardener, and regular contributor for Planet Natural. Melissa's work focuses on promoting environmentally-friendly practices, helping people create healthy gardens and finding ways to achieve overall health and wellness.