It’s estimated that there are as many as 60 different species of dogwood trees that come in a surprising range of sizes and colors. Dogwoods are native to North America, Asia, and Europe, and they can present as a tree, a shrub, or a subshrub, which makes them a versatile option for any yard. They also thrive in a wide range of environments, making them a popular choice for landscaping and horticulturists, so popular in fact that there are a handful of states that hold annual dogwood festivals.
The characteristics that make dogwood trees distinct are their flowers, fruits, and bark. When most people think of dogwoods, what they generally imagine is the flowering dogwood tree. The flowering dogwood has clusters of small flowers within a whorl of bracts in white or some variation of red. So, what may look like a large showy flower is really a dense cluster of small flowers surrounded by specialized leaves. These trees are beautiful, and they can provide visual impact for much of a year. Spring flowering, summer fruiting, fall leaves, and striking winter bark add up to a quality component to your landscape.
Know What Your Tree Needs
A healthy flowering dogwood adds value to your home, and it brings birds, butterflies, and other pollinators that benefit the biodiversity of your land. So to ensure its success, it’s important to know your tree, and that means knowing your tree’s needs.
If you’re taking stewardship of an existing dogwood tree, it’s a good idea to have a professional service such as Mr. Tree perform an inspection. A neglected tree can have serious health problems that an average homeowner just might not recognize and is often susceptible to disease and pest infestations.
You also want to make sure your tree is in soil with the appropriate pH, nutrients, and water retention. If you’re planting your new dogwood tree, choose a species that is well-suited to the place you intend to plant it.
Care for All Parts of Your Dogwood Tree
A lush, thriving dogwood tree will have bright green leaves with veins that run parallel to the edge, and in general, the leaves are set opposite on the twig. The bark is usually notable in that it’s rough, peeling, or a vibrant red. As we’ve discussed, the blossoms are striking. These flowers eventually ripen to become red or yellow fruits that are a mainstay for more than 30 species of birds. Your dogwood tree is important for a thriving ecosystem, and as a steward, you’ll want to ensure it remains healthy.
Some important ways to do so are to protect the roots from digging or disturbance. The dogwood root system is shallow, so it’s vulnerable to damage and dehydration. This can be mitigated with some strategic mulching. Take care if you’re using a string trimmer around the base. Even small abrasions open an opportunity for pests, such as the dogwood borer, or fungal infections.
Other issues that can develop in dogwood trees include leaf scorch during sunny summer days or sunscald of the bark during bright winter days. The dogwood tree is best planted in a shade or partial sun location. It’s often suggested that dogwoods be planted in the shade of a taller hardwood for sun protection and for a pleasing aesthetic effect.
Prune When Needed
In the northwest, the native population of Pacific dogwood trees is currently suffering from a dogwood anthracnose infection that’s causing the rapid decline of the species in many places. The US Forest Service has classified it as a “sensitive” species. (This is also a good reason to get that professional inspection before you plant one in your yard.)
Knowing there’s a fungal disease present in a region gives you an opportunity to shop for more resistant species or to take some precautionary steps to protect existing trees. If you have a tree at risk, the first step to take is removing all the fallen leaves and pruning any damaged branches. If you suspect infection, be sure to wash your tools with soap and water after pruning and skip the fertilizer and watering, as both can promote fungal growth.
Plant Your Tree Where It Will Thrive
When it comes to choosing a dogwood tree, remember that placement is important, so you want to make sure that you choose a place that fits your tree’s needs, and a tree that fits your style. Most trees will require partial shade and soil that drains.
Some attractive, and curious, options to consider are:
- Cornus capitata angustifolia, the evergreen dogwood, grows to approximately 36 feet tall.
- Cornus kousa ‘Rutpink’, or Scarlet Fire, a shorty that can grow to about 10 feet tall. It has blooms of four large, dark red bracts oppositely oriented.
- Cornus ‘KN30-8’, or Venus, a fast-growing dogwood with white bracts, considered mid-sized, reaching up to 20 feet.
- Cornus x Stellar Pink, a hybrid of the white Cornus florida and the red Cornus kousa, creating lovely pink blooms. These are also resistant to anthracnose and the dogwood borer.
- Cornus mas, a cornelian cherry dogwood that reaches approximately 20 feet and produces edible fruit.
Once you’ve made your decision, give your new tree the best possible start, and remember that when planting, optimal soil pH for most dogwood trees falls in the 5.5 to 7.0 range. You can use amendments to change the pH if needed.
Light requirements are best satisfied by dappled sunlight or afternoon shade. The shallow root system means you should take care not to plant it too deep and make your hole is a little wider than you might otherwise. Your nursery consultant should be able to make specific hole recommendations.
Water deeply after planting to encourage root spread and growth, but avoid getting branches or foliage wet. Also, top the planting mound with a significant radius of a protective layer of mulch to protect the newly forming roots from drying. Your mulch layer should not crowd the base, and it’s best to avoid using dogwood chips to avoid possible fungal infections. The effort is worthwhile, and with some diligence, you can have a fabulous and thriving dogwood tree this year.