The Dogwood Tree is a majestic ornamental, well adapted to life in the United States. As long as you offer the tree plenty of water and sunshine, like most plants, the Dogwood will do just fine. There are over 50 species within the Cornus, or Dogwood, genus. These species vary wildly, from shrubs to deciduous temperate trees and evergreens. One of the most common species, and the one about which you’ve most likely heard, is the Flowering Dogwood. The state tree of Virginia, the Flowering Dogwood has conspicuous white to light yellow flowers that offer magnificent blooms in spring. Other species can be quite different; for example, the Blackfruit Cornel, native to California, has small yellow-green blooms and a fruit which turns black when ripe, thus the name. Whatever your desire, there is a Dogwood to suit your needs.
There is one exception to the otherwise glowing record of adaptable strengths the Dogwood offers: water. The Dogwood does not grow well in semi-arid to arid climates, and will most certainly need irrigation if planted in these areas. Although Dogwoods can do well near river banks or streams, they will not grow well in frequently flooded areas where the soil is constantly saturated. Treat your Dogwood with the watering it needs, and its loyalty will rival that of man’s best friend.
Best Dogwood Trees
Enjoy some quick tips here. For more complete information, read about these hints in more detail below.
Sunlight – Plant in a partially sunny area with some minimal access to afternoon shade. Dappled shade, or partial filtered sun through a taller tree, can work.
Soil – Plant in well-drained, moist soil that is not overly wet. Although adaptable to many soil types, Dogwoods prefer slightly acidic loam.
Water – The shallow roots of the Dogwood run the risk of drying out. Water the tree at least twice a week in most areas and more during dry spells.
Pruning – Pruning is minimal; remove dead or broken branches in late winter, and prune lightly to maintain the tree’s shape.
The Best Places to Plant the Dogwood
The Dogwood Tree is picky. Like a small child, Dogwoods may not adjust well to variances in water and nutrient matter. Also like a small child, Dogwoods can be a bit smelly, offering a strong, though not altogether unpleasant, fragrance. The best similarity between a small child and the tree, though? Your Dogwood will astound you with its beauty, inspiration, and growth.
Dogwoods do best in dappled shade areas, which is when taller shade trees provide protection from the more direct sun rays. Investigate your property for locations where your new Dogwood will be protected from the sun. Consider planting the Royal Empress or Tulip Poplar, fast-growing shade trees that will provide the dappled shade Dogwoods like best. Alternatively, you can place the Dogwood in an area where shade is given by a nearby building. Careful, though; buildings reflect heat, which can dry out the Dogwood quickly.
The most important consideration when planting a Dogwood is water access. Whether it’s a natural bubbling brook, high average weekly rainfall, your handheld watering can, or an intricate irrigation system, your Dogwood will definitely need water. Dogwoods have shallow roots, and even with dappled shade, these root systems will dry quickly. Water the tree to a depth of three feet, and observe the leaves for signs of over or under watering. If the leaves are light-green, prickly, or crispy, the tree needs more water. If the leaves are droopy, green-gray, or enlarged, the tree needs less water.
Growth Rate and Mature Height
Depending on the species of Dogwood you plant, you may have a short stout bush or a 25 foot tall tree. The tree displays medium growth, averaging between 13 and 24 inches annually. If carefully treated, a mature Dogwood tree species, such as the Flowering Dogwood, may reach 40 feet in height.
Pests and Diseases
The Dogwood is currently at risk for both fungus and pest infestations, which is why it is important to buy the sapling from an arborist instead of transplanting the tree from the wild. Dogwood anthracnose is a disease caused by the fungus Discula destructiva. For this reason it can be beneficial to plant your Dogwood in late spring, when warm temperatures will kill the fungus, which thrives in cooler, wet weather.
Dogwood powdery mildew has also become a recent major threat to Dogwoods. The mildew, which often causes a whitish-gray powdery film on leaves that are also contorted, is easily treatable with fungicides, such as horticulture oil.
Dogwoods are delicious, so if deer are present in your region, protect the newly planted tree with ‘Deer Away’ or a similar product. Once your tree has reached a suitable height, deer will be unable to reach tasty morsels like leaves and flower buds.
Variants on the Dogwood
Cornus refers to a specific genus, and within the genus are over 50 species of the commonly known Dogwood. These species are divided into four subgenera, or sub-genus species. These sets are determined by distinguishing characteristics of the flowers and bracts. The four main subcategories are:
- Flowering Dogwoods (Benthamidia)
- Bunchberries or Dwarf cornels (Chamaepericlymenum)
- Cornels (Cornus)
- Dogwoods (Swida)
Choosing the right Dogwood for your property means considering what your location has to offer and for what you are looking. A symbiotic relationship, where both your Dogwood benefits from necessary water, sun, and nutrient supplies and you benefit from the best height, shade, and beauty of the Dogwood, is in everybody’s interests.
Noteworthy Tips on the Dogwood
- Dogwoods do not usually require a great deal of fertilization; skimp on the mulch and meter out the water!
- The name Dogwood comes from the word “dog-tree”, which was introduced into English in 1548.
- Dogwood is also thought to derive from “dagwood”, which would involve using the tree’s thin twigs for creating daggers.
- Chaucer used the term “whippletree” to refer to the Dogwood, which is the name for the piece of wood connecting the horse’s harness to the drag pole of a cart.
- Dogwoods have been used medicinally for generations; the bark is rich in tannins, so ground bark or leaves are used to treat pain, fevers, backaches, dizziness, weakness, excessive sweating, uterine bleeding, and incontinence.
 Bract – a specialized leaf, usually associated with the reproductive actions of the plant. These “leaves” often sit below the flower or on smaller stems.