white bracts of a dogwood tree in bloom

Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida). Photo: M. Talabac

Updated: August 24, 2022

Key points about growing dogwood trees

  • Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) is a small Maryland native tree with white or pink bracts (specialized leaves resembling flower petals) in the spring, colorful red to burgundy foliage in the fall, and red berries that support wildlife.
  • The key to maintaining the health of your dogwood is to plant it in a suitable location and take proper care of your tree to minimize stress (e.g., water during drought, avoid mulch against the trunk, etc.). 
  • Disease-resistant cultivars are available and reduce the chances of problems with diseases such as powdery mildew and spot anthracnose.
  • Besides flowering dogwood, there are other native and non-native trees or multi-stemmed shrubs in the same genus as dogwood, but less commonly seen in landscapes. They include cornelian cherry (Cornus mas), redosier dogwood (Cornus sericea), and bigleaf dogwood (Cornus macrophylla).

Selecting a disease-resistant dogwood tree

Selecting a disease-resistant dogwood is the first step to preventing common disease problems on your tree. Refer to the table below for recommendations. It is important to note that disease-resistant does not mean immune to disease. Even disease-resistant dogwoods may develop problems if they are planted in an unsuitable environment (full sun, drought, over-saturated soil). Plant disease pressure is also influenced by weather conditions.

The non-native Kousa dogwood (C. kousa), also called Chinese dogwood, has a longer and later bloom season than the native flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), plus different growth characteristics and a greater tolerance for dry conditions. There are several hybrids between the native flowering dogwood and the non-native Kousa dogwood that exhibit better disease resistance and longer bloom periods than the native species. The downside of Kousa dogwood is that their berries have little value for native wildlife.

Research your selections prior to purchase. Some cultivars exhibit characteristics that may or may not be desirable to you or wildlife (e.g., double flowers, sterile/no fruit). There is no specific research determining whether dogwood cultivars offer less value to wildlife compared to the straight native species. However, studies have shown that double-flowered plants offer little value to bees (no access to pollen and nectar).

Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) cultivar name Resistance to powdery mildew Resistance to dogwood anthracnose Resistance to spot anthracnose
'Appalachian Spring'  No

Yes

No
'Appalachian Joy' Yes No No
'Cherokee Brave' Yes No Yes
'Cherokee Chief' No No Yes
'Jean's Appalachian Snow'

Yes

No No
'Karen's Appalachian Blush' Yes No No
'Kay's Appalachian Mist' Yes No No
'Weaver's White' Yes No Yes
'Welch's Bay Beauty' Yes No Yes


Planting and care of dogwood trees

Selecting a site

  • Flowering dogwood is a native forest understory tree. This species grows best in a partially shady location with moist, well-drained soil, and a soil pH range of 5.6-6.5.
  • These trees are not tolerant of full sun, hot and dry conditions, air pollution, poorly drained sites, or over-saturated soil. 
  • Plan for the mature size of your tree. Dogwoods generally grow slowly but can mature 15’ to 30’ tall and 15’ to 25’ wide. Check the mature size on the plant label.

Planting your tree

  • Whether you are planting a container-grown tree or a balled-and-burlapped one, be sure to take time to prepare the planting hole properly and plant your tree at the correct depth. Many trees get planted too deeply, which can lead to decline.
  • Refer to our pages about planting a tree or shrub for step-by-step instructions.

Caring for your tree

watering

  • For successful root establishment, it’s important to monitor the water needs of your tree for the first two years after planting. At least once each week, check the soil moisture at 4 to 6 inches deep using a trowel or a screwdriver and water when soil is dry at that depth. Refer to our guidelines for watering trees and shrubs.
  • Dogwood trees are shallow-rooted and do not compete well with turfgrass. They may need irrigation during the drier months of July and August.

Fertilizing

  • Fertilize only according to soil test results and not on a regular basis.
  • Dogwoods benefit from an annual topdressing of organic matter, such as compost, which will add nutrients naturally and improve soil health.

Mulching

  • Apply mulch around the base of the tree to protect the trunk from lawn mowers and weed trimmers. The mulch should be no deeper than 3 inches. Avoid placing mulch directly against the trunk of the tree.

Pruning

  • Routine pruning of a dogwood tree is not necessary. The removal of dead or diseased branches, to improve form, and to increase light and air circulation throughout the tree, are reasons you may want to prune them.
  • Pruning can be done in late fall/early winter (November-December) or immediately after the tree is finished flowering. Dead branches can be pruned out at any time.

Pest & Disease Management

  • Learn about some of the common problems of dogwoods and monitor for symptoms on a regular basis. Problems can be easier to correct if they are managed at early onset.
  • Watering during droughts and preventing injuries to the trunk are two steps you can take to reduce stress on your tree.

Adapted from Dogwood Fact Sheet by Mary Kay Malinoski, Principal Agent, University of Maryland Extension (retired) and David L. Clement, Principal Agent, University of Maryland Extension. Edited and revised by Christa K. Carignan, Coordinator, University of Maryland Extension, 8/2022.

Additional resources & references

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