Dogwood Tree: How To Care For The Beautiful Flowering Dogwood

The dogwood tree is an attractive tree in every season of the year. In the springtime, dogwood trees burst into full blooms blanketing the woodlands in white.

In the fall, the same trees provide a wonderful “turning of the leaves” autumn experience. They also produce delightful red berries that provide sustenance for birds.

Throughout the winter, the dogwoods’ colorful bare branches provide visual interest.

dogwood tree care

When springtime comes, the buds swell and burst into bloom attracting bees, butterflies and other pollinators and starting the whole cycle over again.

There are seventeen types of dogwood that are native to the eastern United States, but there are many non-native varieties available today that make it possible to grow beautiful dogwood trees throughout the nation.

The dogwood is a member of the family, Cornus, which is made up of more than 40 species of these attractive, deciduous ornamental trees and shrubs. Various types range from hardy groundcover that is only about six inches tall to stately trees that tower as high as 60 feet.

The most graceful of the lot are those that range between six feet and 30 feet tall. In most domestic settings it’s best to choose from those that grow to a maximum of 10 feet high.

In this article, we will focus mostly on these types of dogwoods and provide suggestions to help you select the right dogwood for your setting. Read on to learn more.

Dogwood Shrub Varieties Are All Attractive

There are many good looking, interesting shrubs and trees within this family. Dogwoods of this size do not become overpoweringly large and can be kept under control with good pruning habits.

Here are some of the types of dogwood you might wish to include in your yard for visual interest.

1. Red Osier (Cornus stolonifera) is a version that is easily recognizable because it sports purplish/red twigs.

2. Cornus amomum is known by many names including Indian tobacco, silky dogwood and kinnikinnick. This attractive tree does well in wet, shaded areas throughout the eastern United States.

3. Cornus paniculata is another very pretty choice in dogwoods which sports gray branches and white fruit at the end of pink stems. This bush is at its most attractive during the month of June when it produces masses of white flowers.

4. Bunchberry (a.k.a. dwarf Cornus) is a very charming variation that once grew beautifully all around Boston. Today, this type of dogwood is quite rare; however, some nice specimens can be found in the northern woods.

5. Another older variety of dogwood is Cornus florida rubra, which produces pink flowers. Earliest documentation of this type of dogwood dates back to 1731. This pink flowering trees variety makes a beautiful counterpoint to common white dogwood.

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What Are The Best Dogwoods For Winter Interest?

The color of the branches is the main point of wintertime visual interest for all varieties of dogwood.

Although you don’t see the branches much while the tree is in full leaf, when the leaves fall in the autumn the colorful branches put on quite a show against the backdrop of winter sky and evergreens.

The Cornus alba, or Tatarian dogwood provides a great deal of interest in the wintertime because it’s branches are a reddish or purple.

This delightful, rich shade looks beautiful above your choice of evergreen shrubs and framed against a clear winter sky.

This type of dogwood hails from Asia and is quite vigorous and erect with attractive, wide spreading branches.

When choosing between this and the North American Cornus stolonifera, the Cornus alba is the far better choice for winter interest. It’s branches are higher and its coloration is darker and more showy.

There are also interesting differences that can be noted throughout the remainder of the year. For example, the leaf shape of the Tatarian dogwood is more curved and comes to a point more abruptly.

The seeds of the fruit are also of a different shape; although the fruits are white on both types of tree. The seeds of American dogwoods are generally round, but those of Asiatic specimens are of an elliptical shape with points at either end.

This distinction can settle any quandary you may have when attempting to identify a dogwood tree.

You will seldom have to make this type of distinction because most types of dogwood growing in the United States are North American varieties.

Occasionally, birds will distribute Tatarian dogwood seeds, so you might find the odd Asiatic dogwood springing up as a volunteer in areas where these types of trees are sold.

What Landscape Plants Grows Well With Dogwoods?

For a marvelous show of blooms, Azalea plants and bushes make an excellent companion plant for dogwoods. These hardy evergreen shrubs grow well in many areas in the USA and provide variety in bloom type and color.

Be sure to choose the right type of azaleas for your location as the very exotic varieties cannot tolerate cold weather and frosts.

When you choose the right type of azalea for your climate, you can count on lovely evergreen foliage to provide color during the time of year when your dogwoods are dormant.

It’s easy to imagine that a combination of azaleas and dogwoods will put on quite a show for you.

It’s a good idea to plant evergreen shrubs at the base of your dogwoods and also to give them a nice backdrop of Hemlock or pine to provide a green contrast to the deep purple branches.

If you live in an area that gets good snow, you can just imagine how beautiful the view from your window will be with this type of artistic planting combination.

Asiatic Dogwoods Provide Excellent Bird Support

While Asiatic dogwoods do provide visual interest during the growing season, it is worth noting that they are not quite as showy in terms of blossoms and berries as are their American cousins.

On the other hand, the berries produced by the Tatarian dogwood are a bit larger, more meaty and more greatly appreciated by birds preparing for winter.

While all dogwoods attract birds and a wide variety of wildlife (e.g. attracting waves of butterflies, bees and giant silk moths) the berries of the Asiatic dogwood are especially high in fat and full-fleshed. This is of a special benefit to birds.

Birds also appreciate the horizontal branches of the Asiatic dogwood, which provide excellent foundations for the nests of sparrows, mockingbirds and robins. All-in-all, over 35 species of birds including:

  • Tufted Titmice
  • Mockingbirds
  • Wax Wings
  • Bluebirds
  • Cardinals
  • Sparrows
  • Juncos
  • Robins

… benefit from the berries of dogwood trees.

In addition to Asiatic dogwoods, several other types are especially suited as bird habitat. Here are five of the very best choices to attract a wide variety of birds to your yard and keep them happy and healthy.

1. Cornus Florida/flowering dogwood: This variety can grow as tall as 20 feet high. It produces a canopy that can be as wide as 20 or 30 feet. In the autumn, the leaves are an attractive red, and the berries last long into the winter.

2. Cornus kousa/Japanese flowering dogwood: This variety also grows to be 20 feet tall. It flowers during the late spring and into the early summer. In late summer Cornus kousa produces raspberry-like fruits that last well into the winter. In the autumn, the leaves turn yellow or bright red.

3. Cornus nuttallii/Pacific dogwood: This type of dogwood is native to Northern California and the Pacific Northwest. Cornus nuttallii is an absolute beauty that can grow as tall as 50 feet.

In the fall, the leaves put on quite a show in shades of pink, red and yellow. In winter interesting bark patterns and gray branches create an attractive, artistic display.

4. Cornus alternifolia/pagoda dogwood: This type of dogwood is quite small, growing a maximum of 20 feet high. Usually, it stays within 12 feet high and wide. Pagoda dogwood flowers are creamy, fragrant and star-shaped.

They grow abundantly throughout the spring and the early summer and provide ample food for birds in the form of blue-black fruit throughout the late summer and fall. In the autumn, the leaves turn a deep burgundy/red.

5. Cornus sericea/red twig-end dogwood: This is a very small variety that grows a maximum of 10 feet high. The flowers are small and creamy white and grace the branches throughout the summer months.

The tree produces a slightly bluish white fruit in the late summer and early fall. When the leaves turn in fall, they are quite remarkable in brilliant shades of red. During the winter, this festive little bush displays blazing red or yellow twigs and branches.

Many Varieties Of Dogwood Tree & Shrubs Are Readily Available

These days it’s easy to find a wide variety of dogwoods at local nurseries, home improvement centers and other outlets, which usually have a good selection of:

  • Siberian dogwood
  • Cornus Stolonifera
  • Cornus Sanguinea
  • Kesselringii
  • Sibirica

The availability of these attractive shrubs and trees gives you the option of creating artistic tableaux of deep purple, red and coral branched trees with deep green or variegated leaves and dogwood flowers ranging from billowing white to cheery pink.

When combined with your choice of attractive evergreen shrubs and trees, you can create some stunning visual effects in your garden.

How To Grow Dogwood Trees & Bushes

Once established, dogwood trees make very reliable and stable additions to any garden.

Although they may have an off year from time to time, generally speaking you can count on them to provide color and interest throughout the year in most areas of the US.

Unlike some types of trees, it is not possible to move dogwoods once they have reached maturity.

If you have some nice specimens in your yard now and wish to relocate or share them, look for small saplings that can be dug out “whole root”.

It’s best to transplant them in the late autumn or the early spring. Pick them up carefully and handle them as bare root plants.

Protect the roots and take them quickly to their new location and replant them immediately. Do not allow the roots to dry out at all.

Make the hole about 2/3 the depth of the root ball. Don’t bury the entire root ball. Instead, mound the soil around the top third gently.

Take care not to put soil right on top of the root ball. It should remain a little bit above ground level.

Be sure to feed saplings and mature trees well by providing regular mulching with organic materials such as:

  • Shredded Leaves
  • Pine Needles
  • Compost
  • Straw
  • Bark

Mulch should not be placed directly against the bark of the tree. Keep it a couple of inches away from the trunk. Dogwood trees generally like a moist, nourishing well-drained soil. Mulching helps enrich the well-drained soil and protects the roots against drying out.

Keep a close eye on your dogwood trees during any dry spell and throughout the summer and autumn. Be sure to water to a depth of six inches weekly.

How and When To Prune Dogwood Trees!

The best dogwood trees for most yards are those that grow to be about ten feet high. They grow very quickly and are often over four feet tall at only one year of age.

It’s smart to keep them regularly pruned to limit growth to five or six feet high in your garden. Good pruning will encourage your dogwoods to grow, and new growth is the most beautifully colored.

Additionally, as your dogwood grows older you must prune it regularly to prevent it from becoming tangled and dense. Prune branches away near the ground, and don’t allow branches to stay for more than three or four years.

Some sources say that it’s a good idea to do your pruning late in winter to encourage more colorful growth in the spring.

Others maintain that dogwoods tend to “bleed sap” if pruned in winter and should, therefore, be pruned in the summertime.

To decide which is best for your garden, you may wish to consult with your local nursery or other gardeners who have dogwoods in your area.