Guide to Growing and Caring for Dogwood Trees

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by Max - last update on October 9, 2020, 8:25 am
Dogwood Trees

With more than 40 species of dogwoods found throughout America, Canada, China, and Japan, these popular ornamental trees feature elegant foliage and bright red fruits. Dogwood is a member of the Cornus family and grows in all types of climates and soil conditions. From hardy shrubs that only grow to about 6 inches to towering trees that grow as high as 40 feet; dogwoods are without doubt one of the most favorite deciduous trees to grow in yards or containers.

In this article, we will focus on how to grow and care for dogwood trees so you can add a touch of color to your garden.

Dogwood Quick Overview

Quick Facts

OriginEastern North America and Northern Mexico
Hardiness zone5-9
FertilizerMinimal fertilizing required
Max growth40 feet
Poisonous forHumans. The fruit should not be ingested
LightPartial sun
PropagationFrom branch cuttings
TemperatureDepends on the variety. Not too hot or dry
WaterTwice a week and more often during dry spells
SoilSlightly acidic and rich in organic matter.
PestsDogwood borer, canker, scale, ambrosia beetle... (see pest section)
Favorite varietiesRed Osier, which has purplish/red twigs

Other Recognizable Dogwood Varieties

Cornus amomum

Known by many names including silky dogwood and Indian tobacco, this colorful tree grows best in wet, shaded regions throughout eastern US.

Cornus paniculata

This is another attractive dogwood species that features grey branches and white fruits. This bush has pink stems and looks its most attractive during the month of June.

Dwarf cornus or Bunchberry

Dwarf cornus

A charming variety of dogwood that grows abundantly in Boston, MA. The bush grows subtle pink flowers and only reaches 1.2 meters in height.

Cornus Florida

Cornus Florida

This dogwood variety can grow as tall as 20 feet high and as wide as 30 feet. In the fall, the leaves turn into rich red and the berries of the tree last long into the winter.

Japanese dogwood

Japanese dogwood

Another tall variety of dogwood, which flowers during late spring and into early summer. The fruits resemble raspberries and last well into the winter.

Dogwood Care Instructions

Temperature and Humidity

Flowering dogwoods thrive in many different climates as they have a high tolerance for a wide range of temperatures. Having said that, dogwoods don’t do well in extremely hot or dry regions.


Since dogwood trees have shallow roots, they tend to dry out quickly. Water the tree up to 3 feet in depth and look out for signs of over or under watering. If the leaves are prickly and light green, give the tree more water. If they are droopy or greyish, give it less water.

Most dogwood varieties require regular watering during summer and fall. As a rule of thumb water to a depth of 6 inches once a week during the growing seasons.

Keep in mind that dogwoods don’t respond well to drought. In hot and dry summers, their foliage may turn red or even burn. To prevent this, cover 3 to 4 inches of the soil around the trunk with mulch to conserve moisture. Caution: make sure the mulch doesn’t come into contact with the tree’s trunk.


Dogwood Trees Light

Dogwoods grow best when they are planted in partial sun or moderate shade. Full sun will cause heat stress.


In most regions, an acid lover’s fertilizer ratio of 12-4-8 or 16-4-8 will be sufficient. These ratios contain higher nitrogen, which is the main nutrient that dogwoods need in order to form leaves and root growth. However, too much nitrogen can limit their flowering.

Therefore, when fertilizing young dogwood trees, be careful how much fertilizer you use as it can kill the newly planted tree. It is safest to hold off the feeding until the tree is in its second season. Once you have an established dogwood, you can test the soil first before determining the best fertilization method. Keep in mind that if a fertilizer is applied in late fall, it can make the tree vulnerable to winter damage. The best time to feed an established dogwood is in early spring and again 3 months later.


Dogwood Trees Soil

As previously mentioned, dogwoods grow in a variety of soil conditions and climates. However, to thrive, these trees typically prefer well-drained, slightly moist and acidic sandy soil that’s rich in organic matter.

Propagation and Planting

Knowing when to take dogwood stem cuttings can make a whole lot of difference between a failed and successful propagation. The best time to take branch cuttings is in spring as soon as the tree has completed its bloom cycle.

Not every cutting you take will be successful so take more than you need. These cuttings should be 3-5 inches long.

Cut an inch of the branch below a set of leaves and lay them in a plastic-lined basin or on a damp paper towel before covering them with another damp towel.

Use half-strength liquid fertilizer every 14 days until the cutting starts rooting. It is then ready to be potted in a small container with regular potting soil.

Growing Dogwood in a Pot

After propagating your dogwood tree, you may continue growing it in a bigger pot. When growing this plant in pots, it’s important to give the roots plenty of space in order to prevent it becoming root bound. Container grown dogwood trees require plenty of moisture so you’ll have to water frequently. Add some mulch to the top soil to help retain the moisture.

In winter, you should bring your potted dogwood indoors to protect it from the cold. An unheated garage or basement is the ideal place to shelter your potted dogwood tree.

Planting Dogwood in Garden

Before planting your dogwood in the garden, inspect the roots for damage and cut them with a sharp knife. You should then soak the plant roots in water for up to 4 hours. Saplings can be planted with a dibble or shovel around 1 inch deeper than their nursery pot.

Choose a spot in the garden to plant your dogwood. Dig a big enough hole to allow the roots to spread out. The hole should be at least 1 foot wider than the roots. For best results, dig a hole three times the size of the plant’s container or root ball.

If the saplings are barefoot, the roots must point straight down in the hole not bent back pointing upwards.

The hole should then be filled with the same potting soil.

Once the tree is in the ground, check the level of the top soil as the root ball must be on the same level as the surrounding area. If you plant your dogwood too deep, it can adversely affect your tree’s growth.

Add plenty of peat moss around the root ball and if the soil is poorly drained, maximize drainage. This can be done by adding some sand to the root ball in order to prevent it from becoming overly wet.

Watch this video on how to plant dogwood in garden

Where to Plant

Dogwoods are understory trees in their natural habitat. This means they are generally protected or surrounded by other larger trees. When deciding on the best planting location, consider the edge of wooded areas or planting near other trees in your garden. Flowering dogwoods can be grown in both shade and sun, but they generally prefer partial shade. Planting your tree in full sun can make it susceptible to borers and other pests – not to mention sunburn or heat stress.

When to Plant

Plant your dogwood tree in early spring before it begins to bud. This will help the tree develop a strong root system and adjust to its new location. Spring is the best time to plant dogwoods as the soil is normally moist.

Another good time to plant a dogwood tree is when it’s dormant in late fall. This is the time before the ground freezes, but be sure to provide the tree with sufficient water.


As part of your proper dogwood caring process, a good trim is required every now and again. In areas where dogwood boring insects are common, refrain from pruning in spring as the pruned cuts provide an entry point for these pesky pests. The best time to prune your dogwood tree is in late fall and winter when the tree is dormant.

When pruning your tree, be aware that removing large branches can damage the trunk. Therefore, if the branches are larger than 2 inches in diameter, make 3 cuts to prevent tear.

Start by making the first cut on the branch’s underside (around 6-12 inches) out from the trunk of the tree. Trim only one third of the way to the branch and make the second trim around 1 inch after the first one by completely cutting through the branch. The third trim should be at the collar of the branch (it’s the swollen area near the trunk) to remove the stub.

Common Diseases and Pests

Canker: when the soil and roots are saturated with water, this can create the right environment for pathogens. The first sign of pest attack is the dark frass on the bark of the dogwood tree. To prevent canker, apply an insecticide treatment in June. Spray in and around the bark thoroughly.

Dogwood borer: this is a common dogwood pest that’s mostly found in Canada and the US. Damage is caused by the caterpillar stage of these insects burrowing beneath the tree bark. Before the infestation escalates, spray the lower part of the trunk with an insecticide like bifenthrin or permethrin in late April and mid summer for full season control.

Fungal disease: anthracnose is one of the most common dogwood fungal diseases. The signs of infection include blighted leaves and darkening around the edges of the leaves. To protect the leaves from this disease, spray mancozeb or chlorothalonil fungicide in the spring at 2-week intervals.

Powdery mildew: this type of dogwood disease causes whitish-grey powder on the leaves of the tree. It is easily treatable with any type of fungicide.

Other common dogwood pests: lead spot fungi, root rot, ambrosia beetle, aphids, scale, whitefly, and leaf-eating caterpillars.

Routine fungicide and pesticide treatments will minimize infection and improve the tree’s health. But only if the disease isn’t too advanced. In addition to using fungicides, improve drainage and reduce irrigation. If you live in an area where soil drainage can’t be obtained, plant shrubs that are more tolerant of wet soils near your dogwood tree.


How do I take care of a dogwood tree?

Cover the soil with a thick layer of leaf mulch to protect the roots from pest attacks. Water deeply but not too often during the first year. Once your dogwood is established, feed it with a light fertilizer in the spring and keep the soil moist during extremely dry months.

How long does it take for a dogwood tree to mature?

Within the first 25 years of growth, dogwoods can grow up to 20 feet. Mature dogwoods are known to have reached heights of up to 60 feet.

How often do dogwood trees bloom?

The typical blooming cycle of dogwood trees is between late March and mid-May. The blooms often last as long as 3 or 4 weeks.

What will make my dogwood bloom better?

To promote blooms, fertilize the soil using a general, all-purpose feed. You don’t need to fertilize your dogwood often, but by adding some to dogwoods that were planted in non-fertile soil, you’ll encourage better blooms. Adding a little fertilizer every now and again can help your dogwood thrive.


Once you start growing one dogwood tree, you won’t want to stop there! We bet your garden will be full of these flowering beauties in no time. Be sure to follow our above care guide to enjoy a yard full of colorful dogwoods! And if you found this article useful, feel free to leave your comments below and share the post with your green-thumbed friends.

Guide to Growing and Caring for Dogwood Trees

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