How to Grow a Dogwood Tree
Flowering dogwood trees are one of our favorite flowering trees. Perfect Plants offers both pink and white flowered varieties. Learn how to grow a dogwood tree and care for them adequately in this growing guide.
What we call the “flower” of a dogwood is an inflorescence that consists of several tiny yellow flowers (each with four tiny petals), surrounded by four large white or pink bracts, which are actually modified leaves, not petals.
The White Kousa Dogwood offered on our website is special because of the bright red berries it produces in fall that are edible by both humans and wildlife. The red fruit is high in pectin and perfect for making jams and jellies!
Where to Plant Dogwood Trees
Dogwoods need a soil that is well drained, but not exceedingly so. They do best in a fertile, somewhat moisture retentive, loamy soil high in organic matter. Avoid overly sandy soils and low spots where water may stand. The soil should be neutral to slightly acidic, with a pH between 7.0 and 5.5. If a soil test recommends adding lime or sulfur to adjust the pH, you should do so 6-12 months before planting.
Dogwoods can be positioned in full sun in USDA zones 5-6, but part shade is best in USDA zones 7-10. A location that gets morning sun and afternoon shade is ideal. (Recall that wild dogwoods grow in the partial shade of the forest understory.) To prevent fungus diseases, it is important that the dogwood be relatively in the open where it will get good air circulation and not be crowded by other trees.
Dogwoods are native trees to the United States, so not only would you be adding an easy to grow tree to your collection but also one that supports our vital ecosystem!
How to Plant Dogwood Trees
Containerized trees can be planted any time of the year, but the best time to plant dogwood trees is in spring so the little guys will have a full growing season to get established. Perfect Plants ships their trees in containers and guarantees your satisfaction with a 1 month warranty.
Thoroughly wet the soil in the pot before starting. Place the pot on its side and slide the root ball out. If the plant is stuck, you can slip a long-bladed knife around the inside edge to loosen it. Gently loosen some of the roots along the sides and bottom, and pull them outward so they are not encircling the root mass. Shorten any roots that are growing in a circle around the inside of the pot.
Dig the planting hole a little deeper and 2-3 times wider than the tree was in the nursery pot. Don’t worry about making the hole smooth sided. As a matter of fact, rough, irregular sides of the hole are easier for young roots to penetrate than a smooth surface would be. Do not add fertilizer or soil amendments to the planting hole.
Build up a rounded mound of soil in the middle of the planting hole. Place the root crown on top of the mounded soil and spread the side roots out over the mound. Roots that are too long should be shortened rather than allowed to encircle the hole. When finished, the top of the root crown should be slightly above ground level.
Backfill the hole with the same soil removed from the hole. Work the soil in and around the roots. When the hole is half filled, give it a good soaking of water. When the water has drained away, readjust the depth of the stem if necessary to keep the top of the root ball just above ground level, and finish filling the hole. Gently tamp the soil down.
Build a water retaining berm of soil 3-6 inches high around the outside of the planting hole over the root zone. This will help impound water while it sinks into the soil. Water thoroughly.
Spread a layer of organic mulch 3-5 inches deep over the root zone and beyond for a foot or two. This will help hold in soil moisture, keep weeds smothered, and improve soil fertility as it decomposes. Keep the mulch 2-3 inches away from the stem. You can use hay, straw, leaves, pine needles, grass clippings or compost. Do not use mushroom compost as this contains lime and will raise the pH. Do not use fresh wood chips as this will reduce the nitrogen available to your new tree.
If the central leader is long and whip-like, prune it back to about three feet.
Dogwood Tree Care In the First Year
Do not fertilize your new dogwood tree during its first year. Do water frequently and deeply for the first year. Dogwood trees should get about an inch of water each week from rain or irrigation. If rainfall is insufficient, water enough to soak several inches into the soil once a week. For newly planted trees, two gallons per week should be adequate except in drier, sandier soils where 6-8 gallons a week might be necessary.
Pull competing weeds as they appear, maintaining a weed-free zone of about three feet around your tree. You may have to protect the little tree from deer and rabbits with a sleeve or wire fence. You may need to support the tree with wires and stakes for a year or two if it is weak and leggy.
How to Prune Dogwood Trees
Begin training your dogwood during its first growing season. If there is more than one upright shoot competing to be the main trunk (also called the central leader), select the strongest one and remove the others. Head back shoots that are too long and whip-like. During subsequent years, use thinning cuts to shape the tree. Mature dogwoods can be pruned as needed to maintain the desired size and shape, and to remove dead wood, crossed branches, suckers, and overly vigorous upright shoots (called water sprouts). Thin the inside of the canopy to improve air circulation and let sunlight in. We recommend pruning dogwoods (if necessary) during the summer.
Dogwood Care in Subsequent Years
Once established, dogwoods are very easy to care for. In general, they do not need to be fertilized. The exception is for young (2-4 years old) trees in the poorest, sandiest soils, which may be given a complete fertilizer once a year in spring. Mature dogwoods need not be fertilized at all.
Dogwood Tree Diseases and Pests
There aren’t many. One of the worst is the dogwood borer. This is the larva of a small moth that bores into dogwood trees, sometimes killing them. Dogwood borers get into the tree through wounds in the bark, so be careful with lawnmowers, string trimmers, and other equipment around the tree. If your tree gets attacked by dogwood borers, remove infected branches and destroy the little white caterpillars.
Dogwood anthracnose is more serious. This fungus disease starts out as spots on the leaves and weeping cankers on stems. It can lead to mortality. Dogwood anthracnose infects trees that are too shaded and not getting enough air circulation. It often follows cool, wet springs, but can occur anytime. Trees weakened by drought or injury are more susceptible. Interestingly, dogwoods growing naturally in the wild are more likely to suffer from anthracnose than cultivated trees because the wild trees typically get poorer air circulation due to their position in the forest.
The best way to prevent dogwood anthracnose is to ensure that your dogwood gets good care. Water during droughts; maintain mulch over the root zone; avoid mechanical injury; avoid high nitrogen fertilizer which causes rapid, weak growth; and most importantly: Maintain good air circulation in and around the tree by careful pruning.
In conclusion, dogwood trees are an excellent flowering tree to add into your landscape. The beautiful spring flowers are mesmerizing and are the first to bloom to signal the start of spring. We hope this guide on how to grow dogwood trees helped you on your journey. You really cant go wrong with growing dogwood trees!