Dogwoods are a favorite ornamental tree of homeowners -- thanks to their modest size and four-season appeal. And once you know some facts about dogwood trees, growing and nurturing these handsome trees is a breeze.
In spring, these native trees (Cornus florida), which grow only to 20 to 30 feet, explode with white (or sometimes pink or red) bracts centered with small clusters of yellow flowers, shouting that winter is finally over. In summer, their blossoms give way to light green leaves that provide welcome shade. And in autumn, that foliage turns a stunning deep red before falling, leaving a handsome skeleton with alligator skin-like bark in winter.
Dogwoods prefer partial sun and nutrient-rich, well-drained soil. Because they grow in nature as understory trees, they prefer afternoon shade to shield them from blazing sunlight.
Aphids and powdery mildew can be a problem, but a fungicidal application and horticultural oils in spring can help prevent insects and diseases. Though not as severe a threat as it was several years ago, the dogwood anthracnose fungus can be prevented by planting trees where they receive morning sun and good air circulation. And because their roots are shallow, dogwoods benefit from extra water during periods of drought.
The Japanese dogwood (Cornus kousa) is more drought tolerant than the native dogwood because it can handle more sun. This exotic species also blooms later in spring, after its leaves already have come out.
Most arborists recommend pruning dogwoods to improve their vigor and structure. Just make sure you do it in spring, just after their flowers fade, so that you don’t stunt next season’s buds.