Plant Profile: Dogwood Trees

Our native flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) is an undemanding small tree. They have beautiful, four-petaled white or pink flowers (bracts, actually), sprinkled across a full, spreading crown. While known for its spring flowers, the tree’s bright red berries, which ripen during the summer, are a major draw for wild birds. Then, in the autumn, the flowering dogwood has a gorgeous purple and red foliage display.

Cornus florida (zones 5 to 9) grows to an eventual height of 25 to 30 feet. It typically blooms in May, and the flowers last two to three weeks. Good cultivars include the white flowered ‘Cloud 9’; ‘Plena,’ a double-flowered white; ‘Pendula,’ a weeping white; pink flowered ‘Red Cloud’; and ‘Cherokee Chief,’ with reddish-pink bracts.

A tree of the woodland in its native habitat, the flowering dogwood is usually an understory tree. In the home garden, it does best when shielded from the afternoon sun. It prefers reasonably fertile, acidic soil.

Dogwoods need minimal pruning. To keep your dogwood tree looking in top shape, just remove any dead or damaged branches, making sure to cut back to a lateral branch. Pruning is best done in late winter or early spring.

While the flowering dogwood is only one of 45 different dogwood species, it is the tree that most people associate with that name. Our native dogwood is found throughout the eastern seaboard and it grows very well in our Mid-Atlantic region. While Cormus florida is extremely susceptible to the anthracnose fungus (which causes die back and eventual mortality), a garden specimen sited correctly and kept well-watered, especially in its first year, is not likely to be affected.

The Korean dogwood (Cornus kousa) is hardy from zones 5 to 8, has large, pointed floral bracts in white and shades of pink, and fall color similar to Cornus florida. It grows as wide as it does tall, up to 30 feet. A favorite cultivar of mine is ‘Wolf Eyes,’ with its variegated leaves. This particular dogwood variety originated as a branch sport at Manor View Farm, Monkton, MD.

The video was produced by Washington Gardener Magazine and edited by intern Allison O'Reilly.

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