Tree of the Month: Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)

Posted: April 10, 2012

In spite of problems with Discula anthracnose, powdery mildew and wood boring insects, our native flowering dogwood, Cornus florida, remains a harbinger of spring in the eastern United States. Showy flowers (bracts, actually) in spring, red fruits in late summer, reddish-purple fall color and an attractive horizontal, tiered branching habit make this tree a favorite of gardeners and non-gardeners alike. Plantsman Michael Dirr refers to flowering dogwood as a “superb landscape tree that will never go out of style.”
Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)

Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)

Growing Healthy Flowering Dogwoods

Location, location, location is critical for success in growing healthy flowering dogwoods. They do not perform well in very stressful sites and are intolerant of urban conditions. However, a site that has well-drained, evenly moist, acidic soil with good organic matter content and shade from the hot afternoon sun is just the ticket for success with this tree. Full morning sun is most appropriate because it allows the foliage to dry quickly, which helps reduce the incidence of Discula anthracnose; it also results in more flowers and better fall color. It is best to mulch around the base with a two to three inch layer of wood chips that extend out to the drip line to help moderate soil temperatures, preserve soil moisture, and to protect the trunk from weed whackers and lawn mowers. Mulch should not physically contact the trunk. Underplanting with shade-tolerant ground covers such as ginger (Asarum spp.), green-and-gold (Chrysogonum virginianum), barrenwort (Epimedium spp.), or Allegheny foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) is another option.

Flowering dogwood grows 20-30 feet tall with a greater spread. There are dozens of cultivars to choose from, including the white ‘Appalachian Spring,’ ‘Cherokee Princess, and ‘Ozark Spring;’ the pink ‘Cherokee Chief,’ ‘Sweetwater Red,’ and Cornus florida var. rubra; the gold-variegated ‘First Lady,’ ‘Golden Nugget,’ and Hohman’s Golden;’ and the gold-fruited ‘Poinsett'.

Contact Information

Sandy Feather
  • Extension Educator, Green Industry
Phone: 412-482-3454