Create Your Garden

Cornus (Dogwood)

Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida), Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa), Pacific Dogwood (Cornus nuttallii), Cornelian Cherry Dogwood (Cornus mas), Pagoda Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia), Gray Dogwood (Cornus racemosa), Giant Dogwood (Cornus controversa)

Dogwood, Dogwood Tree, Flowering Dogwood Tree, Pink Dogwood Tree, Cornus florida

Cornus, commonly known as Dogwood, is a genus comprising around 30 to 60 species of woody plants. These are often small to medium-sized deciduous trees or shrubs that are primarily known for their beautiful, showy flowers and brightly colored fruit.

Exploring the Charm and Diversity of Dogwood Shrubs and Trees

Cornus is part of the Cornaceae family. Notable species include Cornus florida (Flowering Dogwood), Cornus kousa (Kousa Dogwood), and Cornus sericea (Redosier Dogwood), among others.

Native: Most Dogwood species are native to North America, East Asia, and Europe, with specific species often localized to certain geographical areas. For example, Cornus florida is native to eastern North America, while Cornus kousa is native to Asia.

Growth Habit: Cornus can vary widely in form, from deciduous trees to shrubs and even ground cover. The types of Cornus can be categorized as either flowering, twig, or fruiting dogwoods.

Size: Dogwoods vary in size, ranging from small shrubs, such as the Cornus canadensis reaching 4-9 inches (10-22 cm) tall, to larger species like Cornus florida, which can grow up to 30 feet (9 meters) in height.

Flowers and Blooming Season: Dogwood flowers are iconic symbols of spring, offering delicate, star-shaped blossoms in shades of white, pink, or yellow. Often mistaken as petals, the flower’s showy bracts surround a small, inconspicuous central cluster. Most Cornus species bloom in the late spring, although some flower as early as late winter or as late as early summer, depending on the species and local climate conditions.

Foliage: Cornus leaves are usually opposite, simple, and oval-shaped, often displaying beautiful autumn coloration in shades of red and purple.

Fruit: The fruit of Cornus plants is typically a bright red or white berry-like drupe that attracts birds and other wildlife.

Hardiness: Dogwoods are hardy in USDA zones 2 to 10, depending on the species.

Uses: Dogwood trees are often used as ornamental plants in gardens and landscapes for their attractive flowers, fall color, and interesting bark. Some species, like the Cornelian cherry, have edible fruit that can be used to make jams, jellies, and beverages. The wood of dogwood trees is dense and strong, making it valuable for crafting tool handles, golf club heads, and other items that require durability.

Pollinators: The flowers attract a variety of pollinators, including bees and butterflies.

Toxicity: The toxicity of dogwood plants can vary, and it’s important to identify the specific species you’re dealing with. While some species produce fruit that is consumed by wildlife and has traditional culinary uses, others can be toxic. Specifically, the fruit of flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) is poisonous to humans and should be avoided. Some species may also present toxicity risks to dogs. Therefore, proper identification and knowledge of the specific dogwood species you are dealing with are essential for safety.

Deer and Rabbit: Cornus species have varying degrees of resistance to deer and rabbits, depending largely on the availability of other food sources.

Invasiveness: Most Cornus species are not considered invasive, although they can spread through suckering if not properly managed.

Fun Facts: Native American tribes used the bark and roots of certain species to treat various ailments, highlighting the plant’s historical and ongoing significance.

Dogwood, Dogwood Tree, Flowering Dogwood Tree, Pink Dogwood Tree, Cornus florida

Cornus florida – Flowering Dogwood

What is Special About Dogwood?

Dogwood trees and shrubs hold a special place in gardens and landscapes for several reasons:

Four-Season Interest: Many dogwoods offer year-round visual appeal—spring flowers, summer berries, vibrant fall foliage, and visually striking winter bark.

Floral Beauty: Dogwoods are especially renowned for their springtime blossoms. While people often think these are flowers, they are technically bracts, or specialized leaves, that surround a cluster of small, actual flowers. This unique arrangement creates a dramatic floral display.

Wildlife Attraction: The berries produced by many dogwoods are a food source for birds and other wildlife, adding an ecological benefit to their ornamental value. The flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) is a beloved tree that draws in a variety of birds, such as the American Robin, Blue Jay, Cedar Waxwing, Eastern Bluebird, Northern Cardinal, Northern Mockingbird, and others. Its attractive blooms and vibrant berries offer essential food sources, making it a cherished habitat component for avian species.

Variety: Dogwoods come in many shapes and sizes, ranging from ground-covering subshrubs to tall trees. They also offer a variety of flower colors, including white, pink, and red, making them versatile choices for different garden themes and sizes.

Cultural Significance: The dogwood is rich in symbolism and folklore. In the United States, the flowering dogwood is a symbol of spring and rebirth, and in Christian tradition, it is sometimes associated with Easter.

Adaptability: Several species are remarkably adaptable to different soil types and environmental conditions, including some tolerance to drought and poorer soil qualities.

Disease Resistance: Modern cultivars have been developed to be resistant to diseases like anthracnose and powdery mildew, making them easier to maintain.

Easy to Grow: Generally, dogwoods are low-maintenance plants. They can often tolerate less-than-ideal conditions and still produce their characteristic blossoms and foliage.

Architectural Interest: The layered branching pattern of some dogwood species, like the Pagoda Dogwood, offers strong architectural interest, even when the tree is bare in winter.

Native Choices: Many areas have native dogwoods that are well-adapted to local conditions and serve native wildlife, making them excellent choices for ecologically responsible gardening.

Shade Tolerance: Certain types of dogwoods can thrive in partial to full shade, making them useful for brightening up darker areas of the landscape.

Erosion Control: The root system of some species is effective at soil stabilization, making them useful for planting on slopes and along streams to control erosion.

With all these attributes, it’s no wonder that dogwoods are a cherished feature in many gardens.

Kousa Dogwood, Cornus kousa

Cornus kousa – Kousa Dogwood fruit

Guide Information

Hardiness 2 - 10
Plant Type Perennials, Shrubs, Trees
Plant Family Cornaceae
Genus Cornus
Exposure Full Sun, Partial Sun
Season of Interest Spring (Early, Mid, Late)
Summer (Early, Mid, Late)
Fall
Winter
Height 1' - 40'
(30cm - 12.2m)
Spread 1' - 40'
(30cm - 12.2m)
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Average
Soil Type Chalk, Clay, Sand
Soil pH Acid, Neutral
Soil Drainage Moist but Well-Drained, Well-Drained
Characteristics Showy
Native Plants United Kingdom, United States, Maryland, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Connecticut, Midwest, Pacific Northwest, Southeast, Northeast, California, Rocky Mountains, Southwest, Alaska, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Missouri, Ohio, Nebraska, Minnesota, Indiana, Iowa, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Arkansas, Florida, Alabama, Kentucky, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, North Carolina, Louisiana, West Virginia, Virginia, South Carolina, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arizona, Texas, Nevada, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado
Attracts Bees, Birds, Butterflies
Landscaping Ideas Beds And Borders
Garden Styles City and Courtyard, Informal and Cottage

Diversity and Beauty in Dogwood Species

How to Choose a Dogwood for My Garden?

Choosing the right dogwood for your garden depends on a variety of factors, including climate, soil conditions, available space, and your specific landscaping needs. Here are some tips to help you make an informed decision:

  • Zone Compatibility: The first step is to identify your USDA hardiness zone. Different dogwood species have different zone requirements, ranging from USDA Zone 2 to 10, so choose a variety that is compatible with your climate.
  • Site Conditions: Evaluate the growing conditions in your yard. While most dogwoods prefer well-drained, slightly acidic soil, some are more adaptable to various soil types and pH levels. Consider also the levels of sunlight and moisture the site receives.
  • Size and Habit: Dogwoods can range from low-growing shrubs to tall trees. Make sure the mature size of the plant will fit your space. Also, consider the growth habit, whether upright, spreading, or tiered, to fit your design needs.
  • Flower and Foliage: Different species offer a variety of flower colors, shapes, and blooming times. Some provide additional interest with variegated or colorful autumn leaves. Determine what features are most important to you.
  • Fruit and Wildlife: Some dogwoods produce berries that are attractive to birds and other wildlife. If attracting wildlife is important to you, look for species with fruit that is palatable to animals.
  • Disease Resistance: Some species and cultivars are more resistant to common dogwood diseases like anthracnose and powdery mildew. Research or consult experts for recommendations on disease-resistant varieties.
  • Local Availability: Check local nurseries for availability or consult online sources. It’s often better to buy local, as these plants are more likely to be adapted to your specific growing conditions.
  • Multi-season Interest: For the most visual impact, choose varieties that offer multiple seasons of interest, such as spring flowers, summer berries, and fall foliage.
  • Purpose: Are you planting for shade, as a specimen tree, or for a hedge? Different types suit different needs.
  • Consult Experts: When in doubt, consult local horticulturalists, arborists, or knowledgeable nursery staff for advice tailored to your specific needs.

By considering these factors, you’ll be better equipped to choose a dogwood that not only survives but thrives in your garden.

Compare Dogwood Varieties

FROSTED BORDER WITH SEDUMS GRASSES A WOODEN BENCH CORNUS WINTER FLAME AND RUBUS THIBETANUS

Winter Garden with Cornus sanguinea ‘Winter Flame (Bloodtwig Dogwood), Sedum, and Rubus thibetanus (Ghost Bramble)

Landscaping with Dogwood Shrubs and Trees

Landscaping with dogwood shrubs and trees can transform your garden into a year-round haven of beauty and wildlife interest. Here are some ideas on how to incorporate dogwoods into your landscape design:

Focal Point: The larger dogwood tree species, like Cornus florida (Flowering Dogwood) or Cornus kousa (Kousa Dogwood), make striking focal points in the landscape with their showy spring flowers and vibrant autumn foliage. You can use them as standalone specimens or plant them in groups for a more dramatic effect.

Screening and Boundaries: The smaller, more shrub-like dogwoods, such as Cornus sericea (Red Osier Dogwood) or Cornus sanguinea (Common Dogwood), work well as natural screens or hedges, helping to define the boundaries of your property or to create private areas within the garden.

Mixed Borders: Dogwoods are excellent in mixed borders with other shrubs, perennials, and annuals. Their foliage, flowers, and fruit add layers of texture and color, while their varying heights and forms contribute to the overall composition.

Waterside Planting: Several species of dogwood, including Cornus amomum (Silky Dogwood) and Cornus foemina (Swamp Dogwood), are well-suited for wetland areas or planting alongside ponds and streams. Their root systems help prevent soil erosion.

Woodland Gardens: Dogwoods are naturally found in woodland settings and make an excellent addition to shade or woodland gardens. Their tolerance for a variety of light conditions makes them versatile choices for planting under larger trees or in dappled shade.

Wildlife Gardens: The berries of dogwood trees and shrubs attract a variety of birds, while the flowers draw pollinators. Consider a mix of dogwood species to provide food and habitat for local wildlife.

Container Planting: Smaller dogwood species or dwarf varieties can be successfully grown in containers. This is an excellent option for patios or smaller spaces.

Seasonal Interest: Remember that dogwoods offer multi-season interest—spring flowers, summer shade and berries, fall foliage, and even colorful stems in the winter (like the red stems of Cornus sericea). Plan your landscape to take advantage of each of these features.

Cornus florida rubra Tree,

Cornus florida f. rubra  (Pink Flowering Dogwood) in spring.

Companion Plants

Companion plants can greatly enhance the beauty and health of your dogwood shrubs and trees. Here are some suggestions for plants that pair well with dogwoods in various garden settings:

Understory Companions

  • Hosta: These shade-loving perennials provide lush, green foliage that contrasts beautifully with the dogwood’s seasonal colors.
  • Ferns: Perfect for filling in the undergrowth, ferns add a graceful, woodland feel.
  • Astilbe: The feathery, colorful blooms of astilbe make a great match for dogwoods, especially in partial-shade settings.
  • Heuchera (Coral Bells): With their mounding habit and colorful foliage, Heuchera species provide year-round interest.
  • Pachysandra: This ground cover is excellent for filling in space under dogwoods. It prefers shade to part-shade conditions.

Woodland Gardens

  • Trillium: This native woodland flower blooms in early spring, often alongside dogwood blooms.
  • Bloodroot: Another native woodland plant, bloodroot offers delicate white flowers in the spring.
  • Solomon’s Seal: This perennial adds height and delicate, hanging flowers.
  • Jacob’s Ladder: The stacked, ladder-like foliage and small, blue flowers make this an intriguing option.

Full Sun to Partial Shade Companions

  • Daylilies: These perennials love sun and well-drained soil, making them good companions for dogwoods planted in sunnier locations.
  • Lavender: Its aromatic foliage and purple flowers are a beautiful contrast to the dogwood’s softer hues.
  • Salvia: Comes in many colors and types; provides vertical interest.
  • Sedum: A low-growing ground cover with succulent leaves; it produces clusters of tiny flowers in the late summer.

For Bird and Butterfly Gardens

  • Milkweed: Attracts butterflies, including the Monarch, and its bloom time often corresponds with that of some dogwood varieties.
  • Coneflower (Echinacea): These tall, colorful flowers attract both birds and butterflies, and they can stand up to a variety of soil conditions.
  • Native Grasses: Varieties like switchgrass or bluestem add texture and provide shelter for wildlife.

Winter Interest

  • Ornamental Grasses: When left uncut through the winter, ornamental grasses can provide winter interest alongside the bare branches or colorful stems of some dogwood varieties.
  • Evergreens: Plants like boxwood or juniper offer year-round color and structure.

Choosing companion plants with different but complementary bloom times, colors, and forms can extend the visual interest in the area around your dogwoods from spring through fall and into winter.

Hosta (Plantain Lily)
Astilbe
Heuchera (Coral Bells)
Trillium
Hemerocallis (Daylilies)
Lavandula angustifolia (English Lavender)
Salvia (Sage)
Sedum (Stonecrop)
Asclepias (Milkweed)
Echinacea (Coneflower)
Buxus (Boxwood)
Hydrangea macrophylla (Bigleaf Hydrangea)

How to Grow and Care for Dogwood

Growing and caring for dogwood plants can be a rewarding experience, as these versatile trees and shrubs offer year-round beauty and wildlife appeal. Here’s a guide to help you achieve gardening success with dogwoods:

Location and Soil:

  • Site Selection: Choose a location with well-drained soil and adequate sunlight. Some species can tolerate partial shade, but too much shade can reduce flowering and increase susceptibility to disease.
  • Soil Type: Dogwoods prefer slightly acidic to neutral soil (pH 5.5–6.0). Conduct a soil test and amend as needed with organic matter, like compost and fertilizers.

Planting:

  • When to Plant: Early spring and fall are the best times for planting dogwood to allow for root establishment before extreme temperatures.
  • Planting Depth: Dig a hole as deep as the root ball and twice as wide. Position the tree so that the top of the root ball is level with the soil surface. Backfill the hole and water thoroughly.

Watering and Feeding:

  • Watering: Keep the soil consistently moist, especially during the first year. Drip irrigation or soaker hoses can be useful.
  • Fertilization: Dogwoods don’t usually require much fertilization. However, if your soil is poor or your tree appears struggling, you can apply a slow-release, balanced fertilizer (e.g., 10-10-10) in early spring. Avoid over-fertilizing, as it can lead to excessive growth and weak branches.

Mulching:

  • Mulch: Use organic mulch like wood chips or pine straw to help retain soil moisture, suppress weeds, and improve soil quality.

Pruning:

  • Pruning: Late winter or early spring is the ideal time for pruning dogwoods. Remove dead or diseased branches and thin out branches for better air circulation. Avoid excessive pruning, as it can stress the tree and make it more susceptible to disease.

Winter Protection:

  • In colder regions, protect younger trees with a burlap wrap to prevent winter damage.

Dogwood Common Problems

Dogwood trees can be affected by several pests and diseases. While they are generally quite resilient, it’s important to monitor the health of your tree and address any issues promptly. Some common pests and diseases affecting dogwood trees include:

Dogwood Anthracnose: This fungal disease, caused by Discula destructiva, affects the leaves, twigs, and branches of the tree. Symptoms include tan or purple-bordered leaf spots, twig dieback, and cankers on the trunk. To control anthracnose, prune and dispose of infected branches, maintain good air circulation, and apply fungicides when necessary.

Spot Anthracnose: Spot Anthracnose, primarily affecting flowering dogwood trees, is a fungal disease caused by Elsinoë corni. Symptoms include small, purplish spots on leaves and blossoms. The disease is more prevalent in wet spring conditions.

Powdery Mildew: This fungal infection appears as a white or gray powdery substance on the leaves and stems. It can cause leaf distortion, yellowing, and premature leaf drop. To manage powdery mildew, ensure proper air circulation, avoid overhead watering, and apply fungicides when necessary.

Dogwood Borer: This insect pest, Synanthedon scitula, burrows into the trunk and branches, causing damage that can weaken or kill the tree. Signs of infestation include sawdust-like frass around entry holes and branch dieback. To control borers, maintain the overall health of the tree, apply a protective insecticide barrier, and remove and destroy infested branches.

Dogwood Club Gall Midge: This tiny fly, Resseliella clavula, lays eggs on the growing tips of dogwood trees, causing the formation of spindle-shaped galls. Prune and destroy affected branches to control the infestation.

Leaf Spot Diseases: Various fungi can cause leaf spots on dogwood trees, leading to discolored or dead areas on the leaves. Improve air circulation, avoid overhead watering, and remove fallen leaves to reduce the spread of fungal spores.

Dogwood Twig Borer: Oberea tripunctata is a beetle that can cause dieback and girdling of branches. Prune and destroy affected branches, and maintain tree health to reduce susceptibility.

Scale Insects: Scale insects can infest dogwood trees, leading to yellowing leaves, branch dieback, and a decline in overall tree health. Control scales with horticultural oil sprays, insecticides, or by releasing natural predators like ladybugs.

Crown Canker: This disease, caused by the fungus Phytophthora, affects the base of the trunk and causes cankers, which can lead to girdling and tree death. Avoid wounding the tree, ensure proper drainage, and apply fungicides if needed.

To prevent or mitigate these issues, maintain the overall health of your dogwood tree through proper planting, watering, mulching, and pruning practices. Additionally, monitor your tree regularly for signs of pests or diseases, and take prompt action when necessary.

Garden Examples

A Glowing Winter Border with Dogwood, Heath and Grasses
A Treasured Winter Border Idea with Hellebores, Sedge and Dogwood
A Glowing Fall Border with Asters, Dogwood and Grasses
An Eye-Catching Winter Border Idea with Colorful Twigs and Cyclamens
A Charming Garden Idea with Thyme, Lavender and Other Shrubs
A Pretty Spring Border with Allium, Poppies and Wedding Cake Tree
While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.

Guide Information

Hardiness 2 - 10
Plant Type Perennials, Shrubs, Trees
Plant Family Cornaceae
Genus Cornus
Exposure Full Sun, Partial Sun
Season of Interest Spring (Early, Mid, Late)
Summer (Early, Mid, Late)
Fall
Winter
Height 1' - 40'
(30cm - 12.2m)
Spread 1' - 40'
(30cm - 12.2m)
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Average
Soil Type Chalk, Clay, Sand
Soil pH Acid, Neutral
Soil Drainage Moist but Well-Drained, Well-Drained
Characteristics Showy
Native Plants United Kingdom, United States, Maryland, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Connecticut, Midwest, Pacific Northwest, Southeast, Northeast, California, Rocky Mountains, Southwest, Alaska, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Missouri, Ohio, Nebraska, Minnesota, Indiana, Iowa, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Arkansas, Florida, Alabama, Kentucky, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, North Carolina, Louisiana, West Virginia, Virginia, South Carolina, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arizona, Texas, Nevada, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado
Attracts Bees, Birds, Butterflies
Landscaping Ideas Beds And Borders
Garden Styles City and Courtyard, Informal and Cottage
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