Story by Denise Pugh

Nothing says springtime quite like a dogwood tree in full bloom. Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) is native to the eastern United States. Virginia and North Carolina claim its bloom as their states’ flower, and Missouri claims the dogwood as its state tree. This tree is often associated with Easter according to the Legend of the Dogwood and Native Americans used dogwood branches to make arrows. 

Dogwood trees produces red berries (seeds) in the fall. Photo by Denise Pugh.

Today, we enjoy these trees as specimen plants and beautiful harbingers of the vernal equinox, better known as the first day of spring. Shortly after the calendar announces spring, I begin to look for the dogwood blossoms to open. The petals of a dogwood blossom are actually bracts – showy leaves that change color. The true flowers are in the cluster at the center. 

The fall foliage livens up the landscape. Photo by Karan A. Rawlins, University Of Georgia (Bugwood.Org).

The best time to plant a dogwood tree is November through February. The site should be selected with care since a dogwood is never found growing in a consistently wet area. Choose a site that receives dappled morning sun and afternoon shade. Work the soil well by turning it over a shovel’s depth, removing clods, and digging a hole two to three times as wide as the root ball. Set the root ball at the same level or slightly elevated in the planting hole. Apply a thin layer of organic compost as a top dressing after backfilling with the native soil. 

Keep the trunk protected from lawn equipment or other injury, keep the tree watered during dry spells, and use organic compost rather than chemical fertilizer; since the roots are shallow, they burn easily. 

Cornus florida ‘Cherokee Brave’. Photo by John Tullock.

Quick Facts and Keys to Success
Common Name: Flowering dogwood
Botanical Name: Cornus florida
USDA Hardiness Zone(s): 5-9
Light: Part shade
Type: Small deciduous flowering tree 
Mature Size: 15-30 feet tall
Bloom Time: April
Bloom Color: White, pink, or red (bracts)
Soil: Prefers moist, well-drained, organic-rich soil
In the Landscape: Provides spring blooms and colorful fall foliage along with bright red seeds in late fall.

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