Plant a Dogwood Tree for Every Season

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Dogwood Tree

When you hear of dogwood, most of us think of spring and our native flowering dogwood, Cornus florida. But truth be told, the flowering dogwood is not the only tree in the woods. As many as 50 species of shrubs and trees claim the name dogwood. Some are deciduous trees, some are herbaceous perennial plants, and a few are evergreen woody species.
The variety provides plenty of good choices for a showy dogwood in your landscape during each season of the year.

Winter
Japanese Cornel Dogwood is a beautiful winter-flowering tree that is underused in the landscape. Cornus officinalis usually grows as a large, spreading, multi-stemmed, deciduous shrub to a small tree up to 15 to 25 feet tall. In late January into February, small but showy clusters of yellow flowers appear. These blooms are followed in fall by showy red fruits (drupes) that are technically edible, but most would find them astringent. The variable fall foliage colors range from pale yellow to reddish-purple. The exfoliating bark is unique with its colors of rich grays, browns and oranges. Two great cultivars are Sunsphere, which flowers earlier than others in the species, and Kintoki, which produces a heavier bloom.

Another winter-flowering dogwood is the Cornelian Cherry Dogwood, Cornus mas. It, too, produces clusters of showy yellow flowers in late winter and red edible fruit in summer. Golden Moss is a heavy blooming selection.

Spring
The familiar Flowering Dogwood, Cornus florida, is probably the most prized of all dogwoods due to its large and showy spring blooms. Native to our forests, this once common tree has been threatened by a disease, dogwood anthracnose, which has decimated some populations. In cultivated landscapes, however, it can thrive, and the small, deciduous tree typically grows 15 to 30 feet tall with a low-branching, broadly pyramidal but somewhat flat-topped habit. Many cultivars exist ranging in flower color of white, blush pink, deep pink, to rosy red. In autumn, foliage turns various shades of burgundy to scarlet red. Bright red fruits (poisonous to humans, but loved by birds) mature in early fall and usually persist until the middle of December. Choose cultivars that
have improved resistance to anthracnose and powdery mildew, such as Appalachian Spring, Jean’s Appalachian Snow, Karen’s Appalachian Blush and Kay’s Appalachian Mist – all developed by researchers with the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture – or Venus, which has huge bracts and Saturn, which is very vigorous, both introduced by Rutgers University.

Less well known than the Flowering Dogwood, but equally beautiful is the Kousa Dogwood, sometimes called the Chinese or Japanese Dogwood. Cornus kousa is an exceptional small landscape tree that produces a multitude of showy, long-lasting, flowers in late spring, typically just after the Flowering Dogwood blooms have faded. It is multi-branched, growing to about 20 feet tall and just as wide. Older trees have a very decorative, mottled bark. Green fruits that replace the Kousa’s blooms turn to pink, then dull red in September. They resemble large solitary upright raspberries. The Kousa’s fall foliage can be a dark red or chartreuse, depending on the amount of sunlight received throughout the season. One standout feature of this tree is its incredible resistance to the diseases that plague the Flowering Dogwood. Great selections include Milky Way, which has abundant white flowers with heavy fruit set; the pink-flowering Beni Fuji; and Blue Shadow with its white flowers and rich blue-green summer foliage that turns purple for the fall.

Summer
Cornus alternifolia or the Pagoda Dogwood is especially striking in early summer when its layered branches are covered with small, creamy white fragrant flowers. Small, round fruits ripen to a deep blue-purple in late summer. Variegated selections such as Golden Shadow and Variegata (Syn. Argentea) make quite a show. The Pagoda Dogwood typically grows to 30 feet tall with a canopy spread just as wide. Cornus controversa, the Wedding Cake Tree or Giant Dogwood, is a similar tree that can grow to 45 feet tall. It covers itself in early summer with flat-topped clusters of white flowers that often exceed 6 inches in diameter. Variegated varieties of the spring-blooming dogwoods also have great appeal during the summer. Cornus florida Cherokee Daybreak, Pink Flame and Rainbow are favorites, as are Cornus kousa selections including Wolf Eyes, Gold Star, Bon Fire and Summer Fun.

Fall
Most dogwood species have showy fall foliage, but the twig dogwoods – all shrubs – are especially colorful starting in fall and lasting through winter. As they lose their autumn foliage, these dogwoods show off their striking bark. Red is the most common color, but some hybrids have bark colored yellow, orange and amber. Look for these species: Red Twig Dogwood (Cornus alba); and Bloodtwig Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea). All are fast-growing shrubs that form a loose, rounded, multi-stemmed plant. They average 4 to 10 feet tall depending on cultivar, with a similar spread. They can be pruned in the spring if shorter, more compact plants are desired. These dogwoods produce small, white flowers in late spring, but the colorful stems are what really make a show in the landscape.

1 Comment

  1. Cheryl Ardrey

    January 31, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    Do you know when the dogwood trees bloom in Byrdstown Tennessee?

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