How to Plant and Grow Dogwood Tree

These small trees are prized for their early spring flowers and tidy growth habit.

Cherokee Sunset' flowering dogwood

Bob Stefko

Available in a wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes, dogwood trees add structure and color to the landscape for most of the year. The show begins with four-petal blooms from spring into summer, followed by bright red and orange foliage in the fall. Winter brings bright red fruit for a final splash of color. These trees are hardy in Zones 3-8, thriving in moist air and part shade.

What many people consider flowers on the dogwood tree are actually bracts (showy structures ranging in color from soft white to deep pink). Dogwood trees' actual flowers are held in a round cluster at the center of each bract, which stays attached to the branches much longer than real blooms.

Dogwood Tree Overview

Genus Name Cornus
Common Name Dogwood Tree
Plant Type Shrub, Tree
Light Part Sun, Sun
Height 20 to 20 feet
Width 10 to 15 feet
Flower Color Pink, White
Foliage Color Blue/Green
Season Features Colorful Fall Foliage, Spring Bloom, Summer Bloom, Winter Interest
Special Features Attracts Birds, Good for Containers, Low Maintenance
Zones 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Propagation Seed, Stem Cuttings

Where to Plant Dogwood Tree

In nature, dogwood trees are understory trees that often grow in shade. In a home landscape, they grow best in a partial shade location that receives some morning sun. Plant a dogwood tree in fertile, well-draining soil that has lots of organic matter.

The dogwood tree provides beautiful blooms in early spring, so plant it where you can see and appreciate it. Its pollen is particularly attractive to pollinators, while its fruit is eaten by many species of birds. The tree's leaves decompose more quickly than most others, adding organic matter to the soil.

How and When to Plant Dogwood Trees

The best time to plant a bare-root dogwood sapling is in spring before tree growth starts. Cut off any damaged roots and then soak the roots in water for about four hours. While they soak, prepare the planting location. The soil must be well-draining and fertile. If needed, dig in compost or organic matter. Dig a hole that is at least a foot wider and the same depth as the root system.

Form a mound of soil at the center of the hole. Set the tree in the hole at the top of the mound, spreading the roots carefully so they point downward. Backfill about two thirds of the hole with amended soil and press it down with your hands to remove air bubbles. Water the tree generously. Fill the rest of the hole, making sure the tree sits slightly higher than it did in the nursery container. The top of the rootball should be barely visible. Don't pull soil up over the top of the rootball. A visible line on the sapling above the root system indicates the former soil line. Form a water berm of mulch or topsoil about 5 inches away from the sapling to direct water to the roots.

Gardeners who are planting nursery trees that have leafed out or cuttings that have grown into saplings should amend the soil in the same way and use the same procedure as when planting bare-root saplings but dig the hole two to three times the width of the root ball.

Dogwood Tree Care Tips

Care requirements depend on the species of tree being grown. Leave some fruit on the plant for wildlife to enjoy in the winter when little else is available.


Select varieties of dogwood trees tolerate full sun. However, most prefer dappled sun and protection from full sun by bigger trees.

Soil and Water

Dogwood trees generally prefer well-drained soil on the slightly acidic side. The trees should be kept moist, although they can tolerate occasional dry spells once established. Many species prefer organic soil, which may call for an application of compost. Heavy mulch helps these plants thrive in both summer heat and winter cold.

Dogwood has shallow roots, so water them twice a week to keep them healthy, or more when it's particularly dry. Water deeply. Water more frequently if the leaves become light green or dry. If the leaves look gray or droopy, cut back on watering.

Temperature and Humidity

Dogwood are quite cold-tolerant, and can easily survive winter freezes. Dogwood prefers cooler to warmer temperatures, and if grown in more arid climates, dogwood requires consistent shade and more frequent waterings than in cooler climates.


When first planting dogwood, avoid over-fertilizing, which can be damaging to young trees. Use a nitrogen product in the beginning, following manufacturer's instructions. Once your tree is established, use an organic mix for acidic soil, but only fertilize if the ground isn't already nutrient-rich.


As a rule, dogwood trees don't need much maintenance, but pruning may be occasionally required to shape the plant. Summer is the ideal time to prune since the plant experiences a heavy sap flow during winter and spring.

Potting and Repotting Dogwood Tree

It isn't easy to grow dogwood in a pot. Because it has dense, shallow roots, it needs well-draining soil and constant watering to keep the soil moist. If you want to grow dogwood in a pot or indoors, get as large a container as you have the space for, and be sure to water them frequently. It needs to go dormant in winter, so you'll need to move it somewhere cold.

Pests and Problems

Dogwood may become infected with powdery mildew, though if it's late in the season, the leaves will die off, and it won't be a problem. Dogwood can develop leaf spot, which can be treated by removing infected leaves from the tree and the ground or treating with an appropriate fungicide if needed.

Insects that can be problematic include dogwood borers and scales.

How to Propagate Dogwood Tree

Dogwood is relatively easy to propagate. Cut 3-5 inch branches. Strip the bottom of the branches of leaves, dip in rooting hormone, and add to soil, being careful not to let any leaves touch the dirt. Cover the potted stem with a plastic bag. After about six weeks, tug at the stem to see if roots have formed. Remove the bag and place the pot in a sunny spot. Water regularly and use half-strength liquid fertilizer every two weeks. When it has outgrown its pot, you can plant outside or transfer to a larger container.

Types of Dogwood Tree

'Cherokee Chief' Flowering Dogwood

'Cherokee Chief' flowering dogwood
Bill Stites

Cornus florida 'Cherokee Chief' is a classic variety that bears loads of ruby-pink blooms in late spring. It grows 20 feet tall and 25 feet wide in Zones 5-8.

'Cherokee Sunset' Flowering Dogwood

Cherokee Sunset' flowering dogwood
Bob Stefko

Cornus florida 'Cherokee Sunset' is one of the most dramatic varieties. It bears deep pink flowers and yellow-edged foliage. It grows 20 feet tall and wide. Zones 5-8

'China Girl' Dogwood

'China Girl' dogwood
Bill Stites

Cornus kousa 'China Girl' is a free-flowering variety, that even at a young age produces plenty of creamy white blooms. It grows 22 feet tall and 15 feet high in Zones 5-8.

'Cloud Nine' Flowering Dogwood

'Cloud Nine' flowering dogwood
Rob Cardillo 

Cornus florida 'Cloud Nine' offers large white flowers with overlapping bracts that appear in spring. The compact tree grows 20 feet tall and 25 feet wide. Zones 5-8

'Golden Shadows' Dogwood

'Golden Shadows' dogwood
Peter Krumhardt

Cornus alternifolia 'Golden Shadows' is a bold, eye-catching variety grown as a small tree or large shrub. It offers golden-edged foliage and has a rosy tint when it emerges in spring. It grows 15 feet tall and wide. Zones 4-8

Pink Flowering Dogwood

Pink flowering dogwood
Peter Krumhardt

Cornus florida 'Rubra' bears pink flowers in late spring. The tree grows only 20 feet tall and 25 feet wide. Zones 5-8

'Milky Way' Dogwood

'Milky Way' dogwood
Jon Jensen

Cornus kousa 'Milky Way' bears a generous constellation of white flowers followed by plenty of red-berried fruit. It's disease resistant and grows 22 feet tall and 15 feet wide. Zones 5-8

'Satomi' Dogwood

'Satomi' dogwood
Andy Lyons

Cornus kousa 'Satomi' is a disease-resistant selection with dark pink flowers in late spring. It grows 22 feet tall and 15 feet high. Zones 5-8

'Wolf Eyes' Dogwood

'Wolf Eyes' dogwood
Marty Baldwin

Cornus kousa 'Wolf Eyes' bears beautiful white flowers, but it also features stunning green foliage edged in white. Zones 5-8

Companion Plants for Dogwood Tree


periwinkle vinca groundcover blossoms
Jay Wilde

Periwinkle grows well as a trailing groundcover in shady spots. Its purple-blue color is a good contrast to the white or pink of dogwood. This shade-loving perennial grows only 6-12 inches tall, but it brightens up a shade corner of the yard beautifully. Zones 4-9


Pink Astilbe
Karlis Grants

Shade-loving astilbe is a summer-blooming perennial that flourishes in the same environment as the dogwood tree. It produces spikes of beautiful white and pink flowers that add color and texture to a garden. Zones 4-8

Mondo Grass

Ed Gohlich

Mondo grass is low-maintenance and grows in shady locations without much attention. Easy-to-grow mondo grass a good alternative to turf grass in shade gardens—and it requires no mowing. Zones 6-10

Garden Plan for Dogwood Tree

Corner of Shrubs

Woody Corner
Mavis Augustine Torke

Trees and shrubs are the four-seasons backbone of the landscape. Create an eye-catching vignette with these woody plants in your garden.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are there new types of dogwood trees available?

    New varieties of dogwood trees seldom hit the market because woody trees take so long to go from the point of breeding to introduction. Dogwoods are diverse, so ornamental traits and practical traits (such as summer-heat tolerance, hardiness, and bloom time) are being worked on for new and better plants. For example, one recent introduction features bright orange fruit instead of the more common red fruit.

  • Do dogwood trees smell bad?

    No, in fact some have a scent similar to honeysuckle. However, many times dogwood trees are confused with Bradford pear trees, which do have an unpleasant odor.

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