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When Should You Plant Dogwood Trees? How and Where to Plant?

A collage of dogwood trees.

The best time to plant flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) is in the late winter or spring before it comes out of dormancy. You can grow dogwood anywhere the temperature doesn’t go below -15°F  (-26.1°C). It thrives in moist, fertile soil that’s slightly acidic and partial sunlight.

The flowering dogwood is native to the eastern United States. It’s a versatile, attractive little ornamental tree. Its compact size makes it ideal for small yards as well as large estates.

I find flowering dogwoods amazing. Did you know that the large, colorful flowers you see blooming on dogwoods aren’t flowers at all? They are actually leaves, called bracts, that surround the small, indistinct flower in the middle.

Take a look at these quick tips on when to plant dogwood, how to plant it, and where to plant it.

Here are a few quick tips on when, how, and where to plant your dogwood tree, so it grows into a gorgeous addition to your landscape.

When should I plant a dogwood tree?

Dogwood tree blossoming in late winter.

Plant your flowering dogwood tree before it develops new growth. This is usually during the late winter or early spring. Of course, this also depends on the change of seasons where you live.

You can tell if your dogwood is dormant when it doesn’t show any signs of new growth.

Where should I plant a dogwood tree?

Check your yard for an area with dappled sunlight. Dogwoods don’t like direct sunlight or hot, dry soil.

Also, your dogwood tree needs moist, well-drained soil. If you have any natural water on your property, like a stream or pond, dogwoods love water. If not, that’s okay. Just make sure you water your dogwood regularly to a depth of three feet.

How do I plant a dogwood tree?

It’s time to get your garden shovel and dig a hole that’s twice the diameter of the dogwood’s root ball. You want to dig at least 18 inches deep.

Place the root ball into the hole. If the hole is deeper than the root ball, refill the hole with loose soil mixed with organic matter, such as peat moss. Add the mixture until it reaches the bottom of the root ball. You want the root ball to sit slightly higher than it grew in the pot.

Once it’s in place, tamp down the soil around the root ball to give a firm base for your dogwood. Next, thoroughly water around the base of the tree. 

How far apart should I plant dogwood trees?

A row of blossoming dogwood trees

If you’re planting more than one flowering dogwood tree, keep in mind what their full size will be. They may be small now, but they won’t be in a few years.

A mature dogwood usually grows from 15 feet to 30 feet tall, depending on the species. They also grow from 15 feet to 25 feet wide.

When you select your dogwood tree, check the label to see how big it is at maturity. Divide the mature width in half to know how far apart to space your dogwoods.

Should I spread mulch around my dogwood tree?

Your flowering dogwood will thank you for spreading mulch around its base. It holds in moisture that the tree’s shallow roots need, and it prevents weeds and grass from growing around the base.

Just a note, if grass grows around your dogwood tree, don’t use a lawn mower or grass trimmer around the tree. If you hit the trunk and nick its bark, borers can enter the tree trunk. Use handheld garden shears to trim around the dogwood tree.

What type of mulch should I use around my dogwood tree?

Since dogwoods naturally grow in the wild, using natural mulch materials, such as peat moss, oak leaves, or even forest litter works well. As it decays, it feeds your dogwood the nutrients for healthy growth.

If you want your dogwood to have more of a landscaped appearance, you can spread mulch from your garden center on top of the natural mulch. 

Do I need to weed around my dogwood tree?

Flowering dogwood tree

The mulch should prevent most weeds from growing around your dogwood. But, if you notice weeds springing up, pull them out by hand. You want to avoid using a hoe because of the dogwood’s shallow root system.

How do I tell how much water to give my dogwood tree?

Normal rain showers usually provide enough moisture for established mulched dogwood trees. If you’re having exceptionally dry weather, water your dogwood every week because the dogwood’s shallow roots dry out quickly. Make sure to soak the root area thoroughly.

If you notice that the leaves are turning light green or feel dried out, then the tree needs more water.

On the other hand, if the dogwood leaves are turning gray, drooping, or becoming too large, your tree is getting too much water. 

Does a dogwood tree need fertilizer?

For the most part, dogwood trees absorb enough nutrients from well-drained, moist soil and organic mulch. They rarely need fertilizer.

If you think your dogwood isn’t thriving after transplanting it, you can apply an all-purpose fertilizer to the soil. Signs of infertile soil are small, scant leaves and short twig growth.

Avoid spreading fertilizer near the trunk. Instead, spread it in a band around the tree near the end of the branch growth.

Why would flowering dogwood trees need pruning?

Pruning flowers of a dogwood tree

There are several reasons why you’d prune a flowering dogwood tree. One of the main reasons is to remove injured, dead, diseased, and pest-infested branches.

If your dogwood needs pruning, do it during the dormant season. This prevents bleeding from the cut.

Prune your dogwood all the way back to the crotch of the limb. Treat any cut more than one-half inch in diameter with a tree-wound dressing. This prevents any borers and fungi from invading the dogwood tree.

What are the most common diseases and treatments for flowering dogwood trees?

Keeping your dogwood healthy with proper location, soil, water, mulch, and pruning should help it stay healthy. But, even the healthiest dogwoods can become infected by diseases and pests.

Here are the three most common diseases and pests in dogwood trees:

Spot Anthracnose

Spot anthracnose on a dogwood tree.

This is a fungal disease often seen in dogwoods. It attacks the leaves or bracts first. The disease then moves on to the new growth and fruit. This usually happens in the spring. Rainy weather and humidity make the fungal growth increase.

The symptoms appear as tan spots rimmed with purple on the bracts. Eventually, the leaves will become shriveled.

Unfortunately, this infection overwinters, surviving from year to year. You can use fungicides to help alleviate the problem. Anthracnose doesn’t cause fatal damage, but it does weaken the tree. 

Powdery Mildew

This fungus infects the surface of the leaves and new growth. If your dogwood has powdery mildew, you’ll see a fine, white powder forming on the upper surface of the leaves.

Once the powder appears, the leaves become scorched-looking with dead spots and discoloration. The spores travel in the wind and can infect other dogwoods and plants.

This fungal disease is devastating to your dogwood tree. If the leaves drop, rake them up as soon as possible and destroy them. Also, prune all the infected limbs. Thinning any overhanging limbs from other trees helps with air circulation and can prevent infection.

To stop the spread of powdery mildew, apply a fungicide at the first sign of the disease.

Leaf Spots

If you’re experiencing a wet summer, your dogwood tree might develop leaf spots. The two types of fungi that cause leaf spots are Cercospora cornicola and Septoria.

These cause dark, circular spots on the leaves. When the disease becomes severe, the spots spread and cover the entire leaf. These leaves usually drop early.

You should clean up any infected leaves that drop. Fungicides may help if you catch the disease early.

What pests infest dogwood trees, and what can I do about them?

Most of the insects that infest dogwood trees cause minor damage. The only time it becomes serious is if you planted your dogwood under adverse conditions, such as full sun and not enough water.

The following are the most common insects that infest dogwood trees:

Dogwood Borer

Dogwood borer feeding on a nectar.

You might mistake the adult dogwood borer (Synanthedon scitula) for a wasp. It’s really a clearwing moth.

The female moth lays her eggs on the bark of the dogwood. The moth larva only infects the tree if there’s a wound in the bark. Once the larva gets under the bark of the dogwood, they feast on the inner bark and cambium.

The cambium promotes new growth. When this becomes damaged, the limbs of the whole tree die. Young trees will die within two seasons.

The best way to prevent the larva from boring into your dogwood is to keep it healthy. You can take preventative measures by spraying your tree with an insecticide which fights against borers. 

Dogwood Club-Gall Midge

This small fly (Resseliella clavula), lays eggs in leaf buds. When the larva hatch, they enter the new shoot. A long club-gall forms on the stem. When fall arrives, the larvae make holes in the gall to exit. The section of the branch beyond the gall could die.

Spraying with horticultural oil or insecticides can help control heavy infestations. Also, if you see any galls, prune the branch and the gall, then destroy them.

Seedcorn Maggot

Close-up of a seedcorn maggot on a leaf

The seedcorn maggot (Hylemya platura) is the larva of an adult fly. If you notice light yellow larva with a pointed front, then your tree has seedcorn maggots.

These maggots don’t cause any damage to dogwood trees, and the life expectancy of the flies is short. You don’t have to treat your tree for the seedcorn maggots.