Dogwood (Cornus) – The Complete Guide

Amateur gardeners with a penchant for ornamental shrubs can draw from the full with the dogwood. The wonderful genus of dogwoods (Cornus) presents us with magnificent flowering shrubs or small trees that amaze us all year round.

An enchanting spring bloom results in brightly colored fruit, followed by an autumnal fireworks display of color.

Planting Dogwood

Nurseries offer dogwoods mostly in containers. This has the advantage that you can plant the woody plant at any time of year, as long as it doesn’t freeze.

A mild day in early fall is considered the ideal date. In a sunny to semi-shaded location, dig a pit three times the volume of the root ball.

Add leaf compost, bark humus, and horn shavings to the excavation. Pot up a young dogwood only after the root ball has been soaked in soft water.

Please make sure it ends up flush with the garden soil. After planting, water generously and mulch with leaves or bark mulch.

Care Tips

In terms of maintenance, there is widespread consensus within the dogwood genus – except for pruning.

Here’s how to do it right:

  • Keep the soil consistently slightly moist, preferably with soft water.
  • Fertilize with leaf compost and horn shavings in August/September and when flowering begins.
  • Thoroughly thin out the shrub and tree crown in late winter.
  • Adjust the type and extent of pruning to the cultivated species.
  • Wear gloves for all maintenance work.

In the year of planting as well as in container culture, we recommend light winter protection. Cover the soil with leaves, straw, and coniferous twigs for that.

Young shoots should be covered with garden fleece. Wrap a pot with fleece, jute, or bubble wrap and place it on a wooden block.

Otherwise, all species of dogwood are well hardy, so further precautions are not necessary.

Which Location is Suitable for Dogwood?

In the majority of cases, the manifold dogwood species and varieties favor a sunny to semi-shady location. In order to enjoy the lavish blooms in spring, the daily sun yield should be at least 4 hours.

The Cornus shrub beauties are largely unanimous in terms of soil conditions. The focus is on a slightly acidic to neutral pH of 5.5 to 7.0, followed by a nutrient-rich, loamy-sandy, fresh-moist structure.

The Right Planting Distance for Dogwoods

The species of dogwood you choose will dictate the ideal planting distance. For your guidance, we have compiled reasonable values for popular dogwoods:

Canadian dwarf cornel (Cornus canadensis): 8-12 inches (20-30 cm)
White dogwood (Cornus alba): 3-4 ft (1-1.2 m)
Japanese Cornelian cherry (Cornus officinalis): 10-13 ft (3-4 m)

Cultivated as a hedge, an arrangement of 1 plant per 3 ft has proven itself in practice for the dogwoods suitable for this. Adjust the precise distance to the planned extent of pruning.

What Soil Does Dogwood Need?

In this question, all species of dogwoods conform. A slightly acidic to neutral soil forms the most important premise for vital, flower-rich growth.

In addition, the soil should be rich in nutrients, humic-loose, loamy-sandy, and fresh-moist. Good drainage is essential, as waterlogging will reliably kill any dogwood.

When is Flowering Time for Dogwood?

The lavish abundance of blossoms takes our breath away every year from April until June. Furious inflorescences in panicle or umbel form unfold on the still leafless branches, exuding a beguiling fragrance.

The color spectrum ranges from elegant white to enchanting shades of red to bright yellow, on black, fiery red, deep brown, or green shoots.

Pruning Dogwoods Properly

Some of the most beautiful dogwoods grow very slowly and naturally develop a harmonious silhouette that requires no pruning.

Magnificent specimens, such as the flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) should nevertheless be thoroughly thinned out after flowering. Remove all loose wood at the base as well as rubbing or inward branches.

In contrast, fast-growing species, such as white dogwood (Cornus alba), achieve their optimum only if all shoots are cut back to 12 inches (30 cm) during the deciduous winter period.

Compact ornamental shrubs for small gardens and containers, such as the common dogwood (Cornus sanguinea), should be pruned after flowering and thinned out carefully.

Watering Dogwood

Water dogwood in beds and containers whenever the surface of the soil has dried. Perfect water balance is based on constant soil moisture with intermittent drying periods.

Drought stress and waterlogging have equally damaging effects, up to the death of the woody plant. It is advantageous to use predominantly soft watering to accommodate the desire for slightly acidic soil.

Fertilizing Dogwood Properly

If the dogwood thrives in the bed, it gratefully accepts a portion of leaf compost with horn shavings in the fall.

At the beginning of the flowering season, the woody plant should receive a top-up to give the floral splendor even more momentum.

In the tub, pamper the ornamental shrub with a liquid fertilizer every 4 weeks from March to August.


Among the most beautiful species of dogwoods, flowering dogwoods (Cornus florida), a life-threatening plant disease called anthracnose has been rampant in recent years.

Specifically, it is a persistent vascular fungus that spreads through the veins of the plant. As a symptom, the individual leaves initially wilt.

As it progresses, the entire foliage dies and the shrub is deprived of its livelihood. therefore, you should immediately cut off all affected shoots and also dispose of the foliage that has fallen to the ground.

A good precaution is to prevent drought stress by watering and mulching regularly. Make sure to avoid injuries to the root disc as well as to the base of the trunk, so that the cunning fungal spores do not find access to the plant.

Overwintering Dogwoods

An adult dogwood is completely hardy. Only in the year of planting, as well as in pot culture, do we still recommend light winter protection.

To do so, cover the root disc with a thick layer of leaves or bark mulch. The still tender branches should receive a hood of breathable material. Give containers a winter coat of bubble wrap, fleece, or jute ribbons and slide a block of wood underneath.

Propagating Dogwoods

You can propagate the vast majority of dogwoods on your own. Optionally, cut head cuttings in April/May, pull saplings to the ground in the summer, or use cuttings in the fall to root them in pots.

If you are not afraid of the horticultural challenge, you could even take the cold germinating seeds from the fruits for sowing. In this case, a long thread of patience is required, because a seedling-propagated dogwood will not bloom for the first time for at least 3 to 5 years.

An exception is the grafted flowering dogwood (Cornus florida). Their propagation belongs in the expert hands of the master gardener.

Transplanting Dogwood Properly

Within the first 5 years of standing, transplanting does not cause any problems for the dogwood. The best time for a change of location is early spring and autumn.

It is important to note that you should maintain the previous planting depth as closely as possible and water abundantly and regularly during the following weeks.

You should not subject an older dogwood to this strain, though, as root establishment in the new location cannot be guaranteed.

Dogwood in a Pot

For at least a few years, dogwoods in large pots set the scene on balconies and patios. Choose a container with a minimum volume of 5-8 gallons (20-30 liters).

As a substrate, we recommend a mix of potting soil, leaf compost, horn shavings, and lava granules or perlite. A water-bearing layer of inorganic material prevents harmful waterlogging at the bottom of the pot.

Please keep in mind that in the pot the water requirements are higher than in the garden soil. Therefore, check every 1-2 days whether the substrate has dried up in order to water in time.

From March to August, administer a liquid fertilizer to your potted dogwood every 4 weeks. Before the first frost, the substrate should receive a thick layer of foliage. Furthermore, wrap the pot with bubble wrap to prevent the root ball from freezing through.

Is Dogwood Poisonous?

Nearly all members of the broad dogwood genus should be treated with caution. Poisonous substances may be present in the leaves and flowers as well as the fruits.

In addition, the foliage and berries are often covered with tiny hairs that can cause skin allergies on contact.

Nevertheless, there are exceptions, such as the Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas), which gives us small, edible cherries in the fall. Therefore, if you are looking for a dogwood shrub for the family garden, ask precisely at the nursery when purchasing it.

For the sake of caution, we recommend that you equip yourself with protective gloves for all planting and maintenance work.

Beautiful Varieties

White dogwood ‘Elegantissima’ (Cornus alba): A magnificent dogwood shrub with yellow and white variegated leaves, white flowers, and red winter shoots. The growth height is 6-10 ft (2-3 m).
American dogwood ‘Flaviramea’ (Cornus sericea): A yellowwood dogwood that features yellow twigs, white flowers, white fruit, and a bushy habit. The growth height is 10-16 ft (3-5 m).
Japanese Cornelian cherry (Cornus officinalis): Scores with bright yellow flowers, gorgeous fall foliage, and edible fruit. The growth height is 16-23 ft (5-7 m).
Chinese dogwood ‘Queen of Clubs’ (Cornus kousa): A premium dogwood with cross-shaped, 4 inches (10 cm), creamy-white flowers from May to June. The height of growth is 6-10 ft (2-3 m).
Chinese dogwood ‘Milky Way’ (Cornus kousa): A Chinese dogwood with profuse spring blooms and slightly overhanging branches. The growth height is 10-11 ft (3-3.5 m).
Flowering dogwood ‘Cherokee Chief’ (Cornus florida): A flowering dogwood that delights us with huge, pink cupped flowers. The height of growth is 13-20 ft (4-6 m).
Flowering dogwood ‘Pluribracteata’ (Cornus florida): A picturesque ornamental shrub, incredibly robust, wintergreen and with double, white flowers. The growth height is 13-20 ft (4-6 m).
Common dogwood ‘Midwinter Fire’ (Cornus sanguinea): Captivates with a winter firework of colors with red-yellow leaves on red wood. The height of growth is 6-7 ft (2-2.5 m).
Wedding cake tree ‘Variegata’ (Cornus controversa): A pagoda-like dogwood that delights with tiered growth and white variegated leaves that turn red in fall. The growth height is 13-20 ft (4-6 m).
Canadian dogwood (Cornus canadensis): A flowery ground cover with white cup flowers and spherical, red fruits. The growth height is only 4-8 inches (10-20 cm).