We know spring has arrived in the south when dogwood trees bloom. The unique, four-petal blooms in white, pink or red have a rich history, bloom around Easter every year and tell a story of the cross of Jesus. The spring blooms, easy-care growth habits during the summer, brilliant fall foliage and clusters of red berries for early winter bird food make it easy to fall in love with dogwood trees.
Dogwoods (Cornus florida) are ‘understory’ trees, meaning they prefer to grow in the shade of a larger tree, but they will grow in any semi-shaded location. Choose a location that is under a large growing shade tree, like an oak or maple, or on the north or east side of a structure so the dogwood will be shaded from the hot afternoon sun during the summer months. The tree will still need 4-6 hours of direct or dappled sunlight each day to bloom, so it’s wise to observe potential planting locations for a few days to see how the sun hits the spot during various times of the day.
Soil and Food
Loose, fertile, well-draining soil that has been amended with compost prior to planting is ideal for this flowering tree. Dogwoods will not tolerate soggy soil, compacted clay and they don’t last long in drought conditions unless watered regularly.
The compost will provide immediately-accessible food and long-term food can be given by sprinkling a handful of 10-10-10 granulated fertilize around the tree’s drip line in early spring then once again in mid-summer or you can use tree food spikes.
Dig a hole that is twice as wide and twice as deep as the root ball or container. Back-fill half the planting hole with a mixture of removed soil and compost, then place root ball in center of hole. Pour in half a gallon of water, then finish filling the hole until it’s level with surrounding ground with more soil and compost mixture (top of root ball should be at ground level). Tap soil gently to ensure all roots are connected with the soil and slowly pour another half gallon of water on soil surface.
Place 3-4 inches of organic mulch around the base of the tree, keeping the mulch away from the tree’s trunk by a couple of inches. The mulch will help retain soil moisture, keep the soil cool and prevent competitive weeds from sprouting.
Dogwoods are small trees, reaching a mature size of 20 feet tall and equally as wide with an indeterminate growth pattern. Hardy in zones 5-8, flowers appear before leaves in early spring and produce clusters of green fruit (non-edible) that will turn deep red in the fall and remain on the tree after the leaves have fallen off. Birds and squirrels devour these berries quickly in late fall. Just as dogwood trees herald in spring time in the south, they also signal the approach of fall by being the first tree to change leaf color in the fall and putting on a spectacular show with pink, red and deep purple leaf colors.