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Options for Dogwood Tree Plantings
Clark MacCallister

When most people think of dogwood trees, the first thing that comes to mind is usually our native flowering dogwood (Cornus florida). This small tree is a landscape favorite because of its beautiful white flowers and red berries, as well as its easy-to-grow nature.

However, I have been seeing less of these planted. Flowering dogwoods like shady conditions, well-drained soil and acidic soils. Unfortunately, I often see them placed in sunny front yards with heavy clay soils. These conditions lead to scraggly-looking trees with curled, purple leaves and a generally unsightly-looking appearance.

The native flowering dogwood is not our only option for dogwood trees in the home landscape. Several other species are available with their own unique features.

One interesting dogwood species is the kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa). This tree is known for its beautiful white flowers in spring and edible raspberry-like fruit in the fall. It is considered a slow to moderate grower, reaching 10 feet tall in around 15 years. Kousa dogwoods are also prized for the winter interest created by their bark. The “exfoliating nature” of the bark resembles jigsaw puzzle pieces, and trees should be properly pruned up to accentuate this feature.

The kousa dogwood tolerates sunny conditions better than flowering dogwoods. I would not recommend it be placed in a location that receives all-day sun, but it would prefer some morning sun and afternoon shade. It is also known to be more resistant to dogwood anthracnose disease, which can be a big problem in flowering dogwoods.

Another alternative dogwood species is the Empress of China dogwood (Cornus augustata ‘Elsbry’). This dogwood is unique in that it is an evergreen species. It is known to be a prolific bloomer in early summer, with its large white flowers nearly blocking out the green foliage. The glossy green leaves are also different from most common dogwood species. The Empress dogwood also produces fruit in the fall similar to that of the kousa dogwood, making it a favorite for attracting birds and other wildlife.

The Empress of China dogwood can tolerate the heat and humidity of a Georgia summer. As with the kousa dogwood, it prefers morning sun coupled with protection from the scorching afternoon sun. At a mature height and spread of 18 feet by 15 feet, this small tree makes a great border outline species or a specimen tree by a patio or deck. However, beware of the dropping fruit making a mess over hard surfaces.

One of the dogwood species I encounter the least is the Cornelian cherry dogwood (Cornus mas). This is a slow-growing deciduous plant, usually in the form of a small tree or multi-stemmed shrub. Cornelian cherry dogwoods display yellow flowers in the spring before the leaves arrive. They also produce bright red fruit in the summer. The fruit is edible, but is acidic and commonly used in preservatives. The berries also help to attract many bird species.

The Cornelian cherry dogwood is known to sucker from the base, making it a good candidate for a border specimen plant. They are often gown as a large potted plant. ‘Spring Glow’ is a variety recommended for our area. It grows 25 feet tall and 20 feet wide and has good disease resistance.

If you are interested in planting a dogwood species on your property this fall, check out some of the unique alternatives to the flowering dogwood.