How to Manage and ID Flowering Dogwood

Flowering Dogwood
Derek Ramsey/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.5

Flowering Dogwood grows 20 to 35 feet tall and spreads 25 to 30 feet. It can be trained with one central trunk or as a multi-trunked tree. The flowers consist of four bracts below the small head of yellow flowers. The bracts may be pink or red depending on cultivar but the species color is white. Fall leaf color on most sun grown plants will be red to maroon. The bright red fruits are often eaten by birds. Fall leaf color of Dogwood is more vivid in USDA hardiness zones: 5 through 8A.


Scientific name: Cornus florida
Pronunciation: KOR-nus FLOR-ih-duh
Common name(s): Flowering Dogwood
Family: Cornaceae
USDA hardiness zones:: 5 through 9A
Origin: Native to North America
Uses: Wide tree lawns; medium-sized tree lawns; near a deck or patio; screen; shade tree; narrow tree lawns; specimen
Availability: Generally available in many areas within its hardiness range.

Popular Cultivars:

Several of the cultivars listed are not readily available. Pink-flowering cultivars grow poorly in USDA hardiness zones 8 and 9. ‘Apple Blossom’ - pink bracts; ‘Cherokee Chief’ - red bracts; ‘Cherokee Princess’ - white bracts; ‘Cloud 9’ - white bracts, flowers young; ‘Fastigiata’ - upright growth while young, spreading with age; ‘First Lady’ - leaves variegated with yellow turning red and maroon in the fall; ‘Gigantea’ - bracts six inches from tip of one bract to tip of opposite bract.

More Cultivars:

'Magnifica' - bracts rounded, four-inch-diameter pairs of bracts; 'Multibracteata' - double flowers; 'New Hampshire' - flower buds cold hardy; 'Pendula' - weeping or drooping branches; 'Plena' - double flowers; var. rubra - pink bracts; 'Springtime' - bracts white, large, blooms at an early age; 'Sunset' - supposedly resistant to anthracnose; 'Sweetwater Red' - bracts red; 'Weaver's White' - large white flowers, adapted to the south; 'Welchii' - leaves variegated with yellow and red.


Height: 20 to 30 feet
Spread: 25 to 30 feet
Crown uniformity: Symmetrical canopy with a regular (or smooth) outline, and individuals have more or less identical crown forms
Crown shape: round
Crown density: moderate

Trunk and Branches:

Trunk/bark/branches: Droop as the tree grows, and will require pruning for vehicular or pedestrian clearance beneath the canopy; routinely grown with, or trainable to be grown with, multiple trunks; not particularly showy; tree wants to grow with several trunks but can be trained to grow with a single trunk.
Pruning requirement: Needs little pruning to develop a strong structure
Breakage: resistant
Current year twig color: green
Current year twig thickness: medium


Leaf arrangement: opposite/subopposite
Leaf type: simple
Leaf margin: entire
Leaf shape: ovate
Leaf venation: bowed; pinnate
Leaf type and persistence: deciduous
Leaf blade length: 4 to 8 inches; 2 to 4 inches
Leaf color: green
Fall color: red
Fall characteristic: showy


Flower color: Bracts are white, actual flower is yellow
Flower characteristics: Spring flowering; very showy
The "showy" flowers are, in fact, bracts that subtend a boss of 20 to 30 real flowers each of which are less than one-quarter inch in size. The actual flowers of Cornus florida are not white.


Light requirement: Tree grows in part shade/part sun; tree grows in the shade; tree grows in full sun
Soil tolerances: clay; loam; sand; slightly alkaline; acidic; well-drained.
Drought tolerance: moderate
Aerosol salt tolerance: low
Soil salt tolerance: poor

In Depth:

Dogwood branches on the lower half of the crown grow horizontally, those in the upper half are more upright. In time, this can lend a strikingly horizontal impact to the landscape, particularly if some branches are thinned to open up the crown. Lower branches left on the trunk will droop to the ground, creating a wonderful landscape feature.

Dogwood is not suited for parking lot planting but can be grown in a wide street median, if provided with less than full-day sun and irrigation. Dogwood is a standard tree in many gardens where it is used by the patio for light shade, in the shrub border to add spring and fall color or as a specimen in the lawn or groundcover bed. It can be grown in sun or shade but shaded trees will be less dense, grow more quickly and taller, have poor fall color, and less flowers. Trees prefer part shade (preferably in the afternoon) in the southern end of its range. Many nurseries grow the trees in full sun, but they are irrigated regularly.

Flowering Dogwood prefers a deep, rich, well-drained, sandy or clay soil and has a moderately long life. It is not recommended in the New Orleans area and other heavy, wet soils unless it is grown on a raised bed to keep roots on the dry side. The roots will rot in soils without adequate drainage.