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Pink Dogwood Trees: How to Grow Cornus Florida or "Flowering" Dogwoods

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Picture of the flower of pink dogwood trees.

Picture of the flower of pink dogwood trees (Cornus florida).

David Beaulieu

Botanical Classification for Pink Dogwood Trees:

The pink dogwood trees that I, myself grow are considered Cornus florida var. Rosea in plant taxonomy terms. Rubra may be a more popular pink-flowering C. florida variety than Rosea, however (see below).

Plant Type:

Pink flowering dogwoods are broadleaf, deciduous trees.

Characteristics:

With a common name like "flowering dogwood," it's no surprise that the various types of Cornus florida put on a terrific floral performance in the spring (although what appear to be four flower petals are actually bracts). Mine usually first bloom in late April (zone 5) and last for two or three weeks. Since the blooms appear before the leaves arrive, they have the stage all to themselves, so their beauty can be readily appreciated.

The blossoms are preceded by pincushion-shaped buds (whereas the buds on my Cornus kousa are pointy). The blooms start out more of a reddish before morphing into the pink color for which they are named.

Since the spring and summer foliage is nothing special, the next feature to anticipate is the berries (drupes, technically), which begin to ripen to a red color in late summer. The berries are smooth, in contrast to those on the Japanese types, which resemble raspberries. The fall foliage color is reddish-bronze to purple, meaning the trees will attract considerable interest in autumn (especially since the berry display adds to the foliage display). In winter their horizontal branching scheme gains prominence, unobscured as it is during this season by leaves (which have long since fallen).

The plants stand 15-25 feet tall with a similar or somewhat greater spread. The scaly bark is relatively distinctive and can be used, along with the branching pattern, to identify the genus even when no leaves, blooms or berries are present.

Planting Zones:

Cornus florida var. Rosea is listed for planting zones 5-9. The genus is native to Eastern North America.

Sun and Soil Conditions:

Grow in well-drained soil with a soil pH on the acidic side. Fertilize by working compost into the ground. Since Cornus florida is an understory tree in the wild, it may be best to grow it in partial shade in the landscape (particularly in hot climates), although some homeowners do grow pink dogwood trees in full sun.

Uses in Landscaping:

They are commonly grown as specimen trees, in which capacity they can attract quite a bit of attention both in the spring and fall seasons. Alternatively, because they are natural understory trees, there's also a place for them in woodland gardens.

Outstanding Features:

It is hard to pick just one. What you judge to be the outstanding feature of this plant may well depend on the season in which you are asked the question. All of the following attributes have their day:

  • Colorful blossoms
  • Bright red berries that wild birds will eat
  • Nice fall color
  • Interesting branching pattern

If I had to choose just one, it would have to be the flowers, simply because pink dogwood trees are most associated with spring -- when the blooms are the most prominent plant part.

Pruning and Other Care for Pink Dogwood Trees:

A few inches of mulch will do wonders to help the root system cope with the high temperatures of summer.

Since flowering dogwoods are valued for their horizontal branching patterns, it can be a shame to lose branches through storm damage. Such damage may disfigure your specimen, although the disfigurement may be only temporary in all but the most severe cases.

For example, I grow my Cornus florida var. Rosea under a large pine tree, and one year a big limb from the latter broke off and fell on my dogwood. A whole side of the top growth was sheared off in the accident. I cleaned up the damage through pruning as best I could, then waited. The wait was worth it, as I found that new growth eventually somewhat filled in the "hole" that resulted from the damage. Through judicious pruning to shape the tree, I should be able to restore it to a reasonable facsimile of its natural form over time.

But unless you experience the kind of damage that I just described above, you shouldn't have to prune your pink dogwood trees much. Prune off dead branches at any time. When else might you wish to prune your specimen? Well, when limbs cross and rub up against each other, you should prune to open up the canopy a bit. The best time for this pruning is late winter or early spring.

Anthracnose is known to pose a problem for Cornus florida in some regions; in these areas, it may be best to take the path of least resistance and simply plant another type of tree. Powdery mildew is another common problem.

What Types of Wildlife Do Pink Dogwood Trees Draw?:

The blooms of this plant draw butterflies. More notably, perhaps, its berries attract birds.

Other Types of Dogwoods:

Above I mentioned the Rubra variety, which may be more readily available as a pink dogwood tree than Rosea. The two varieties are quite similar in appearance and growing requirements. Missouri Botanical Garden (MBOT) lists this Missouri native as attaining a height of 15-30 feet, with a similar spread.

There are also pink Japanese dogwoods, for example, Cornus kousa 'Satomi.'

But if you don't have your heart set on pink flowers or on trees, per se, there are a great variety of other types of dogwoods that you can grow. I'll conclude my article by listing a few examples.

Cornus florida 'Cherokee Chief' is a red-flowering cultivar, otherwise similar to the pink flowering dogwood trees that I have been discussing.

What, you don't associate the color, yellow with dogwood trees? You're not alone. Whoever gave Cornus mas it's common name, "Cornelian cherry" didn't even want to admit it's a dogwood. In spring this plant bears small yellow flowers in clusters, yielding a display that one could term "fuzzy."

Some types of dogwoods are grown as much for their pretty leaves as for their flowers. For example, the following two types have variegated leaves:

  1. 'Wolf Eyes'
  2. 'Golden Shadows' pagoda dogwood

There also some shrubs commonly used in landscaping that are types of dogwoods, including:

  1. Red-twig dogwood
  2. Yellow-twig dogwood

Yes, Cornus is a fascinating and diverse genus. The various species within the genus present a plethora of possible uses. Learn how to exploit all this variety in my article on the benefits of dogwoods in your landscaping.

Want to learn about other types of Cornus? Please see my main article on the subject: Dogwoods

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