Dogwood Care and Maintenance: What Your Tree Needs To Thrive

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The dogwood tree is a cherished plant that holds a significant spot in the hearts of individuals who understand the significance of trees. Not only do trees provide shade and visual appeal, but they also hold great meanings in our lives.

With its stunning blooms that herald the arrival of spring and its vibrant foliage that lights up fall, the dogwood is a year-round spectacle of natural beauty.

So, how do you ensure that this arboreal gem continues to thrive year after year?

As understory trees, dogwoods prefer partial sun, but full sun can often be tolerated. They’ll thrive in moist, well-draining soil rich in nutrients. Water to keep the area consistently moist, use a balanced fertilizer in spring and prune only to remove dead or damaged wood.

Whether you’re considering planting a dogwood tree or already have one gracing your yard, the following sections will provide you with the knowledge and tools to ensure your tree’s health and longevity.

Key Takeaways

  • Dogwood trees thrive in partial shade to full sun and well-drained, organically rich soil and prefer consistent moisture.
  • Pruning should be done during the tree’s dormant period, focusing on removing dead or diseased branches and maintaining the tree’s shape.
  • Fertilization, preferably with a balanced slow-release granular fertilizer, should be done in early spring.
  • Common pests include dogwood borer, dogwood sawfly, and aphids. Common diseases include dogwood anthracnose, powdery mildew, and Septoria leaf spot.

In my comprehensive Dogwood Tree Guide, you’ll learn about the best varieties, pro care tips, problems to watch for, propagation methods, and much more. Don’t miss it!

Choosing the Right Location

The first step in ensuring the health of your dogwood tree is choosing the right location. This involves considering two key factors: sunlight requirements and soil conditions.

Sunlight Requirements

Dogwood trees thrive in locations that offer partial shade to full sun. While they can tolerate a range of light conditions, the ideal spot is one that offers morning sun with some afternoon shade.

This balance allows the tree to get the light it needs for photosynthesis without the risk of scorching or drying out in the intense afternoon sun.

When selecting your planting site, remember that in the wild, dogwoods are understory trees. This means they live in dappled sunlight. It’s ideal if you can mimic these conditions.

Soil Conditions & Drainage

Dogwoods prefer well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. They can tolerate a range of soil types, including clay, loam, and sandy soils as long as the drainage is good.

Poorly drained or waterlogged soil can lead to root rot and other diseases.

The soil pH should ideally be acidic to neutral (pH 6.0-7.0). If your soil is alkaline, you may need to amend it with sulfur or use specific fertilizers designed for acid-loving plants.

Watering & Moisture Management

Watering is a crucial aspect of dogwood tree care, and understanding the tree’s moisture preferences, the importance of mulch, and how watering needs change throughout the seasons will point you in the right direction.

Moisture Preferences

Dogwood trees prefer soil that is consistently moist but not waterlogged.

Overwatering can lead to root rot and other diseases, but underwatering can cause the tree to become stressed and more susceptible to pests and diseases.

Water deeply once a week during dry periods, ensuring the water reaches the deep roots.

The Importance of Mulch

Mulch plays a vital role in maintaining soil moisture, regulating soil temperature, and preventing weed growth.

A 2-3 inch layer of organic mulch, such as wood chips or shredded bark, around the base of the tree (but not touching the trunk) can help retain moisture, reduce water evaporation, and keep the roots cool during hot summer months.

Watering Throughout the Seasons

Watering needs change with the seasons. During the spring and summer, when the tree is actively growing, it will need more water.

In the fall and winter, you can reduce watering as the tree goes into dormancy.

However, it’s important to monitor soil moisture levels and adjust watering as needed, especially during periods of drought or excessive rainfall.

Pruning & Shaping

Pruning is an essential part of maintaining a healthy and aesthetically pleasing dogwood tree.

It involves knowing when and how to prune, understanding the goals of pruning, and being aware of certain cautions.

When & How To Prune

The best time to prune a dogwood tree is in late fall or winter when the tree is dormant. This minimizes stress and reduces the risk of disease transmission.

Pruning should start with removing any dead, diseased, or damaged branches (the 3 Ds). After that, you can prune for shape and size.

Always make clean cuts at a 45-degree angle just above a bud or branch.

Pruning Goals

The goal of pruning is to maintain the tree’s natural shape, promote healthy growth, and remove any potential hazards.

This includes removing crossing branches that could rub against each other and cause wounds and thinning out the canopy to allow for better air circulation and light penetration.


Never remove more than 25% of the tree’s branches in one year as this can stress the tree. Also, be sure to sterilize your pruning tools before and after use and ideally between cuts to prevent the spread of diseases.


Fertilization provides your dogwood tree with the nutrients it needs to grow strong and healthy. It involves selecting the right fertilizer and understanding the timing and frequency of application.

Selecting the Right Fertilizer

A balanced slow-release granular fertilizer with an N-P-K ratio of 10-10-10 or 14-14-14 is a good choice for dogwood trees.

These numbers represent the percentages of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), respectively.

  • Nitrogen promotes leafy growth.
  • Phosphorus supports root and flower development.
  • Potassium contributes to overall plant health.

I use this fertilizer for my dogwoods. The NPK is 4-3-4, which is a little low, but since the soil around my trees is fairly rich and supplemented with compost, this formulation is perfect.

Timing & Frequency

The best time to fertilize dogwood trees is in the early spring just before new growth begins. A single annual application is usually sufficient.

However, if your soil is poor, a second application in early summer can be beneficial. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for application rates.

White flowers of a dogwood tree in full bloom against a bright blue sky.

Pests & Diseases

Like all trees, dogwoods can be affected by pests and diseases. Effective management involves identifying common pests and diseases, understanding their treatment, and implementing preventative measures.

Common Pests

Dogwood trees can be affected by several pests, but some of the most common include the dogwood borer, dogwood sawfly, and aphids.

  • The dogwood borer is a small moth whose larvae burrow into the trunk of the tree, causing significant damage. Signs of infestation include wilting, yellowing leaves, and the presence of a jelly-like substance around the base of the tree.
  • Dogwood sawfly larvae feed on the leaves of the tree, and heavy infestations can defoliate a tree. They are easily identifiable as they are covered in a white, powdery substance.
  • Aphids are small, soft-bodied insects that suck the sap from dogwood trees. They can cause the leaves to curl and may result in stunted growth. A clear sign of aphid infestation is the presence of a sticky substance, known as honeydew, on the leaves or beneath the tree.

Treatment for these pests involves a combination of cultural, biological, and chemical control methods.

Regular inspection of your tree can help detect these pests early, and removing infested branches can help prevent the spread.

Beneficial insects, such as ladybugs and lacewings, can help control aphid populations. In severe cases, the use of a suitable insecticide may be necessary.

Common Diseases

Dogwood trees can be affected by several diseases, including dogwood anthracnose, powdery mildew, and Septoria leaf spot.

  • Dogwood anthracnose is a fungal disease that can cause significant damage to dogwoods. Symptoms include tan spots on the leaves, stem cankers, and in severe cases, death of the tree. This disease can be managed by pruning infected branches and applying a suitable fungicide.
  • Powdery mildew is another fungal disease that appears as a white, powdery substance on the leaves. It can cause the leaves to curl and may result in premature leaf drop. This disease can be managed by improving air circulation around the tree and applying a suitable fungicide.
  • Septoria leaf spot is a fungal disease that causes small, purple-bordered spots on the leaves. It can result in premature leaf drop but is generally less harmful than other diseases. This disease can be managed by removing and disposing of infected leaves and applying a suitable fungicide.

Preventative Measures

Prevention is always better than cure when it comes to pests and diseases.

Regular inspection of your tree can help detect problems early, and maintaining good tree health can make your tree less susceptible to pests and diseases.

This includes proper watering, fertilization, and pruning practices. In addition, using disease-resistant varieties can help reduce the risk of disease.

A white flowering dogwood tree in full bloom.


Propagation is the process of creating new plants. Dogwood trees can be propagated through cuttings, seeds, and a method known as air layering.

Cuttings in Soil or Water

Cuttings are a common method of propagation for many plants, including dogwood trees. This involves taking a cutting from a healthy tree, ideally, new growth that is about 6-8 inches long.

The cutting should be taken in the late spring or early summer, and the bottom leaves should be removed.

The cutting can then be placed in a container with water or planted directly into a pot with well-draining soil.

If planting in soil, it can be beneficial to dip the cut end of the cutting in a rooting hormone (find it here) before planting.

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Growing From Seed

Dogwood trees can also be propagated from seed. This involves collecting seeds from ripe fruit in the fall and then stratifying them, which means giving them a period of cold treatment to break dormancy.

The seeds can then be sown in a well-draining soil mix in the spring.

It’s important to note that seed propagation can be a lengthy process, as dogwood seeds may take several months to germinate, and the resulting trees may take many years to reach maturity.

Air Layering

Air layering is another method of propagation that can be used for dogwood trees.

This method involves making a cut on a branch of the tree, and then wrapping the cut area with sphagnum moss and plastic wrap to encourage roots to form.

Once roots have formed, the branch can be cut off and planted as a new tree.

This method can be more successful than cuttings or seeds for some varieties of dogwood, and it has the advantage of producing a larger plant more quickly.

Closing Thoughts

Dogwood trees are a beautiful addition to any landscape with their showy spring flowers, attractive summer foliage, and rich fall color.

However, they require specific care to thrive. Understanding their needs for light, water, pruning, fertilization, and pest and disease management is key to maintaining healthy dogwood trees.

Remember that every tree is unique and may not follow the exact guidelines outlined here. Always observe your tree’s specific responses to care, and adjust your practices as needed. Happy gardening!