Dogwood vs. Magnolia | Major Differences To Be Aware Of

When discussing ornamental trees, the names dogwood and magnolia often come up. They are both beloved for their gorgeous blooms and enduring appeal, yet each brings its own unique allure to any outdoor environment.

If you find yourself torn between these two botanical beauties, you’re not alone. You’ll want to carefully consider their appearance, size, care needs, potential issues, and the overall feel or design you want for your yard.

Are magnolia trees easier to care for than dogwoods? Generally, magnolias are considered easier to care for than dogwoods. They are less susceptible to pests and diseases and can tolerate a wider range of soil conditions. However, the care involved depends on the specific variety and growing conditions.

The following comprehensive comparative guide will shed light on the major differences between dogwoods and magnolias, helping you make an informed decision for your garden.

Key Takeaways

  • Dogwoods are generally small with a slow growth rate and have brilliant fall color and attractive berries. Magnolias are larger and grow faster with large, showy, often fragrant flowers and glossy leaves.
  • Both trees prefer full sun to part shade and well-drained soil, but dogwoods prefer slightly acidic soil while magnolias can tolerate a wider pH range.
  • Dogwoods are hardy in USDA Zones 5-9, while magnolias can range from Zones 4-9.
  • Dogwoods require consistent moisture and benefit from a balanced fertilizer applied in early spring and late summer. Magnolias can tolerate some drought and generally require less fertilization.
  • Both trees require minimal pruning and fall cleanup to prevent the overwintering of pests and diseases.

Did you know that there are lots of different dogwood varieties? Discover some of the most popular in my article, Best Dogwood Varieties.

Dogwood vs. Magnolia at a Glance

Botanical NameCornus spp.Magnolia spp.
Grow Zones3-9 (varies by species)4-9 (varies by species)
Growth RateSlow to mediumMedium to fast
Average Size10-25 feet tall and wide15-80 feet tall, 10-40 feet wide (varies by species)
Light RequirementsFull sun to part shadeFull sun to part shade
Watering NeedsModerateModerate
FloweringYes, in springYes, in spring or summer (varies by species)
LeavesDeciduous, with some species offering brilliant fall colorMostly evergreen, with some deciduous species
Key FeaturesFour-petaled flowers, red or purple fall color, attractive barkLarge, fragrant flowers, glossy leaves, attractive seed cones

Dogwood vs. Magnolia – Features

When choosing between dogwood and magnolia, understanding their distinct features can help you make an informed decision. Both trees offer unique characteristics that contribute to their appeal.

Tree Size and Shape

Dogwoods are generally small to medium-sized trees, typically reaching heights of 10-25 feet, depending on the species.

They often have a rounded or umbrella-like shape, with branches that spread wide, creating a canopy that’s as broad as the tree is tall.

This makes dogwoods an excellent choice for small gardens or areas where space is limited.

Magnolias vary greatly in size and shape, depending on the species.

Some, like the Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora), can grow into large, majestic trees, reaching heights of up to 80 feet.

Others, like the Star magnolia (Magnolia stellata), are more compact and shrub-like, making them suitable for smaller landscapes.

The shape of magnolias can range from pyramidal to rounded or spreading.


Dogwood leaves are deciduous and typically have an elliptical shape with smooth edges.

They are dark green in summer and turn to brilliant shades of red or purple in fall, adding a splash of color to the landscape.

Some species, like the Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa), also have a beautiful mottled or marbled appearance to their leaves.

Magnolia leaves are generally larger and glossier than dogwood leaves. Many magnolia species are evergreen, providing year-round interest.

The leaves are typically dark green on top and lighter underneath, and some species, like the Southern magnolia, have a leathery texture.

Deciduous magnolias, like the Saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana), also offer beautiful fall colors.

Flowers & Ornamental Appeal

Both dogwoods and magnolias are renowned for their beautiful flowers, but they each offer a unique display.

Dogwood flowers are small and usually white or pink, depending on the species.

They are arranged in clusters and surrounded by four large, petal-like bracts, giving the appearance of a single, large flower.

The flowering period is in spring, and the blooms are often followed by clusters of red or blue berries, adding to the tree’s ornamental appeal.

A single white flower of the dogwood tree up close.

Magnolia flowers are large, showy, and often fragrant. They come in a variety of colors, including white, pink, purple, and yellow, depending on the species.

The flowers can be cup-shaped or star-shaped and are often among the first to appear in spring, providing a spectacular display.

Some species, like the Southern magnolia, continue to produce flowers sporadically throughout the summer.

A single white flower of the magnolia tree up close.


The bark of dogwoods and magnolias also contributes to their ornamental appeal, especially in winter when the leaves have fallen.

Dogwood bark is typically gray and smooth in young trees, becoming rough and blocky as the tree matures.

Some species, like the Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), have a distinctive “alligator skin” appearance to their bark, adding interest to the winter landscape.

Magnolia bark is smooth and gray in most species with the bark of older trees often developing furrows or scales.

The bark of some species, like the Cucumber tree (Magnolia acuminata), can peel in thin layers, revealing a lighter color underneath.

Growth Rate & Habits

Dogwoods generally have a slow to medium growth rate, adding about 1-2 feet of growth per year.

They have a broad, spreading habit with branches that often extend all the way to the ground. This growth habit makes dogwoods excellent as specimen trees or for creating a naturalized woodland garden.

Magnolias, on the other hand, have a medium to fast growth rate, depending on the species. They can add 2-3 feet or more of growth per year.

The growth habit of magnolias can vary from upright to spreading, and some species, like the Southern magnolia, can develop a dense, pyramidal shape.

Fall Foliage

Fall foliage is another feature where dogwoods and magnolias differ significantly.

Dogwoods are known for their spectacular fall color. The leaves turn from their summer green to brilliant shades of red, purple, or orange, creating a stunning display.

This fall color, combined with the red or blue berries that many species produce, makes dogwoods a standout in the autumn landscape.

Magnolias, especially the evergreen species, do not offer the same kind of fall color. The leaves of evergreen magnolias remain green throughout the year.

However, deciduous magnolias can provide some fall color with leaves turning yellow or brown before they drop.

Dogwood vs. Magnolia – Growing Requirements

Both dogwoods and magnolias have specific growing requirements that can influence their health and appearance.

Light Preferences

Dogwoods prefer full sun to partial shade. While they can tolerate a fair amount of shade, they will produce more flowers and have better fall color if they receive at least a few hours of direct sunlight each day.

Magnolias also prefer full sun to part shade. However, some species, like the Southern magnolia, can tolerate full sun even in hot climates.

Deciduous magnolias will produce the most flowers if planted in a location with full sun.

Soil Type and pH Requirements

Dogwoods prefer well-drained soil and can tolerate a range of soil types, including clay, loam, and sand. They prefer slightly acidic soil with a pH of 6.0-7.0.

Magnolias are adaptable to different soil types, but they prefer rich, well-drained soil. They can tolerate slightly acidic to neutral pH with a range of 5.5-7.0.

Cold Hardiness and Adaptability

The cold hardiness of dogwoods and magnolias depends on the species. Most dogwoods are hardy in Grow Zones 5-9 while magnolias can range from Zones 4-9.

Both trees can adapt to the conditions within their Hardiness Zones, but they may require some protection in the colder parts of their range.

Dogwood vs. Magnolia – Maintenance & Care

While both dogwoods and magnolias require some care to maintain their health and appearance, their needs can differ.

Watering Needs

Dogwoods prefer consistently moist soil, but they don’t like to be waterlogged. During dry periods, they may require supplemental watering. A layer of mulch can help retain soil moisture.

Magnolias also prefer moist, well-drained soil. They can tolerate some drought once established, but young trees or those grown in hot climates may require regular watering.


Dogwoods benefit from a balanced fertilizer like this one, applied in early spring. They can also benefit from an additional application of a high-phosphorus fertilizer in late summer to promote flowering.

Magnolias generally require less fertilization. A slow-release, balanced fertilizer applied in early spring should be sufficient for most trees.


Dogwoods require minimal pruning, mostly to remove dead or diseased wood and to shape the tree. The best time to prune is in late winter or early spring before new growth begins.

Magnolias also require little pruning. If necessary, prune in late winter or early spring, but be aware that pruning can reduce the following year’s flowers.

Pests and Diseases

Dogwoods can be susceptible to a number of pests and diseases, including dogwood anthracnose, dogwood borer, and powdery mildew.

Regular inspection and prompt treatment can help keep these problems in check.

Magnolias are generally more resistant to pests and diseases, but they can be affected by scale insects, magnolia weevils, and fungal diseases like leaf spot.

Fall Cleanup

Fall cleanup is important for both dogwoods and magnolias to prevent the overwintering of pests and diseases. Rake up and dispose of fallen leaves and other debris from under the tree.

Dogwood vs. Magnolia – Landscape Uses

Dogwoods and magnolias each bring their unique charm to the landscape.

Dogwoods, with their broad, spreading habit and brilliant fall color, are excellent as specimen trees, in borders, or for creating a naturalized woodland garden.

Their small to medium size makes them suitable for small gardens or areas where space is limited.

Magnolias, with their large, showy flowers and glossy leaves, make a bold statement in the landscape.

They can be used as specimen trees, in borders, or as part of a mixed shrubbery design. Larger species like the Southern magnolia can also be used as privacy screens or windbreaks.

Popular Varieties

There are many popular varieties of both dogwoods and magnolias, each with its unique characteristics.

Dogwood varieties include the Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), with its white or pink flowers; the Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa), known for its resistance to diseases; and the Red Twig dogwood (Cornus sericea), valued for its red winter stems.

Magnolia varieties include the Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora), known for its large, fragrant flowers and evergreen leaves; the Star magnolia (Magnolia stellata), with its star-shaped flowers; and the Saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana), admired for its large, cup-shaped flowers.

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Related Questions:

Is Magnolia a Messy Tree?

Magnolias can be considered messy trees due to the large leaves and flower petals they drop, which can create considerable cleanup.

The seed pods of some species can also be messy when they fall.

What Is the Prettiest Dogwood Tree?

Beauty is subjective, and the “prettiest” dogwood can depend on personal preference. However, the Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) is often considered one of the most beautiful due to its large, showy flowers.

Which Tree Is Right for You?

Choosing between a dogwood and a magnolia depends on your personal preferences and the specific conditions of your garden, but both trees offer unique features and can add beauty to your landscape.

Consider factors like size, growth rate, maintenance needs, and ornamental features when making your decision.

Still not certain what the right tree for your landscape is? Expand your options by reading these articles next: