Pagoda Dogwood: Care & Growing Guide for Cornus alternifolia

If you are looking for a petite tree or shrub that flourishes in shaded spots and showcases diverse hues throughout the year, the Pagoda dogwood is a fantastic option.

Its name reflects its tiered canopy that is reminiscent of a pagoda. 

The Pagoda dogwood is a fast-growing tree for its size. In the right conditions, you can expect it to grow 12 and 24 inches a year. This requires loamy and acidic soil, filtered light, and cool summer temperatures. Pests, diseases, and unsuitable growing conditions can impact that growth rate.

While its compact size and relative resistance to many common dogwood diseases make the Pagoda a favorite among gardeners and landscapers, there are still some aspects that you should be aware of.

Read more to find out how to grow and care for this showy and shade-loving tree.

Be sure to explore the most popular dogwood species and cultivars in my article, The Best Dogwood Varieties.

Pagoda Dogwood

Whether you call it a shrub or a small tree, the Pagoda dogwood can be the focal point in any landscape regardless of its small size. Here are quick facts about the tree.

Botanical nameCornus alternifolia
Mature height15-25 feet tall
Mature width12-32 feet wide
Growth rate24 inches a year
Light preferencesFull sun to partial shade
Ideal soilLoamy, acidic, and well-draining
Watering needs1 inch of water a week
Bloom timeSpring
Bloom color & fragranceYellow and white
Fall foliageReddish-purple

General Appearance

The most striking aspect of the Pagoda dogwood tree’s appearance is its layered canopy. It looks like tiers of branches stacked on top of each other.

In the spring, the leaves start as reddish-copper and then turn green quickly as spring turns into summer. In the fall, the leaves change back to reddish-purple.

The flowers are white with a hint of yellow and grow in small flat clusters. As for the berries, they turn dark blue when they ripen in the fall.

Seasonal Color

Although the white flowers add some color to the tree, they don’t last more than a few weeks. The leaves are what really give the tree its ornamental value as they change color according to the seasons.

In the early spring, they’re reddish-purple, in the summer they are bright green, and they finally turn reddish-copper in the fall.

The berries start as green in the summer and then turn dark before becoming bluish-black in the fall.

Growth Rate & Mature Size

The Pagoda dogwood tree is a small size tree that averages 15 to 25 feet tall at maturity.

As a small tree, it has a fast growth rate and can grow from 12 to 24 inches a year depending on the growing conditions. 


The Pagoda dogwood tree blooms in the late spring long after the leaves have fully matured. The flowers are flattened and white and grow in small clusters that stick out of the green foliage.

Once the small flowers are pollinated, they fade, and small berries develop. 

Fall Foliage

In the fall, the leaves of the Pagoda dogwood revert back to the early colors of the spring. They turn from green to reddish-copper or reddish-purple.

Additionally, the ripe berries turn bluish–black. Overall, the Pagoda dogwood becomes a festival of bright colors for a few weeks every autumn.


This species of dogwood is hardy in Grow Zones 3 to 7. The tree has little tolerance for hot and humid climates and doesn’t like direct exposure to sunlight in the summer.

Pagoda Dogwood Growing Conditions

Like many other ornamental trees, the Pagoda dogwood needs good growing conditions to give it a good start and ensure that it establishes well.

Once the tree establishes, it will become somewhat self-sufficient, which means that you have to work less to keep it happy and thriving.

However, you first need to make sure that you provide the following prerequisites.

Grow Zones

The Pagoda dogwood needs cold to cool weather to grow and thrive. It’s recommended to plant the tree in Hardiness Zones 3 to 7.

In Zones 6 and 7, you’ll need to protect the tree against direct exposure to the full sun in the summer.

Sun Requirements

In its natural environment, the Pagoda dogwood usually grows under large trees. This exposes the tree to dappled light.

To mimic natural conditions, choose a spot in the shade of a taller tree that filters the light, or you can plant it in a spot facing north where the tree only gets a few hours of sunlight in the morning.

In cooler Zones, the tree can tolerate more direct sunlight.

Soil Preferences

As with many other trees, the soil should be loamy and quick to drain.

If the soil in the garden is clay, the tree will have a slow growth rate, and you will need to add coarse sand and/or organic matter to improve the soil texture and draining.

If it’s too sandy, add silt to increase water retention. Also, check the pH levels regularly to make sure that the soil is acidic or slightly acidic. Neither neutral nor alkaline soil is good for the Pagoda dogwood.

Pagoda Dogwood Maintenance and Care

For a small tree that is more of a shrub, really, the Pagoda dogwood has a long life span that exceeds 100 years. That implies that this dogwood is hardy to various types of soils and growing conditions.

However, to keep your Pagoda dogwood in good shape with lush foliage and abundant berries, you’ll need to pay attention to the following maintenance and care aspects.


A young Pagoda dogwood tree needs more water than an established one. Until the root system develops fully, the tree will rely on the water coming from the surface of the soil.

Give the tree between 1 and 1 1/2 inches of water a week, and apply mulch to help with moisture retention. Once the tree matures, cut back to 1 inch of water a week, remembering to factor in rainfall received.


If the tree is growing in fertile soil, then you shouldn’t need to fertilize the tree. However, an application of organic compost early in the spring will improve the flowering, density of foliage, and berry production.

Work the compost into the top 5 inches of the soil, and then water immediately.

Usually, the Pagoda dogwood won’t need any other fertilization unless the soil is exceptionally poor. In that case, fertilize once in the early spring with a balanced, slow-release blend like this one.

Espoma Organic Holly-Tone 4-3-4 Plant Food, 4lbs

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The Pagoda dogwood is a tidy tree where each tier of the canopy stacks neatly on top of the one below it. Rarely will you see a wayward branch or an awry twig.

However, if you do like to give the tree a helping hand to maintain its neat appearance, then do a light pruning late in the winter.

Pests & Diseases 

When it comes to diseases, the Pagoda dogwood is prone to the same diseases that attack the rest of the dogwood species.

These include leaf blight, twig blight, leaf spot, canker, anthracnose, and root rot. Apply fungicide when you see symptoms of any of these diseases.

Pests such as leaf miners, scale, aphids, and borers will also prey on the tree and leave a trail of destruction in their wake.

Spray the infected branches with neem oil(I use this one), and apply a pesticide when necessary.

Landscape Uses & Wildlife Value

The Pagoda dogwood is a magnet for many types of wildlife whether they are looking for shelter, nesting sites, or food.

Its leaves provide food for small mammals while its flowers attract pollinators. Deer and birds also feed on the ripe berries when other sources of food are scarce. 

The tree itself has immense ornamental value, and you can plant it as the centerpiece in any setting. Rows and groupings would also work well.

Despite its compact size, it still dazzles with its colorful leaves that change color in different seasons and its tiered shape. 

Companion Plants

Many shade-loving plants pair well with the Pagoda dogwood.

Some recommended plants that serve as excellent companion plants to the ornamental tree include sedges, ferns, hostas, and columbine.

You could also plant other varieties of dogwood trees, such as the Kousa dogwood, to make an informal grouping.

Be sure to pay attention to the spacing and the light needs of the companion plants before planting.

Where To Buy

The best place to buy the Pagoda dogwood is usually the local nursery in your area. They’ll recommend the best varieties to grow and how to care for them.

If you can’t find this specific tree in your area, then you can try one of the following online nurseries.

In Summary

The Pagoda dogwood lives up to its name and offers a unique canopy that changes color with every season.

The leaves start as reddish-purple then turn green before clusters of white flowers take over. In the fall, the leaves turn back to reddish-copper with glimpses of bluish-black berries.

There’s no doubt that the Pagoda dogwood is an excellent choice, but you may enjoy reading about these other popular varieties too: