White Flowering Dogwood: How To Care for Cornus florida

The beloved indigenous tree, referred to as the white flowering dogwood or Cornus florida in scientific terms, can be found in multiple areas across the United States.

Renowned for its stunning spring display of star-shaped white blossoms and vibrant fall foliage, this tree adds year-round beauty to any landscape.

However, the white flowering dogwood is more than just a pretty tree. It’s also a hardy and adaptable tree that can thrive in a variety of conditions, making it a great choice for gardeners of all experience levels.

Are white flowering dogwood trees messy? White flowering dogwoods do produce some debris. In the spring, they shed their white blossoms, and in the fall, they drop their leaves. Additionally, the trees produce small, berry-like fruits that can fall and litter the ground. However, the tree’s beauty far outweighs any cleanup required.

In the following sections, we’ll provide you with all the information you need to understand, grow, and care for this beautiful tree.

So, whether you’re a seasoned arborist or a gardening newbie, read on to discover the wonders of the white flowering dogwood.

Key Takeaways

  • White flowering dogwoods are native trees known for their stunning spring display of star-shaped white blossoms and vibrant fall foliage.
  • They are hardy and adaptable, suitable for USDA Hardiness Zones 5 through 9.
  • They prefer well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter and full sun to partial shade.
  • Basic care includes regular watering, occasional pruning, and monitoring for signs of disease or pests.
  • White flowering dogwoods can be affected by various diseases and pests, including dogwood anthracnose, powdery mildew, and dogwood borers.

Many people don’t know that there are a wide variety of dogwood trees to choose from. Explore the most popular options in my article, The Best Dogwood Varieties.

White Flowering Dogwood

The white flowering dogwood is a deciduous tree that is native to eastern North America.

It’s a favorite among gardeners and landscapers for its showy spring flowers, attractive summer foliage, colorful fall leaves, and decorative winter bark, but there’s more to this tree than meets the eye.

Let’s take a closer look at its key characteristics.

FeatureDescription
Botanical nameCornus florida
Mature height20-30 feet
Mature width20-30 feet
Growth rateModerate, 1-2 feet of growth per year
Light preferencesFull sun to partial shade
Ideal soilWell-drained soil rich in organic matter
Watering needsRegular watering, especially during dry periods
Bloom timeSpring, typically in April and May
Bloom color & fragranceWhite, star-shaped flowers with a faint fragrance
Fall foliageLeaves turn vibrant shades of red and purple in the fall

General Appearance

The white flowering dogwood is a medium-sized tree with a broad, rounded canopy. Its branches are arranged in a tiered fashion, giving the tree a layered look.

The bark is a distinctive gray-brown and becomes deeply ridged and furrowed as the tree matures, providing winter interest.

Seasonal Color

The white flowering dogwood is a tree for all seasons.

  • In the spring, it’s covered in a profusion of white flowers that light up the landscape.
  • In the summer, its leaves are a vibrant green, providing a lush backdrop for the tree’s red or yellow fruits.
  • In the fall, the leaves turn stunning shades of red and purple, creating a spectacular display.
  • In the winter, the tree’s gray-brown bark and distinctive branch structure add interest to the landscape.

Growth Rate & Mature Size

White flowering dogwoods have a moderate growth rate, typically adding 1 to 2 feet of growth per year.

At maturity, they typically reach a height and spread of 20 to 30 feet, making them an excellent choice for small to medium-sized landscapes.

However, the tree’s size can be influenced by growing conditions, with trees in more favorable conditions growing larger than those in less ideal situations.

Blooms

One of the most striking features of the white flowering dogwood is its spring blooms. The tree produces an abundance of star-shaped flowers that are actually modified leaves called bracts.

These bracts, which are typically white but can sometimes have a pink tinge, surround a cluster of small, yellowish-green true flowers.

The blooming period usually begins in April and can last into May, depending on the local climate. The flowers have a faint, pleasant fragrance and are a favorite of pollinators.

A close look at the flowers of a white flowering dogwood against a blue sky.

Fall Foliage

In the fall, the white flowering dogwood puts on a spectacular show as its leaves turn vibrant shades of red and purple.

This fall color display can last several weeks and is one of the highlights of the gardening year.

After the leaves drop, the tree’s red berries and distinctive bark continue to provide visual interest throughout the winter.

Hardiness

White flowering dogwoods are hardy trees that can withstand a range of environmental conditions.

They are suitable for USDA Hardiness Zones 5 through 9, meaning they can tolerate winter temperatures down to -20°F.

However, they do best in areas with mild summers as they can suffer from heat stress in hotter climates.

White Flowering Dogwood Growing Conditions

While white flowering dogwoods are quite adaptable, they do have some preferences when it comes to their growing conditions.

Providing these conditions can help ensure your tree thrives and reaches its full ornamental potential.

Grow Zones

As mentioned earlier, white flowering dogwoods are suitable for USDA Hardiness Zones 5 through 9.

This means they can be grown in most parts of the United States with the exception of the coldest northern regions and the hottest southern areas.

Sun Requirements

White flowering dogwoods prefer full sun to partial shade. While they can tolerate a fair amount of shade, too much can result in fewer flowers and a less dense canopy.

However, in hotter climates, some afternoon shade can help protect the tree from heat stress.

Soil Preferences

White flowering 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 they drain readily.

The tree prefers a slightly acidic to neutral pH but can tolerate slightly alkaline conditions.

White Flowering Dogwood Maintenance and Care

While white flowering dogwoods are relatively low maintenance, they do benefit from some basic care practices.

Following good care recommendations can help keep the tree healthy, promote vigorous growth, and enhance its ornamental value.

Watering

White flowering dogwoods need regular watering, especially during dry periods.

These trees are somewhat tolerant of dry conditions once established, but young trees and those planted in dry, sandy soils may require more frequent watering.

A good practice is to water deeply once a week during dry weather, adjusting as necessary based on current conditions.

Fertilization

White flowering dogwoods generally don’t need heavy fertilization. In fact, overfertilizing can lead to excessive leaf growth at the expense of flowers.

If your soil is poor or if the tree’s growth seems sluggish, you can apply a balanced, slow-release fertilizer, like this one, in early spring, following the package instructions.

Pruning

Pruning is an important part of white flowering dogwood care. It helps to maintain the tree’s shape, promote healthy growth, and prevent disease by improving air circulation within the canopy.

The best time to prune is late winter or early spring before new growth starts.

Pests & Diseases

Like all trees, white flowering dogwoods can be affected by various diseases and pests. Common issues include dogwood anthracnose, powdery mildew, and dogwood borers.

Regular monitoring, proper watering and pruning, and, if necessary, the use of fungicides can help manage these diseases.

Pests such as aphids and scale insects can also be a problem, but they can often be controlled with good cultural practices and, if needed, the use of insecticides.

A white flowering dogwood in full bloom in front of a home.

Landscape Uses & Wildlife Value

White flowering dogwoods are a versatile addition to the landscape. They can be used as specimen trees, in mixed borders, or as part of a woodland garden.

Their layered branching structure also makes them an excellent choice for planting near patios or walkways where their beauty can be appreciated up close.

In addition to their ornamental value, white flowering dogwoods provide food and habitat for a variety of wildlife. Their flowers attract pollinators, and their berries are a favorite of birds.

Companion Plants

Companion planting refers to the strategic placement of different plant species in close proximity to enhance growth, attract beneficial insects, and deter pests.

Some suitable companion plants for white flowering dogwood trees are native woodland wildflowers, such as trilliums, asters, or woodland phlox.

These understory plants thrive in the dappled shade provided by the dogwood’s canopy and create a visually appealing contrast with their vibrant colors.

The flowers of these companion plants can attract pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, which contribute to the overall health and pollination of the garden.

In terms of practical benefits, certain companion plants can help repel or deter specific pests that might affect dogwood trees.

For example, planting garlic or marigolds around the base of the dogwood can act as a natural deterrent for insects like aphids or Japanese beetles.

Similarly, interplanting chives or onions can help repel chewing insects and discourage fungal diseases that can affect the dogwood’s health.

It’s important to consider the compatibility of companion plants with the dogwood’s growing requirements.

Avoid planting companion species that might compete for resources, such as those with extensive root systems or high water needs.

Additionally, ensure that the companion plants won’t shade or overcrowd the dogwood as it requires ample sunlight for healthy growth and flowering.

Where To Buy

White flowering dogwoods can be purchased from local nurseries, garden centers, and online plant retailers.

Before purchasing, be sure that the variety is suitable for your unique climate and soil conditions. A few online sellers I recommend are:

Final Thoughts

The white flowering dogwood is a wonderful addition to any landscape, offering year-round beauty and relatively easy care.

Whether you’re drawn to their springtime blossoms, their colorful fall foliage, or their winter display of berries and bark, there’s a lot to love about these native trees.

If you still aren’t sure if the white flowering dogwood is the best choice for you, I recommend checking out these options before making a final decision: