How to Grow Cornus florida Plants in your Garden

Gardener's HQ Guide to Growing Flowering Dogwood

The Cornus florida tree (Flowering Dogwood) provides year round attraction to the garden. It looks great when in bloom in the spring, when the leaves turn a long-lasting reddish purple early in the autumn, and even has attractive red fruits.

Cornus florida

Cornus-florida photographed at teh New Yor Botanical Gardens by Ryan Somma, Creative Commons.

In addition to the above traits the tree also has attractive branches and bark, which can be dark grey, black or brown bark. This grows in square blocks that give it an appearance similar to alligator skin.

Cornus florida makes a great plant to grow in the garden as it looks great either in small groupings (especially close to the edge of a wood) or as a stand alone specimen tree for the lawn or patio.

As it is quite small and can grow in partial shade it also performs well when used in the understory of other taller trees.

Cornus florida fruiting

Dogwood in Early Autumn photograph by Susan E Adams, CC.

As flowering Dogwood is a rich source of nectar it is ideal to grow if you want to attract butterflies, bees, Squirrels, and Songbirds to the garden. Some of the birds that feed on the fruit of this tree include Robins, Thrushes, Red-eyed Vireo, Northern Cardinal, and the Veery.

Blooming Cornus florida Plant

Flowering Dogwood in Bloom by Bernard Spragg. NZ, CC.

The tree is fairly deer resistance, Grade C — White-tailed deer will eat the leaves when they are hungry.

The plant is a native of the Eastern and Central parts of the USA, and is often seen growing naturally in the understories and edges of forests and woodland.

Cornus florida Cultivars

Flowering Dogwood leaves in autumn

Flowering Dogwood leaves in autumn photograph by Katja Schulz, CC.

As an ever present and beloved garden tree it is no surprise that there are a multitude of cultivars available, these have been developed for their ability to grow in different regions, their size, and for ornamental features.

White flower Cultivars

'Cherokee Princess' Early Bloomer, Large flowers, Heavy Boomer.

'Plena' Double flowers, white.

'Pendula' Weeping branches.

'Cloud 9' Overlapping bracts, Slow growing and Hardy

'Welchii' Cream, green, and Pink variegated leaves. Grow in partial shade for best results.

'Welchii' Yellow fruits

'Cherokee Daybreak White leaf margins. Leaves turn pink in the autumn.

Red and Pink flower Cultivars

Cherokee Brave Deep pink flowers with a white center.

'Cherokee Chief' Deep red flowers; new growth is red.

'Cherokee Sunset' Variegated leaves, pink or yellow markings.

Cornus florida Rubra This is a common variety that has pink through red flowers.

Cornus florida Video Growing Guide

Cornus florida Growing and Care Guide

  • Scientific Name: Cornus florida
  • Common Name (s): Flowering Dogwood, American Box
  • Growing Zone (USA / UK Hardiness): 5 to 9 / H5 to — 15°C.

Plant Details

  • Life Cycle / Plant Type: Deciduous Shrub, Ornamental Tree, Creeping Perennial.
  • Best used for: Season round beauty, Understory tree, lawn or patio tree, Landscaping, USA Native Plant Garden, Fall color, Winter interest.
  • Plant Height: 13 to 30 feet (4 to 9 m)
  • Plant Spread: 13 to 30 feet (4 to 9 m)
  • Blooms: Early to middle spring. Blooms last about two weeks. Blooming usually overlaps that of Redwoods.
  • Flower Details: Small. Yellow-green with four attractive petal-like white bracts (Some cultivars are pink). Bracts reach 5 cm (2 inches) in length and about double the width (10 cm; 4 inches).
  • Leaf Foliages: Showy. Simple. Opposite. Medium to dark green. Leaves from 8 to 15 cm (3 to 6 inches) in length, and 4 to 8 cm (1 1/2 to 3 inches) across. The green leaves turn a red or purplish-red in the autumn.
  • Fruit: Red. Glossy. Drupe. End of summer through to the start of winter. Attracts birds.

Growing Conditions

  • Best Light Conditions; How much sunlight does a Dogwood tree need?: Full sunlight or Partial shade.
  • Suitable Soil Types: Well drained. Average. Organic.
  • Suitable Soil pH: Acidic
  • Soil Soil Moisture: Medium
  • Sowing, planting, and Propagation:
    Propagate: Preferred method. Softwood cuttings in the summer.
    Seed: First place net over maturing fruits as they ripen to protect from animals. Collect fruits when ripe, and remove all pulp from the seeds. Stratify seed in the fridge at 4°C (40°F) for three or four months in a bag of peat moss. Next sow seed in a small pot on the soil surface. Place the pot in-situ in spring. Germination takes from 3 months to 3 years at 12°C (53°F).

  • Care: Provide cooling mulch for the summer (7 to 10 cm; 3 to 4 inches deep). Water frequently enough to keep roots moist. Do not grow in polluted areas. Shelter from strong winds. Fertilize only if soil is poor and it is deemed necessary (test soil using a kit first). Use either a 12-4-8 or 16-4-8 feed ratio depending on the amount of nitrogen in the soil. Do not feed young trees. Apply in early spring and again at the start of summer (no later). Use an acidic feed if pH is too high. Light prune at the end of winter to remove any damaged or diseased shoots and to remove misdirected, low-hanging, and misshaped growth.
  • Pests and Diseases: Dogwood Borer and Sawfly.
    Susceptible to the fungal disease Cornus anthracnose in high elevations (above 550 m /1,800 ft): look for pimples on young dying stems and for spots of dead leaf tissue that expand when the leaves get wet. Unfortunately requires a fungicide to control, consider tebuconazole or triticonazole.

Further Information

  • Closely Related Species: Alangium.
  • Miscellaneous: Named after skewers locally known as 'dogs' and 'dags'. Fast growing tree (over 30 cm (12 inches) per year).
  • Family: Cornaceae contains two genera 'Alangium' (~ 40 species) and 'Cornus' (30 to 60 species).
  • References and Further Reading: Cornus Plant Genus, Flowering Dogwood and Bees
  • Closely Related Species to Cornus florida include: Cornus alba (Tatarian dogwood), Cornus controversa (Giant dogwood), Cornus kousa (Kousa dogwood), Cornus mas (European Cornel, Cornelian cherry), and Cornus sanguinea (Common dogwood).

I hope that you enjoyed this guide on how to grow Cornus florida plants. You may also enjoy the following Gardener's HQ ree growing guides: How to grow Acer and Rochea plants.