The dogwood tree (Cornus florida), a relatively small tree at only 30 feet in height, produces a short trunk with a large branching canopy that often measures 35 feet across. The branches give the appearance of being tiers stacked on top of each other. Leaves often measure 6 inches in length. Bright white flowers appear each spring and last for approximately 2 weeks. Small red fruits follow flowering and add visual interest to the tree.
In its native habitat along the eastern United States the tree grows as an understory surrounded by hardwood giants. Over time the tree has adapted and requires only minimal sunlight. Choose a shady planting location with well-draining soil. The tree enjoys moist soil conditions but does not tolerate standing water well. The roots easily rot in extremely moist soil, according to the U.S. Forest Service. The dogwood tree does best when planted in USDA hardiness zones 5 to 9.
Once established, the dogwood tree is exceptionally drought-tolerant, but during its youth, the tree enjoys moist soil conditions. Weekly watering is beneficial after planting. Apply a 3- to 4-inch mulch, such as peat moss or bark chips, around the base of the dogwood tree to inhibit weed growth and help the soil retain moisture during the intensely hot days of summer.
The dogwood tree benefits from fertilizer in early spring. Use a granulated general-purpose fertilizer such as a 10-10-10 or a 12-12-12. Apply 6 inches from the trunk of the tree. Water the fertilizer into the soil thoroughly.
The dogwood tree requires very little pruning and looks its best when allowed to grow wild. In the early spring, remove any dead or damaged stems and branches. Remove any sucker growth around the base of the dogwood tree. Dogwood cultvars are grafted onto root stock, so if suckers develop at the base of the tree from the root system, they will not grow true to the parent tree but will be an offshoot from the root system.
Aphids often form colonies on new shoots of the dogwood tree. Remove the pests by hosing them off. A weak tree will suffer attack by several species of tree borers. Keep the tree healthy by regular watering and fertilizing to avoid infestations of the borer. Scales can appear as small spots on the stems of the dogwood tree. Apply horticulture oil for control. Dogwood club gall midges distort the tips of branches by forming galls. Prune and dispose of infected branches.